Friday, October 31, 2008

Brawler McCain is Blowin' in the Idiot Wind

Originally published Friday, October 31 in the Washington Post

An 'Idiot Wind'

With the presidential campaign clock ticking down, Sen. John McCain has suddenly discovered a new boogeyman to link to Sen. Barack Obama: a sometimes controversial but widely respected Middle East scholar named Rashid Khalidi. In the past couple of days, Mr. McCain and his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin, have likened Mr. Khalidi, the director of a Middle East institute at Columbia University, to neo-Nazis; called him "a PLO spokesman"; and suggested that the Los Angeles Times is hiding something sinister by refusing to release a videotape of a 2003 dinner in honor of Mr. Khalidi at which Mr. Obama spoke. Mr. McCain even threw former Weatherman Bill Ayers into the mix, suggesting that the tape might reveal that Mr. Ayers -- a terrorist-turned-professor who also has been an Obama acquaintance -- was at the dinner.

For the record, Mr. Khalidi is an American born in New York who graduated from Yale a couple of years after George W. Bush. For much of his long academic career, he taught at the University of Chicago, where he and his wife became friends with Barack and Michelle Obama. In the early 1990s, he worked as an adviser to the Palestinian delegation at peace talks in Madrid and Washington sponsored by the first Bush administration. We don't agree with a lot of what Mr. Khalidi has had to say about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the years, and Mr. Obama has made clear that he doesn't, either. But to compare the professor to neo-Nazis -- or even to Mr. Ayers -- is a vile smear.

Perhaps unsurprising for a member of academia, Mr. Khalidi holds complex views. In an article published this year in the Nation magazine, he scathingly denounced Israeli practices in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and U.S. Middle East policy but also condemned Palestinians for failing to embrace a nonviolent strategy. He said that the two-state solution favored by the Bush administration (and Mr. Obama) was "deeply flawed" but conceded there were also "flaws in the alternatives." Listening to Mr. Khalidi can be challenging -- as Mr. Obama put it in the dinner toast recorded on the 2003 tape and reported by the Times in a detailed account of the event last April, he "offers constant reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases."

It's fair to question why Mr. Obama felt as comfortable as he apparently did during his Chicago days in the company of men whose views diverge sharply from what the presidential candidate espouses. Our sense is that Mr. Obama is a man of considerable intellectual curiosity who can hear out a smart, if militant, advocate for the Palestinians without compromising his own position. To suggest, as Mr. McCain has, that there is something reprehensible about associating with Mr. Khalidi is itself condemnable -- especially during a campaign in which Arab ancestry has been the subject of insults. To further argue that the Times, which obtained the tape from a source in exchange for a promise not to publicly release it, is trying to hide something is simply ludicrous, as Mr. McCain surely knows.

Which reminds us: We did ask Mr. Khalidi whether he wanted to respond to the campaign charges against him. He answered, via e-mail, that "I will stick to my policy of letting this idiot wind blow over." That's good advice for anyone still listening to the McCain campaign's increasingly reckless ad hominem attacks. Sadly, that wind is likely to keep blowing for four more days.

I had no idea that's a Dylan quote. Greg Mitchell has a great article on HuffPo. The confession of an idiot poet follows.
It's always been one of my favorite mid-period Dylan songs (from Blood on the Tracks, for you youngsters), so it was good to see it getting thrust into the final days of the election campaign. I speak of "Idiot Wind' from the mid-1970s. It opens, "Someone's got it in for me/They're planting stories in the press/Whoever it is I wish they'd cut it out quick/But when they will I can only guess."

The Washington Post, preparing a lacerating editorial attack against John McCain for his dirty campaign tactics, asked the latest GOP bogeyman, the Palestinian professor/scholar (and Obama acquaintance) Rashid Khalidi, what he thinks of the current uproar. He wrote back briefly, "I will stick to my policy of letting this idiot wind blow over."

The Post then put "Idiot Wind" in its headline.

Indeed, I think when the dust settles, so to speak, next week, perhaps the phrase"Idiot Wind" will endure as the lasting depiction of the McCain-Palin campaign. We don't need a Weatherman, such as Bill Ayers, to know which way the wind blows. He's bringing it all Barack home.

The refrain of Dylan's "Idiot Wind" captures the tone of the McCain-Palin campaign perfectly:

Idiot wind, blowing like a circle around my skull,
From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol.
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth,
You're an idiot, babe.
It's a wonder that you still know how to breathe.

And then there's this:

You hurt the ones that I love best and cover up the truth with lies.
One day you'll be in the ditch, flies buzzin around your eyes,
Blood on your saddle.


I noticed at the ceremony, your corrupt ways had finally made you blind
I can't remember your face anymore, your mouth has changed,
Your eyes don't look into mine.

And finally:

I've been double-crossed now for the very last time and now I'm finally free,

Greg Mitchell is editor of Editor & Publisher and its popular new blog, The E&P Pub. His most recent book, on Iraq and the media, is "So Wrong for So Long.' During the 1970s he was executive editor at the legendary Crawdaddy magazine.

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Beautiful! Thanks.

I have a confession: I'm a poet who don't know squat about Dylan. Worse, I can't stand his voice (except for Subterranean Homesick Blues, and Everybody Must Get Stoned).

Am I banished to Palin's America now?

Posted 10:16 PM on 10/31/2008

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