Netanyahu, Obama And The Demise Of The Marketplace Of Ideas
President Obama’s supporters in the US love to brag that he used to be a Constitutional law professor. As such, Obama is certainly familiar with one of the most famous opinions that has come from our Supreme Court, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s now legendary dissent in Abrams v United States:
When men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas — that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution.
“The best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market,” said Holmes. Over a century before Holmes wrote that passage, the concept behind it was enshrined in the First Amendment to the US Constitution. It is taught in law schools around our country. It is one of the most important principles on which American democracy rests. Our entire criminal and civil legal systems are based on the premise that the truth can best be reached by listening to competing advocates making opposing arguments.
Professor Obama is surely well acquainted with this principle. If he had true confidence in his position with respect to Iran, he would have welcomed debate, and been present himself for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech yesterday, regardless of any reservations as to the way that the invitation from Speaker Boehner was delivered and accepted. He would have done so, moreover, without turning the speech itself into such a huge point of contention for the past month. Yet, not only did Obama himself skip the speech, but at his behest, more than fifty Senators and Representatives refused to even listen to arguments that the US is making a grave mistake on one of the most important foreign policy issues we face.
For all of Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi’s theatrics during the event, at least she attended. Congressman Charlie Rangel, as well, attended in the end, despite initially saying that he would not do so. Overall, with 44 Democrats holding seats in the Senate and 188 Democrats in the House, far, far more Democrats attended the speech than skipped it. Those who chose to boycott the speech, however, trashed one of the bedrock principles on which American democracy is based.
Notable among those who skipped the speech were Congressman John Yarmuth, who has taken this conflict as an opportunity to make a name for himself by being The Jew Who Stands Up To Bibi, and who has relied on his Jewishness as a shield for trafficking in anti-Semitic stereotypes, and Senator Al Franken, who perhaps should just return to comedy, an area in which he excelled. Senator Elizabeth Warren, widely being discussed as a 2016 Presidential hopeful, demonstrated her lack of understanding of the process of American democracy by boycotting the speech as well. That the boycotters may have watched on TV does not change the fact that they have made a show of disregarding any argument that Netanyahu made, prior to even knowing what he would say.
The American people, in contrast, understand the way the marketplace of ideas works. This is why polls showed, two weeks ago, that the public wanted to hear from Netanyahu, and why a number of prominent African American pastors urged members of the Congressional Black Caucus to attend. It’s why the demand for tickets was so high. The American people understand why Netanyahu needed to speak and the American people heard him.