Scott wrote this morning about Paul Pillar, the now-retired senior CIA official who was a friend of mine, and a roommate of Paul’s, in college. At the CIA, Pillar was one of the bureaucrats who carried on a six-year war against the Bush administration and thereby became something of a hero on the Left.
In The National Interest, Pillar writes on a topic unrelated to his government service. Called “The Sheldon Primary,” his article is an attack on Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate who is a major GOP donor. Attacks on Republican donors are all the rage these days, but Pillar’s assault on Adelson is even more illogical than most.
Pillar begins by referring to “white primaries,” a device that the Democratic Party used in the South during Jim Crow days to marginalize the votes of black citizens. It worked because the Solid South was a one-party (Democratic) region. Pillar describes white primaries accurately:
From the 1890s until finally outlawed by the Supreme Court some fifty years later, one device used in the segregated South to maintain the white power structure and to prevent blacks from any effective political role was called the white primary. This was a sort of preliminary election, open only to white Democrats, that ostensibly was a nonofficial event not run by the state and thus did not adhere to laws and constitutional principles providing for equal treatment and universal voting rights. There would be a later official election in which blacks could vote, but it usually was meaningless because electoral contests had in effect already been decided in the white primary.
That is a good reminder of the Democratic Party’s sordid history, but what does it have to do with Sheldon Adelson? Pillar tries to connect the nonexistent dots:
Now we have a procedure reminiscent of the white primary that is being called the “Sheldon primary,” as in political bankroller Sheldon Adelson. Republican presidential hopefuls are kneeling at the feet of the casino magnate in the hope of receiving his blessing, and thus his money, as the party’s nominee for 2016.
Which is to say, they would like to have his support. But wait! How is the fact that candidates want Adelson’s support “reminiscent of the white primary”?
It seems that Adelson, who together with his wife dropped $93 million on political campaigns in 2012, has concluded that he erred in that year in backing for too long candidates whose ideology appealed most to him but ultimately proved unelectable. This time he wants to anoint early on someone he can stick with right through the general election.
So Adelson wants to back an electable candidate in the next presidential cycle. This is bad because…? Sounds reasonable to me. For the record, Adelson backed Newt Gingrich for a while in the 2012 primaries, and ultimately supported Mitt Romney.
He doesn’t want to see messy primary contests that would weaken the eventual nominee. If things work the way Adelson wants—and that he is willing and able to pay to make them work that way—caucuses in Iowa or the primary in New Hampshire will matter less than the Sheldon primary. Last time he let us have a good hard look at the likes of Newt Gingrich while votes in Republican primaries still meant something. Next time he doesn’t want primary voters to have that much of a choice.
This is frankly bizarre. There will be “messy primary contests” in 2016, and Republican voters will decide who wins and loses. They will have plenty of choices. Pillar suggests that Sheldon Adelson will single-handedly pick the Republican nominee, but that is ridiculous. He couldn’t pick Gingrich in 2012. A number of candidates might have won the 2012 nomination if they had performed well enough in the debates and throughout the campaign to sway the voters. Sheldon Adelson certainly wasn’t stopping them. Ultimately Romney won the nomination despite, not because of, Adelson.
But most of all, what on God’s green Earth does Aldelson’s desire to get behind an electable Republican candidate early in the process have to do with the Democrats’ “white primaries” in the South, back in the 1920s and 1930s? To see these things as similar, or identical, or somehow analogous, is demented. Only the Democrats’ frantic need to draw race into every conversation can explain why Pillar talks about “white primaries.” That explanation, however, cannot mitigate the stark irrationality of the comparison.
So, why does Paul Pillar hate Sheldon Adelson? (Apart from the fact that he is a Republican, I mean.) What galls Pillar, evidently, is Adelson’s support for Israel:
[T]he Republican party isn’t even his first love among political parties. That would be the Likud party. Adelson’s money also plays a very big role in Israeli politics, much of it in subsidizing a free-distribution newspaper, Israel HaYom, which has the largest circulation of any daily newspaper in Israel and functions as a cheerleader for Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud.
Supporting Likud may be even worse than supporting the GOP, in the eyes of the Democratic Party establishment. One can infer from Pillar’s comments that he does not approve of Israel’s Prime Minister or his party. Most Americans, however, do.
Nor is the United States Adelson’s first love among countries. He has said that when he performed military service as a young man it “unfortunately” was in a U.S. uniform rather than an Israeli one. He has expressed the wish that his son become a sniper in the Israeli Defense Forces.
Is Pillar making a point here? If so, what is it? He hauls out the Daily Kos/Democratic Underground/Obama campaign oppo research on Adelson, and links to a 74-second video clip on YouTube in which Adelson is declaring his staunch support for Israel. Pillar obviously does not share Adelson’s commitment to Israel’s survival, but one wonders: what the heck does this have to do with Pillar’s earlier grumbling about the “Sheldon primary?”
Back in the United States, Adelson does have some unsurprising plutocratic impulses, but with a blatantly narrow focus. Perhaps when the objective is to advance the interests not only of the one percent, but of whatever small fraction of one percent that an estimated net worth of $38 billion makes a person a part of, narrowness is inevitable. Adelson’s biggest push for, and most lavish financing of, a domestic U.S. issue is his attempt to get online gambling outlawed. The ostensible purpose is to protect the morals of our youth, but of course it also would protect the market share of his casinos.
Pillar expresses the bureaucrat’s resentment toward the rich–or some of them, anyway. But how about Warren Buffett? He could buy Adelson and sell him. Does Buffett’s $58 billion fortune give him “plutocratic impulses” to “advance the interests of…whatever small fraction of one percent that an estimated net worth of [$58] billion makes a person a part of?” Is “narrowness” inevitable in Buffett’s case too? Or how about George Soros, with his $23 billion fortune and his criminal conviction for insider trading? And what about Tom Steyer, the billionaire who is currently the Democrats’ largest donor? Is “narrowness” “inevitable” in his case, as well? Most people lobby in support of their interests: is Pillar trying to claim that Democratic figures like Buffett, Soros and Steyer are exceptions to this rule? Presumably not, as such a claim would be laughable.
It seems that something other than mere wealth drives Pillar’s bitterness toward Adelson. He continues:
Adelson’s most distinctive foreign policy pronouncement is that a nuclear weapon should be dropped on Iran.
An uninhabited part of Iran, Adelson said, to show that we mean business. Pillar evidently disagrees. But he isn’t interested in debating Iran policy, this is just a hit and run. Formulating an actual argument is evidently beyond him.
The Sheldon primary is the sort of thing we get when the Supreme Court, an earlier incarnation of which eliminated the white primary, shreds efforts to limit the role of money in U.S. elections.
Apparently Paul felt the need to mention the Democrats’ white primaries again, to shore up his puzzling suggestion that they have anything to do with Sheldon Adelson wanting to back a winning presidential candidate.
Even if that mistake cannot be corrected, voters—including those Republican primary voters in New Hampshire and elsewhere—ought at least to be fully aware of what type of man is trying to use his wealth to make their choice for them.
Of course, Adelson can’t make the voters’ choices for them in 2016, any more than he could in 2012 when he backed Gingrich. Nor does he try to do so, any more than anyone else, Democrat or Republican, who backs a candidate.
Nevertheless, Pillar wants us to know “what type of man” Sheldon Adelson is. And the bottom line is this: like most Americans, Adelson supports Israel. Pillar, obviously, does not. In his circles, to let it be known that a man hopes his son will grow up to be an IDF sniper is the most damning of critiques. Pillar would perhaps be surprised to learn that many of his fellow Americans do not see it that way.
Reading Paul Pillar’s smear of Sheldon Adelson saddened me. Paul, when I knew him, was as honest, as intelligent, as idealistic as anyone of my acquaintance. Forty-odd years later, is this what liberalism has come to? A dead end where its best representatives have nothing substantive to offer, but can only smear Republican campaign donors? Where formerly brilliant minds labor to justify a claimed equivalence between the Democrats’ “white primaries” of the 1930s and a Republican donor trying to find a good presidential candidate to support?
Yes, I think that is exactly the depth to which liberalism and the Democratic Party have fallen. There is nothing left of principle; of honesty; of idealism; of intelligence. There is only malice, snarling in the dark.