Washington Post op-ed writer Dana Milbank accused Ted Cruz of using “anti-Semitic dog whistle[s],” such as his attack on “New York values.” Does he have a point?
A lot of the phrases about “New York,” “Wall Street,” and “bankers” could be anti-Semitic in certain contexts, but they are also absolutely part of ordinary political discourse. That is what makes them potential dog whistles, after all, but it is also hard to say Cruz had any anti-Semitic intent or meaning with such thin evidence.
Milbank has to have a little bit of “chutzpah,” shall I say, to make this argument:
At an event in New Hampshire, Cruz, the Republican Iowa caucuses winner, was asked about campaign money he and his wife borrowed from Goldman Sachs. Cruz, asserting that Trump had “upward of $480 million of loans from giant Wall Street banks,” said: “For him to make this attack, to use a New York term, it’s the height of chutzpah.” Cruz, pausing for laughter after the phrase “New York term,” exaggerated the guttural “ch” to more laughter and applause.
But “chutzpah,” of course, is not a “New York” term. It’s a Yiddish — a Jewish — one. And using “New York” as a euphemism for “Jewish” has long been an anti-Semitic dog whistle.
It wouldn’t be the first time Cruz has been accused of using anti-Semitic dog whistles. What about his claim to support an “America first” foreign policy–the same slogan of Charles Lindbergh and those who opposed involvement in World War II?
But in this particular case, most of what Cruz said can equally be attributed to responding to Donald Trump’s equally nasty attacks. Let’s break down the points one-by-one:
- 1.) “New York values”
Republicans and conservatives are generally anti-big city. They think “elites” live in cities. They rail on about the supposed crime waves in cities like Chicago and Detroit. Sarah Palin goes around the country calling small towns “the real America.” Urban residents do vote more for liberal/Democratic politicians on average than do rural residents–who are associated with the values of “God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy,” as expressed by the title of Mike Huckabee’s book. National Review publishes articles about “Obama’s Assault on the Suburbs.” All of those trends can be viewed as stupid and counterproductive identity politics games–as I generally view them–but they aren’t necessarily inherently anti-Semitic.
You see conservatives throw in cities like “Chicago” and “Detroit,” too, that aren’t generally associated with Jews, along with “Hollywood,” which is. The big thing they all have in common is that they are big cities. Check out this ad Fight For Tomorrow ran against “New Yorker” Democrat Terry McAullife in the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial election that McAullife won: “Don’t Let Them Detroit Virginia.”
- 2.) “$480 million of loans from giant Wall Street banks”
Wall Street is the biggest boogeyman of elections. And arguably with reason, if you are someone who thinks the big banks caused the financial crisis, which is a widespread view. Bernie Sanders continually attacks former New York Senator Hillary Clinton for getting Wall Street loans.
Cruz’s attack on Trump in particular is a response to Trump’s attack on Cruz for taking a loan from Goldman Sachs: Trump: Cruz’s undisclosed Goldman Sachs loan a ‘very big thing’.
This is another talking point that could possibly be motivated by anti-Semitism, but it could just as easily be motivated by anti-capitalist, anti-rich, or anti-corruption sentiments.
- 3.) “it’s the height of chutzpah”
Here’s where Cruz comes the closest to arguably being anti-Semitic, but that only means it is slightly more questionable than the other comments.
To use a word with a Yiddish origin as a “New York term” is–just what Donald Trump, whom Cruz was responding to–does:
Donald Trump chooses odd Yiddish vulgarity ["schlonged”] to slam Hillary Clinton
Trump asserted via a Twitter retweet that the genital reference was “a commonplace NY way of saying: ‘I lost big time.'” “Chutzpah” is actually a relatively common word in American English (and words from different origins do become assimilated into American English, as it is a language of immigrants).
Trump’s campaign is certainly no benchmark of decency, and Trump has a record of crystal clear racism, but to attack Cruz, as if all of the comments he made came out of nowhere, without referencing the context behind his responses, is disingenuous and bad journalism.
It’s also what some have come to expect from Milbank, who has a history of misrepresenting what happens at events with people he disagrees with.