David Frum

07.31.12

Stephen Walt Finally Says What He Means

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Remember when Walt and his co-author John Mearsheimer used to insist that "the Israel lobby" was not simply a euphemism for "Jews"? Well, forget that. The indispensable Ottomans and Zionists blog catches a telling change in Walt's rhetoric in a recent blogpost:

In the second paragraph, right after the sentences about lobbies that I quoted above, he states about Romney, "He wasn't trying to win over Israelis or make up for his various gaffes in London; his goal was to convince Israel's supporters in America to vote for him and not for Barack Obama. Most American Jews lean left and will vote for Obama, but Romney would like to keep the percentage as low as he can, because it just might tip the balance in a critical swing state like Florida." Lest there be any confusion that Walt is conflating the Israel lobby with American Jews, after referring to Obama and Romney tailoring their policies "with the lobby's clout in mind," he spends the rest of the piece talking not about ways in which "the lobby" punishes politicians who deviate from the party line by raising money for their opponents or running ads in their districts, but about how presidents Carter and Bush 41 saw their percentages of Jewish votes drop after pressuring or confronting Israel. He is not telling a story about what he has previously defined as the Israel lobby, but is telling a story about American Jews that he is calling a story about the Israel lobby.

And here Walt bumps into his true political conundrum. The "Israel lobby" is successful for exactly the same reason that a lobby group like Mothers Against Drunk Driving is successful - because motherhood is (deservedly) popular and drunk driving is (deservedly) not.

Walt's core argument is that he and his small-band of like-minded allies are entitled to prevail overtop the preferences of the great majority of Americans. But grumbling alone won't accomplish his mission. What he needs to do is follow the practice of previous narrow unpopular special interests: form a shadowy secret lobby to defeat democracy and bend the political process to his will.