October 10, 2002
Prager’s Tactics Are Lacking
Dennis Prager uses half of what I said to the L.A. Times and gives the impression that I am one of those awful leftists who are "either morally confused, immoral or lack courage." Here is the complete quote, which shows that I was describing a dilemma, not my political position: "Liberals are on the side of the underdog. The people who've had their cities turned into rubble look like the underdog. There's embarrassment about being a Jew and a feeling of alienation from the Jewish community, a fear that it's been taken over by the right wing." It's the last phrase that Prager couldn't repeat without revealing his hidden reason for the attack, so he lies about the real subject of the Times article -- that a group of Hollywood Jews are trying to find a way to reach the community, which can only happen in a language the community speaks. The problem for Prager is that artists speak a language he refuses to learn.
Using Wagner's politics to forever "disassociate artists from their art" allows him to neatly hide from the moral sympathies of the mass of artists, who are not the progenitors of the death camps. Prager declares himself intellectually dead by his own hand, since he reduces art to nothing more than diversion or decoration, and artists to nothing more than mindless children.
But he has to do this, otherwise he would have to live with contradictions, a balance impossible for most conservatives who split the world into good and evil, and especially deny their own contribution to the evil one is fighting. Artists teach nothing if not connection, and connection breeds sympathy, and sympathy sometimes exceeds itself, chesed (lovingkindness) without gavurah (restriction).
But the impulse to unlimited compassion is better than the impulse toward unlimited judgment, else we would not pray every day for God's mercy. The liberal fantasy is the dream of what might be, like the bounty of a Botticelli spring, and the conservative fantasy is kitsch, cowboy art, nostalgia for a world that never was, with punishment for those who tell the truth about that self-deception.
Prager's politics may even be Jewish heresy. The Torah is brave enough to recognize our own role in the creation of Amalek while still calling for Amalek's destruction, but the Torah is braver than Dennis Prager, who has yet to move to Israel with his family, so his children can ride the buses until they're old enough to join the army, rather like the son of that terrible leftist Michael Lerner.
The right-wingers here who call for the harshest treatment of the Arabs, while keeping their children out of the Israel Defense Forces, are cousins of those rich leaders of Hamas who strap the bombs on the children of the poor, never on their own. Prager gets his courage by proxy, the courage that gives him the right to call me a coward.
While some of us are working carefully and, by necessity, quietly to bring more Jews into the community, Prager's sermon to the choir, his mocking castigations, his arrogant assumption of moral clarity, contributes nothing -- and makes things worse. He drives Jews away.
Michael Tolkin is the co-writer of "Changing Lanes," named the best picture of the year by Catholics In Media Associates. His most recent novel, "Under Radar," is published by Atlantic Books.