To Defend Ilhan Omar, Democrats Use Identity Politics as a Shield

Representative Ilhan Omar (D, Minn.) during the introduction of the Equality Act at the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., March 13, 2019.

Over the weekend, American political discourse reached another one of its low moments — a moment of nearly record-level hypocrisy and absurdity. And once again, a low moment centered around one of the Democrats’ celebrity House freshmen, Ilhan Omar.

The cycle went like this. First, Twitter discovered an excerpt of a speech Omar delivered last month at a Council on American–Islamic Relations banquet. Here were her controversial words:

For far too long we have lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen. Frankly, I’m tired of it. And every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it. CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.

As The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf notes, the charitable reading of her statement is relatively clear — don’t hold the many responsible for the actions of the few. At the same time, however, the language was both wrong and undeniably flip. CAIR was not founded after 9/11, and her comment about 9/11 minimized the gravity of the deadliest foreign attack on U.S. soil ever — and the most damaging at least since the British Army burned Washington in the War of 1812. In other words, Americans were alarmed after 9/11 for a very good reason.

Moreover, it was coming from someone with a record of blatantly anti-Semitic comments, including a reference to Israel as “hypnotizing the world,” a claim that support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins,” and repeated claims that supporters of Israel had “allegiance” to a foreign country. While charitable readings of statements should be our default, there are public voices who’ve forfeited the benefit of the doubt. Like Iowa’s racist congressman Steve King, Omar is one of those people. It’s her responsibility to be clear about what she means.

When Republican congressman Dan Crenshaw tweeted that her comments were “unbelievable,” the criticism was certainly in-bounds. Other critiques, however, were over-the-top, including — of course — the president’s. He tweeted out a video montage of scenes from 9/11 cut back and forth with Omar’s statement that “some people did something.”

Then Trump’s tweet was met with an avalanche of hysteria and hypocrisy.

Bernie Sanders called Trump racist:

Ilhan Omar is a leader with strength and courage. She won’t back down to Trump’s racism and hate, and neither will we. The disgusting and dangerous attacks against her must end.

— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) April 13, 2019

Elizabeth Warren said he was “trying to incite violence”:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Trump’s tweet about Ilhan Omar: “Donald Trump is trying to incite violence and to divide us and every political leader should speak out against this. The Republican leadership in Congress cannot take a pass on this.”

— The Hill (@thehill) April 13, 2019

Beto O’Rourke…

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