Reactive Devaluation // Black and White is for Cookies

A popular political game these days is something I call “Black and White”—where one political party or label or movement is a knight in shining armor, and the other, the worst villain imaginable.

Little-known secret: No party is inherently pristine and none is pestiferous.

I am not endorsing, even in my private capacity, any party or candidate here. But I think it is enlightening to recall the loud criticism in 2020 of then-candidate Joe Biden, the assertions that, if elected, he would be (despite a long record indicating the contrary) insufficiently supportive of Israel’s security needs.

Whichever of the likely candidates for 2024 one chooses to support, it can’t be denied that the current president has been remarkably supportive of Israel during the current war—and at considerable political cost. That is not necessarily to say that he is a better choice for those concerned with Israel’s security than former President Trump or Nikki Haley or someone else. It is only to say that, when it comes to Israel, he’s a contender.

What’s more, while there are some truly misguided and malevolent folks in the Democratic Congressional camp, their party also sports two of the most vocal supporters of Israel’s security needs: Congressman Ritchie Torres of New York and Senator John Fetterman of Pennsylvania.

Mr. Torres called a statement about Palestinian “resistance” by his Democratic colleagues Cori Bush and Rashida Tlaib “reprehensible and repulsive.” And he disclosed publicly that anti-Israel demonstrations reminded him of “when the public mobs of Jim Crow would openly celebrate the lynching of African Americans.” His characterization of a Democratic Socialists of America “pro-Palestinian” rally was laudably clear: “Despicable, detestable, disgraceful, and disgraced.”

And Mr. Fetterman, who was once slammed by some as a “radical socialist” who was “too dangerous” to serve, has, baruch Hashem, deeply disappointed some of his erstwhile supporters. Alluding to the position of some of his colleagues, he stated, “Now is not the time to talk about a ceasefire. We must support Israel in efforts to eliminate the Hamas terrorists who slaughtered innocent men, women, and children… We can talk about a ceasefire after Hamas is neutralized.”

Comments like that rendered some people apoplectic, including 16 of his former campaign staffers, who wrote a letter chastising him for his stance, asserting that “These are not the values we believed you to hold” and that the senator cannot “be a champion of forgotten communities if you cheerlead this war.”

It also squeezed some cynicism from people like progressive strategist Waleed Shahid, who attributed Mr. Fetterman’s position to “fear of [the] political consequences” of not toeing the line of some pro-Israel groups.

But Mr. Fetterman’s concern for Jewish lives isn’t anything new. Back in 2018, when he was the Democratic lieutenant governor nominee in Pennsylvania, running against Republican Jeff Bartos, the moment he heard about the “Tree of Life” shooting, he phoned his Jewish opponent.

Later that day, Mr. Bartos thanked Mr. Fetterman for that call and told him “you’re a mentch.” He chuckled, Mr. Bartos recalled, and said, “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

Presumably, he received the answer.

Back in November, Mr. Fetterman met with survivors of the October 7 attack and family members of the hostages held by Hamas. He subsequently hung photos of the hostages on the wall outside his Senate office, where they remain.

On a social media posting showing an image of the words “Free Palestine” on a wall outside a high school in Pittsburgh’s primary Jewish neighborhood, he responded with the comment: “This is reprehensible. The only thing that belongs on a wall right now is this.”

The “this” was an image of the hostage photographs hanging outside his office.

Last month, anti-Israel demonstrators gathered outside the Fetterman home in Braddock, Pennsylvania, screeching “Fetterman, Fetterman, you can’t hide. You’re supporting genocide.”

The senator responded by climbing onto his roof and waving an Israeli flag at the screechers.

Social psychologists coined the term “reactive devaluation” to describe how some tend to automatically and unthinkingly disparage ideas and people because they come from groups or parties that they have preexistent negative feelings about. It’s a common reaction but not a justified one.

Thinking people don’t play the “Black and White” game. They judge ideas and people by actually evaluating them, not by making thoughtless generalizations. And thinking-personhood is something to which we should all aspire.


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