WASHINGTON — I have always found Chanuka to be a bit unsettling. While it’s a holiday that has become a cornucopia of fun and games, full of gifts and gelt, this festival is actually all about celebrating conquest and purity.
We need to remember that as the zealot Maccabees headed to Jerusalem to take the Temple back, that the first victims of their march to salvation were other Jews — moderate ones at that.
This is unsettling, because while I am proud of being Jewish, and while I light the candles every Chanuka with my daughters, I view myself as the type of moderate Jew that the Maccabees probably would have killed on their march. This is not a very pleasant thought.
There are, however, lessons to be learned from this holiday that can be applied to today’s current events. That is because at its core, Chanuka is a holiday about the comingling of ideology, politics, and power — the same type of toxic mixture that is infiltrating American political life.
This is unfortunate, because while America is a tolerant country, we are living in difficult times. And much as the Maccabees did in their day, a new breed of Maccabee — the Tea Party — is about to invade Washington.
My bet is that just like their Maccabee forebears, the first victims of their efforts will be the moderates of their own kind: the few remaining establishment Republicans who still roam the streets of the American capital.
One can already see their influence on issues of the day. Take for example the debate about the New START treaty, which is a moderate arms control treaty negotiated between the United States and Russia to reduce each of our lethal nuclear arsenals by roughly one-third, is being attacked by the Tea Party, even though six former Republican secretaries of state support it.
In this case, the ideological hard right of the Republican Party has enforced voting discipline on the rest to the detriment of us all. More than 80 percent of Americans support treaty ratification, but there it sits, languishing until the last possible minute under the tortured demands of its opponents. Yet for those moderate establishment Republicans who have stood up to this pressure and dared to reach across the partisan aisle, particularly those who support this arms control treaty, such as Richard Lugar of Indiana or Bob Corker of Tennessee, you can be sure that they will not be spared by their own party’s Maccabees. In fact, they are already under attack from their puritans.
So, who will be the future Judah Maccabees on Capitol Hill?
Will it be Rand Paul, the new senator from Kentucky, who has already told AIPAC that he doesn’t want to discuss foreign aid to Israel, ostensibly because he doesn’t support it? Will he start attacking the members of Congress who support aid to Israel, even in these tough economic times? He certainly won’t be open to foreign aid overall, despite longstanding bipartisan support for it.
Or how about the incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Joe Barton of Texas, who last summer apologized to BP executives for the government’s demand that the company actually pay for cleanup expenses related to the Gulf oil spill? He certainly won’t be open to compromises on environmental policy.
Yet while the new Tea Partiers who come to Washington will make noises about purifying Congress with their ideas, a la the Maccabees, they will likely find quiet resistance from the sitting Republican leaders, who worry about a cleansing.
These leaders understand that most Americans don’t want puritanical politics.
Yet the Tea Party Republicans will not be deterred, much to the disdain of the establishment Republicans. And why should they be? The establishment Republican leaders fed the beast of extremism during the past year in order to win elections this past November. So while they fanned the flames of Islamaphobia, Obama-bashing, and being the party of “no” for their own self-interest, they now have their own extremists to contend with.
And if they don’t deliver, the emotions that fed the anti-Obama anger will just as quickly turn the other direction.
My bet is that this will happen, as the establishment Republican leaders in the House, who now actually have the responsibility of leadership, will have to succeed in achieving the Tea Party’s’ demands. And they won’t, because these demands will die in the Democratic-controlled Senate. And as the Tea Party’s grow impatient, they will seek to cleanse themselves of their moderate establishment Republican colleagues, much as the Maccabees did.
So don’t be surprised if Chanuka history repeats itself and the Tea Party, which is now inside the Temple, savages its own first, and then looks for salvation and a new, pure Judah Macabbee type candidate for president in 2012.
Perhaps, frighteningly, Sarah Palin will fit the bill.
(Joel Rubin, deputy director and chief operating officer of the National Security Network in Washington, D.C., and a Pittsburgh native, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His views are his own and not necessarily those of the National Security Network.)