The only useful thing about the Ilhan Omar bad-tweet scandal was the way that it provided both a free-form seminar on the layers and levels of coded anti-Semitism and a vivid demonstration of the ways, both more coded and less, of expressing, and enacting, contempt for Muslims. The whole thing was exhausting and exhausted from its inception, a story moving at Twitter speed while being foreordained not to move at all.
By day’s end Omar had delivered as conclusive-sounding an apology as is possible under contemporary conditions; the next day Donald Trump would be ignoring the whole concept of apology or conclusion, grinding away as the complaint with the endlessly renewable power of his cynicism. Nothing could make it go away, because the grievance that mattered was the grievance that holds, axiomatically, that Muslims are unfit for public office. Whatever she said or did—whether making an offensive remark or recanting it—her guilt was a given.
In the long brawl between people pretending not to recognize the power of anti-Jewish tropes and people pretending not to be able to distinguish between AIPAC and Judaism, it was possible to see through the dust now and then. Jake Tapper, tweeting early in the controversy, wrote that “GOP Leader McCarthy’s comments were focused not on policy differences but on what he sees as anti-Semitic rhetoric from Reps. Omar and Tlaib.”
With that tweet came a link to a story in Roll Call, in which Kevin McCarthy, the leader of the Republican minority in the house, professed to believe that Ilhan Omar and her colleague Rashida Tlaib were, if anything, more offensive than his own party’s longstanding and overt white nationalist, Steve King.
Asked if he sees the Democrats’ comments against Israel as comparable to King’s remarks about white supremacy, McCarthy said, “Yes and more so.”
Roll Call allowed him to do this without going to the effort of quoting anything the two had said:
In addition to the anti-Israel comments, the Republican leader referenced, without specificity, comments Tlaib made earlier this year about Trump saying Democrats should “impeach the motherf—er.”
“Impeach the motherfucker” was many things, including a valid policy proposal, but it was not by any possible contortion an expression of hostility toward Jews. Adding it to the list of complaints about Omar and Tlaib was a confession that McCarthy, and the news cycle treating McCarthy’s remarks as worth covering, didn’t care what anti-Semitism might or might not be. All that mattered was what it could be used for.