While not specifically about the left, a major new scholarly book, "Pathological Altruism" (Oxford University Press), explores this phenomenon of people wanting to do good things yet ending up doing bad. It applies to The New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman, who has a deep altruistic urge to bring peace to the Middle East. But because he sees the world through the liberal/left prism, he says morally reprehensible things -- statements that individuals associated with hate-filled, non-altruistic groups and ideologies would make.
In his Dec. 13 column, yet another of his attacks on Israel and its supporters, Friedman wrote: "The standing ovation (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) got in Congress this year was ... bought and paid for by the Israel lobby."
If a non-Jew had written this, he would have been severely condemned for writing something outright anti-Semitic. The notion that Jews manipulate the levers of power in Western societies for their own nefarious ends is probably the most enduring of all the West's Jew-hating myths. It was a staple of Nazi anti-Semitism and is the single most repeated charge of those in the Arab and larger Muslim worlds who seek to annihilate Israel, since its purpose is to convince people that non-Jews who support Israel have been paid off by Jews.
But Friedman, who is a Jew and a liberal, can get away with it -- even though it is so morally repulsive that Jew-haters can now assert they are merely quoting a well-known Jew. Who's going to call him on it? The New York Times?
To his credit, one congressman did condemn Friedman. Rep. Steven R. Rothman (D-N.J.) released this statement: "Thomas Friedman's defamation against the vast majority of Americans who support the Jewish State of Israel, in his New York Times opinion piece today, is scurrilous, destructive and harmful to Israel and her advocates in the U.S. Mr. Friedman is not only wrong, but he's aiding and abetting a dangerous narrative about the U.S.-Israel relationship and its American supporters.
"I gave Prime Minister Netanyahu a standing ovation, not because of any nefarious lobby, but because it is in America's vital national security interests to support the Jewish State of Israel, and it is right for Congress to give a warm welcome to the leader of such a dear and essential ally. Mr. Friedman owes us all an apology."
Friedman's charge, as Rothman points out, is not only "scurrilous, destructive and harmful" to Israel, but it is also a lie. The Congress of the United States -- including Republicans who have virtually no Jews in their district or state -- supports Israel for the same reasons Harry Truman recognized Israel against the advice of the U.S. State Department, Richard Nixon saved Israel during the 1973 War despite his anger at Jewish liberals, and Dick Cheney vigorously supported Israel despite Wyoming's having almost no Jewish population. They all believed that Israel shares America's moral values, while Israel's enemies (who happen to hate America as well as Israel) do not.
So how does Mr. Friedman, whom I assume is an honorable man and well-intentioned seeker of peace in the Middle East, write something that is equally mendacious and hateful, that abets anti-Semitism and that labels every pro-Israel congressman and senator a political whore?
Because he is a man of the left.
When good people adopt the leftist worldview, they eventually support ideas and say things that are cruel. Thomas Friedman did not write this anti-Semitic libel because he is an anti-Semite. Of course he is not an anti-Semite. He wrote it because he is a leftist.
Leftism poisons everything it influences -- from journalism to the arts to universities to religion to government to male-female relations. And ultimately leftism poisons character. This does not mean that everyone with left-wing views becomes a bad person, and it doesn't mean that everyone with conservative views is a good person. Both judgments are untrue and foolish.
But it does mean that leftism leads to pathologic altruism, i.e., bad things done by people with pure intentions. Just as Mahatma Gandhi's hatred of violence led him to tell the Jews of Europe not to resist Hitler, so too has leftism led decent people who would weep at Israel's destruction to mouth the very same lies about Israel as those who seek its annihilation.