OBAMA’S TEACHING MOMENT. Alec MacGillis reported Tuesday on the spectacle of Barack Obama's campaign frantically trying to distance the candidate from an ad for Mearsheimer and Walt's new book The Israel Lobby which appeared on the campaign's website. Yesterday we had this number from The Politico, in which Ben Smith functioned as a conduit for vague, unsubstantiated accusations of bigotry against the authors, and also against Obama adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.

"Brzezinski, 79, stepped into the crossfire this summer when he published an essay in the summer issue of the journal Foreign Policy, defending a controversial new book about the power of the “Israel Lobby” in American politics.

The book’s authors, Harvard’s Stephen Walt and the University of Chicago’s John Mearsheimer, thanked him for his “incisive defense.”

But the article inserted him into one of the most heated debates in America-Israel politics, a bitter dispute about whether the authors’ claims smacked of bigotry, whether their critics are – as Brzezinski put it — “McCarthyite.”

“It is a tremendous mistake for Barack Obama to select as a foreign policy adviser the one person in public life who has chosen to support a bigoted book,” said Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, one of the most visible critics of the Walt and Mearsheimer volume, titled “The Israel Lobby.” (Dershowitz has contributed to the campaign of Obama’s leading rival, Senator Hillary Clinton of New York.)"

If Brzezinski thought that helping to negotiate the single most significant and long-lasting peace treaty in Israel's history, in which the preeminent Arab state recognized Israel, and removed the threat of a united Arab front against the Jewish state, had immunized him against charges of being "anti-Israel," well, think again, friend. Like Walt and Mearsheimer, Brzezinski has never written or said anything that any reasonable person could interpret as bigoted, let alone anti-Semitic, but, in the calculus of pro-Israel hardliners, the fact that he has maintained a firm and consistent critique of Israeli policy over the years is quite enough to qualify him for pariah status.

"Mr. Dershowitz said that while Mr. Obama has been a strong supporter of Israel, he "made a terrible mistake" by bringing on Mr. Brzezinski, which he attributed to "naivete.""

Here's a great example of the chilling effect in action. By "naivete," Dershowitz doesn't mean Obama's relative inexperience in foreign affairs, which is precisely what Brzezinski was brought in to meliorate. The "naivete" to which Dershowitz is refers involves Obama's apparent unawareness of the unacceptability of certain foreign policy ideas in American politics, the impermissibility of associating with people who espouse those ideas, and the price exacted if these strictures are ignored. Hillary Clinton learned that lesson after she embraced Suha Arafat in 1999. We'll see how Obama does.

--Matthew Duss