The absolute evil of what passes for today’s conservative movement may not shock my more liberal readers, but those of us on the Right who were brought up in a more salubrious time remember when things were quite different. Believe it or not, conservatives didn’t always resort to smears instead of arguments indeed, they were the most frequent recipients of smears (let the shade of Barry Goldwater testify on my behalf!). As a tiny minority during the 1950s and 60s, the organized right-wing in America was an ideologically diverse and intellectually exciting crowd a far cry from the lockstep party-lining one-dimensional movement of war-bots we see today.
Yes, I’m so old that I can remember when National Review was interesting. How I looked forward to its bi-weekly appearance at our well-stocked high school library. Frank S. Meyer! Russell Kirk! A non-senile William F. Buckley, Jr.! What more could a teen-aged right-winger want? Some 35 years later, their places have been usurped by Jonah Goldberg, Ramesh Ponnuru, and, worst of all, the faux-Kirkean pseudo-classicist "gentleman farmer," Victor Davis Hanson. Not to mention the living ghost of WFB, who must surely howl on certain nights at the sight of his Lilliputian epigones, lightweights all.
That Jonah Goldberg’s facile punditry masks a truly nasty nature seems beyond dispute: after all, here is someone who made his reputation, such as it is, retailing sex tapes surreptitiously recorded, "leaking" a trail of slime that eventually slipped up a President. A more fitting symbol of the Clinton era conservative movement a gaggle of remarkably unattractive character assassins, bereft of ideas and fixated on filth would be hard to imagine. Now, in his syndicated column, the little twerp takes out after Pat Buchanan for his now famous remark about "Soviet Canuckistan" but not directly. Instead, Goldberg hisses:
"I make reference to Buchanan’s remark solely because I am positive 99 percent of you didn’t know he said it. Pat made the comment on the unwatched program Buchanan and Press on America’s Most unwatched network, MSNBC."
Except this turns out to be not quite true. Goldberg admits "a quick Nexis search reveals that Buchanan’s remark has been mentioned or discussed in over 100 newspaper articles." Gee, it looks like somebody is watching, even if it’s only a bunch of Canadians. But the whole point of Goldberg’s little riff is to not only repeat the litany of canards flung by our touchy northern neighbors, but to relay the news that:
"Some Canadian newspapers tried to link the phrase ‘Soviet Canuckistan’ to a website run by a racist and Holocaust-denier."
Goldberg regularly freeloads off his "blogger" friends, cadging material without acknowledgement, and in this case he’s stealing from one Damien Penny, a Canadian whose "blog" is a compendium of reasons to hate Arabs and love Israel. Penny references this piece in the Canadian Press, in which one Nancy Carr avers:
"His reference to Canada as a ‘Soviet Canuckistan’ apparently has some sinister origins. It’s a term frequently used by American Holocaust-denier Eric Thomson on his Web site thirdworldplanet.com, a virulently racist and anti-Semitic site."
What’s sinister is this ridiculous smear, which Goldberg passes along as if it were credible. Actually, the term "Canuckistan" has been used by the Quebec nationalists as a term of contempt for the unitary state of Canada, as well as by American right-wingers not to mention alternative music reviewers, stock traders, lovers of absinthe, traders in silver, and self-described "geek-chicks," all before Buchanan’s dust-up with our neighbors to the north.
Google can be dangerous when it falls into the wrong hands. But in the right hands, it can be used to show that first dibs on "Soviet Canuckistan" must go, not to some obscure neo-Nazi, but to the dreadlocked 23-year-old "Tar/Giant" on FaceTheJury.com a personal "chat room" and meat market whose user profile (dated January 29, 2001) gives his location as "Soviet Canuckistan," and his sexual orientation as "heterosexual." Under "About Me," Tar/Giant writes:
"You could never resist glorifying despair well now it’s coming to you and i don’t really care…"
Yeah, well, we all have days like that. But apparently "I don’t really care" pretty much describes the moral credibility of Ms. Carr, and those who, like Goldberg, are a transmission belt for the clumsy smears of clueless character assassins. It’s disgusting, really, to contemplate the depths to which the conservative movement of today has fallen. The Clinton era crowd, brought up on the salacious details of one of the most corrupt administrations since that of Ulysses S. Grant (or, perhaps, Caligula), has only a single arrow in its quiver: smearing, rather than arguing, is all they know how to do.
Take, for another example, all the brouhaha over the Washington sniper and his young accomplice. Not only Goldberg but also a number of his colleagues at the neoconized National Review were absolutely certain that John Williams-Muhammad and young Malvo were part of an Al Qaeda plot even before the deadly duo were caught. According to young Goldberg, "this is part of the Fall offensive, along with the attacks in Kuwait and off the coast of Yemen."
When Muhammad’s alleged links to the Nation of Islam came out, they whooped for joy aha! Never mind that NOI had no connection to even the Wahabist brand of radical Islam, which is theologically closer to Judaism and Christianity. And now that we are learning about the long history of Muhammad’s criminality, it is becoming abundantly clear that his motivation can hardly be called ideological. As an editorial in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently put it:
"The discovery that the weapon used in the Washington-area sniper attacks was also used to kill an Atlanta man on Sept. 21 — 11 days before the spree began up North has brought a frightening story much closer to home. It also confirms the absurdity of efforts by some to link those tragic attacks to Islamic terrorism.
"Yes, the main adult suspect in the killings is a man named John Muhammad. But robbery and mayhem, not politics, seem to have been his motivation. If that makes him an Islamic terrorist, then Timothy McVeigh was a Christian terrorist and David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam killer, was a Jewish terrorist."
Not that Jonah Goldberg, boy detective, will ever admit that he and his fellow neocons were dead wrong. William Safire, as the AJC editorialist points out, "tried to depict Muhammad as part of the great Islamic dagger aimed at the heart and soul of America." According to Daniel Pipes, the news media "shut their eyes" to the Al Qaeda connection. "When Muslims engage in terrorism against Americans," Pipes wrote, "the guiding presumption must be that they see themselves as warriors in a jihad against the ‘Great Satan.’ " Canada’s noted Muslim-baiter Mark Steyn averred "It doesn’t matter whether they were acting on orders or simply improvising." If a Muslim holds up a gas station, it’s a "jihad."
Facts, reality, truth these, what Russell Kirk called "the Permanent Things," have all been abandoned by a neoconservative movement in power. Without acknowledging any error, Goldberg and the gang will just go on to the next propaganda campaign, with the neocon party line filtering out inconvenient information. They are always "on message," and the message is this: war, war, eternal war, and the alleged benefits of "democratic" Caesarism.
Against the neoconservative world-conquerors in the front ranks of the War Party, Professor Kirk had this to say:
"’Four legs good, two legs bad’ such is the ideology of the pigs in Animal Farm. ‘Democracy good, all else bad’ such is the democratist ideology. A politicized American army operating abroad would be no more popular soon than the Red Army has been. An imposed or induced abstract democracy thrust upon peoples unprepared for it would produce at first anarchy, and then-as in nearly all of ’emergent’ Africa, over the past four decades-rule by force and a master."
The neoconservatives of today have no arguments, except fearmongering, and no respect for the traditions of a movement they usurped from the inside. They are immune to the warnings of Kirk, and the Old Right, against the emulation of the liberal original sin of hubris. As Kirk pointed out shortly before his death:
"Neoconservatives’ demands nowadays that all the world be thoroughly democratized overnight remind me strongly of a similar enthusiasm not long after the end of the Second World War. Gentlemen such as Chester Bowles then proclaimed that Africa, liberated from European domination, promptly would rejoice in an array of democracies on the American model. The United States took measures, then and later, to accelerate this happy progress economic restraints upon trade of one sort or another with Portugal, Rhodesia, and latterly the Republic of South Africa. We all know, of course, how blissfully democratic Angola, Mozambique, Guinea, and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) are today ."
Revising Marx, we might say that history repeats itself, the first time as a liberal conceit, the second as a neo-conservative axiom. But what is most striking is the vast gulf that separates the conservatives of Kirk’s sort with the hacks that claim that title today. What neoconservative scribbler for National Review would entertain seriously the term "Caesarism," as Kirk did?:
"Caesarism slipped into the White House constitutionally, if not naturally, with the murder of President Kennedy in 1963. The plebiscitary democracy would elect Lyndon Johnson President in 1964; but Johnson’s military failure would undo him, despite his panem et circenses; and a rebellious senator would strip him of the purple. If Caesars do not win their battles, they fall. In this, although not in much else, perhaps it was as well that the war in Vietnam was lost."
Writing of his unlikely visit to the White House of Lyndon Baines Johnson, Kirk exhibits open contempt not only for the occupant but for the degradation of the office, from the Oval Office of America’s chief executive to the throne-room of a global empire:
"On a wall of my library hangs a photograph of myself with President Johnson; both of us are smiling; it is well to be civil to Caesar. It might be thought that Russell Kirk would not have been eager to visit Caesar in the Oval office of the Imperial Mansion; indeed I was not."
The occasion for the visit was a ceremony at which Kirk delivered a copy of his latest book, a biography of Senator Taft, to the President who had eulogized Taft on the Senator’s death. The nation was then embarked on a two front war, against "poverty" at home and for "democracy" in Vietnam and on a world scale. Kirk was obviously not impressed with the imperial pomp and circumstance of Johnson’s wartime White House. Indeed, it disgusted him. To the neocons, of course, this is nothing less than treason, and the truth of it doesn’t matter. Their allegiance is to Caesar, not truth; they don’t want to be right, just in power.
That’s why the emergence of The American Conservative is such an important, indeed an earthshaking, phenomenon. Somewhere, one can feel certain, the spirit of Russell Kirk that prolific writer of ghost stories, as well as such classics as The Conservative Mind is applauding.
TAC represents an enormous challenge to the neocons. They have controlled the institutions of the Right mainly through their influence with major donors, and more recently an alliance with "dispensationalist" Protestant fundamentalists on the linked questions of Israel and war in the Middle East. TAC represents the views of northeastern Catholics and old-fashioned midwestern "isolationists" who, together, have generally gone unrepresented in conservative councils.
The neocons hate and fear this new phenomenon, a peace movement developing on the Right. And that is precisely why the neocons are lashing out with increased attacks not only on Buchanan, and his new magazine, but on yours truly. Ronald Radosh’s recent screed, published in the supposedly toney "Ideas" section of the Sunday Boston Globe, retails the neocon party line: the Buchanan-Taki-Raimondo Axis of Evil is intent on reviving a "red-brown" alliance in a reborn America First movement against U.S. intervention abroad. In what was supposed to be a critique of the first issue of TAC, what I wrote therein is not quoted, but my alleged sex life is trotted out as exhibit number one. So what’s up with that?
Much has been made of the lack of civility in public discourse, noted especially during the Clinton years, but no one has recently made the point that the public debates of a republican order differ qualitatively from politics in the age of Empire. In his 1992 lecture to the Heritage Foundation, Kirk cited Amaury de Riencourt, the author of a prophetic book entitled The Coming Caesars, published in 1957, widely discussed at the time and now forgotten:
"Unless measures of restraint should be taken, Riencourt wrote and taken promptly the United States would fall under the domination of 20th century Caesars."
Kirk went on to cite this passage from the text:
"With Caesarism and Civilization, the great struggles between political parties are no longer concerned with principles, programs and ideologies, but with men. Marius, Sulla, Cato, Brutus still fought for principles. But now, everything became personalized. Under Augustus, parties still existed, but there were no more Optimates or Populares. No more conservatives or democrats. Men campaigned for or against Tiberius or Drusus or Caius Caesar. No one believed any more in the efficacy of ideas, political panaceas, doctrines, or systems, just as the Greeks had given up building great philosophic systems generations before. Abstractions, ideas, and philosophies were rejected to the periphery of their lives and of the empire, to the East where Jews, agnostics, Christians, and Mithraists attempted to conquer the world of souls and minds while the Caesars ruled their material existence."
The money sentence: Everything becomes personalized. This is the substance and the style of the post-Clinton conservatives, whose polemics are reduced to drive-by smearing. Formerly obsessed with the sexual antics of the Arkansas Caesar, they are now employing the same tactics against their enemies on the Right witness the really nasty and quite personal assaults launched on Taki, Buchanan, and myself. The drive-by smear technique, as perfected by Radosh, Goldberg, the National Review-Weekly Standard crowd and their enablers in the Establishment liberal media complex, such as Howard Kurtz and Alexander Star is their only weapon. Ideas don’t matter, truth is irrelevant if only they can have war in the Middle East, the ends will have justified the means.
Well, not so fast, guys, because even your Great Leader seems to be having doubts. The projected invasion of Iraq, which some were predicting would come wrapped as a Christmas present this year, has been postponed by the recently-passed UN resolution well into next year and perhaps beyond. The last deadline in the UN resolution comes at the end of February, and already the UN Security Council principals are claiming that the U.S. will have to make a return trip to the UN for final approval of military action. In any case, the emphasis now is on "disarmament" as opposed to "regime change" and who knows but that Iraq just might embrace the former in order to avoid the latter. A lot can happen between now and the Ides of March, 2003.
Despite the Republican recapture of the Congress, the War Party has just experienced a major setback. So expect the neocons to get even nastier, with more frequent and ever more vicious attempts to smear those they rightly regard as their enemies. Well, bring it on, I say. The ugliness of their methods reveals all we need to know about their goals and motives. As we say out here in California: it’s all good.