The Return of the Smear Brigade

As the crisis of the American empire lurches into its final stages, and conservatives begin to question the costs of imperialism, the neoconservative counterattack is going into overdrive. When prominent conservatives rose to say, “Cuts in the defense budget are not ‘off the table,’” the neocons began to worry that their formerly iron grip on the “conservative” brand is beginning to slip. As more Republicans in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail began sounding like the staunchly anti-interventionist Ron Paul, the neocons went on offense: Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin decreed that such proposals “are not an option,” and various members of the Kagan clan went on to point out that cutting back on a “defense” budget nearly equal to that of all other nations on earth combined would seriously imperil the nation’s very survival.

This attempt to prevent the USS Perpetual War from sinking into the ocean of government debt is not succeeding, in part because of the weak arguments advanced by the spend-more-on-defense crowd – do they really expect that conservative Republicans are going to agree with Robert Kagan that “it doesn’t make fiscal sense to cut the defense budget when everyone is scrambling for measures to stimulate the economy”? A generally unstated but important part is because of who is making these arguments.

After all, these are the same people who, in the 1990s, invented something called “National Greatness Conservatism,” which held up wars, the building of gigantic national monuments, and other costly pyramid-building schemes as the ne plus ultra of conservative thought. More recently, they claimed the Iraq war would be a “cakewalk” that would “pay for itself” – and dreamed of a large-scale military/social engineering project in the Middle East that would “drain the swamp” and lead to a “global democratic revolution” led by George W. Bush. And we all know how that turned out.

Defeated at the polls, and discredited within their own movement, the neocons retreated back into their subsidized think tanks and literary sanctuaries, of which The American Spectator is the Pinta to the Weekly Standard’s Santa Maria. From these redoubts, they presume to direct the course of the movement they brought to disaster, and correct deviations from the neocon party line, oblivious to the reality that few conservatives outside the Beltway are actually heeding their sage advice.

As the movement they infiltrated and came to dominate spins out of their control, and the fantasy world created by the likes of Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Mark Levin loses its grip on the rightist mindset, Rep. Ron Paul’s stock is rising. Faced with the world Paul has been warning for years was coming, conservatives are flocking to his banner and his solution to the crisis: rein in the Federal leviathan and get rid of our empire.

Neocons have never cared much for domestic policy: my theory is that it bores them. A single nation can hardly contain the grandiosity of their worldview [.pdf], the globe-spanning hubris of their vision of America, once described by neocon guru Bill Kristol as a “benevolent global hegemon.”

This is what neoconservatism is all about. On domestic policy, the neocons are all over the map, and especially on the relationship between government and the economy they are positively chameleon-like. Today the neocons are careful to blend their voices with the “anti-government” sentiment that motivates the conservative base, but it seems like only yesterday that Fred Barnes was hailing the arrival of what he called “Big Government Conservatism” in the pages of the Standard: the similarities between a policy aspiring to “national greatness” – another of Kristol’s hobby-horses – and “the Great Society” of LBJ’s day are not merely rhetorical.

When it comes to foreign policy, however, there is no modulating their rhetoric or hiding their agenda. It’s all about war – agitating for it, praising the virtues it supposedly instills, and always arguing that we should have gone to war yesterday, but today will do (e.g., the McCain-Graham critique of Obama’s Libyan intervention).

The neoconservative persuasion, as Bill’s dad dubbed it, was born in the deepest winter of the cold war, when American school-kids were told to “duck and cover” as the shadow of nuclear war hovered over the American Dream. These former leftists, who once worshiped at the altar of Leon Trotsky, did an about-face and transferred their allegiance from the Red Army to the US Army with varying degrees of rapidity – but always with great displays of polemical fireworks. James Burnham, Max Shachtman, Kristol Père, and a large number of lesser lights, all went on to become the most fanatical advocates of what Burnham, a founding editor of National Review, deemed the “rollback” strategy – military confrontation with the Soviet Union on a world scale. Murray Rothbard relates his personal experiences of what they meant by “rollback” in his book, The Betrayal of the American Right:

“The more I circulated among these people, the greater my horror because I realized with growing certainty that what they wanted above all was total war against the Soviet Union; their fanatical warmongering would settle for no less.”

“Of course the New Rightists of National Review would never quite dare to admit this crazed goal in public, but the objective would always be slyly implied. At right-wing rallies no one cheered a single iota for the free market, if this minor item were ever so much as mentioned; what really stirred up the animals were demagogic appeals by National Review leaders for total victory, total destruction of the Communist world. It was that which brought the right-wing masses out of their seats. It was National Review editor Brent Bozell who trumpeted, at a right-wing rally: “I would favor destroying not only the whole world, but the entire universe out to the furthermost star, rather than suffer Communism to live.” It was National Review editor Frank Meyer who once told me: “I have a vision, a great vision of the future: a totally devastated Soviet Union.” I knew that this was the vision that really animated the new Conservatism. Frank Meyer, for example, had the following argument with his wife, Elsie, over foreign-policy strategy: Should we drop the H-Bomb on Moscow and destroy the Soviet Union immediately and without warning (Frank), or should we give the Soviet regime 24 hours with which to comply with an ultimatum to resign (Elsie)?”

When the cold war ended, the neocons didn’t go out of business – they just went into hibernation, retreating to their richly-endowed think tanks and denouncing the GOP majority in the House of Representatives for threatening to defund Bill Clinton’s conquest of Kosovo. Kristol, yearning to “crush Serb skulls,” as he put it, threatened to walk out of the GOP.

Too bad he didn’t, because he and his comrades went on to dominate the conservative movement of the 1990s and eventually lead the party into the oblivion of the Bush era, when the oxymoronic Big Government Conservatism the neocons had been pushing was actually put into practice.

The results – imminent bankruptcy – you see all around you.

For decades, libertarians had been arguing, to little avail, that modern conservatism – the “new” conservatism of William F. Buckley, Jr., as promulgated in National Review – with its commitment to unmitigated militarism, would only lead to fiscal collapse and the subversion of our republican form of government. Today, these arguments have wide appeal, and not just to conservatives. Paul’s prescient calling of the 2008 economic implosion gave him real credibility and his second attempt to wrest the GOP presidential nomination is gaining traction, albeit mainly under the media’s radar. Last time around, the neocons targeted Paul as the virtual antithesis of all they stand for, and this time, too, they are sharpening their knives, ready to go after their ideological antipode hammer and tongs.

It’s early, yet, but already we have the main narrative of the neocon script, as evidenced in Jeffrey Lord’s American Spectator jeremiad, wherein an entire laundry list of charges are laid out in convenient indictment form. There’s just one problem: Lord’s charges are a tenuous tissue of lies. Tenuous because, once one challenges the historical ignorance on which they’re founded, the whole house of cards comes tumbling down.

I won’t bother with Lord’s nonsensical characterization of Paul as a “neo-liberal” – his record shows he isn’t any kind of modern liberal, or, indeed, a modern anything – except to note that is what leftists typically call neocons, and, indeed, anyone to their right. Nor will I deal with the charge that Paul and his followers fail to pay sufficient obeisance to such conservative icons as Buckley, Ronald Reagan, Rush Limbaugh, Edwin Meese, Antonin Scalia, etc., except to note that Reagan and Paul were friends, and the Gipper endorsed Paul in fulsome terms during a difficult Republican party primary.

Instead, I’ll just deal with the massive falsification of history indulged in by Lord, which involves a complete inversion of events as they occurred. In citing Paul’s non-interventionist foreign policy views, Lord declares that Paul is really a “liberal Republican,” because, after all, it was “the liberal Republicans of their day” who were the “isolationists” who opposed getting into two world wars. Lord names Senators William E. Borah, Gerald Nye, and the LaFollette brothers as exemplars of the species. These guys were RINOs, he avers, squishy moderates, and even leftists – but this is actually very far from the truth.

To begin with, I don’t know of anyone who glorifies our entry into the Great War – except, of course, for the neocons, who exult in any and all military conflict, as long as the US is actively involved. Is it really unquestionable that we should have gone to war to preserve the British, French, and Russian empires, as against that of the Kaiser and the Hapsburgs? European civilization was nearly wiped out, and the conflict was the crucible that gave rise to the twin totalitarianisms of Communism and National Socialism. As for World War II, the opposition to that war was almost exclusively the province of American conservatives, who opposed “Roosevelt’s war” because they thought he meant to use it as an excuse to clamp on economic controls and transform the American system – in retrospect, a pretty accurate diagnosis, in my view.

The “liberal Republicans” Lord writes of were a minority within the anti-interventionist movement, and they were no kind of “moderate” Republicans of the sort we would find recognizable. Borah, Nye, and other Midwestern Republicans were known as progressives – indeed, they formed their own party and ran Teddy Roosevelt (that old warmonger!) for President early in the century. They were against bigness – big corporations, as well as big government – and saw Wall Street as utilizing the instrument of government to advance its own interests at public expense. Generally supportive of the New Deal in the beginning, they turned when FDR tried to pack the Supreme Court, and then set up the National Recovery Administration as a kind of corporate syndicalism. In short, these “liberal Republicans” joined the ranks of the President’s most implacable enemies – the very “economic royalists” they had once denounced. Conservative businessmen such as H. Smith Richardson, the Vick Chemical Company tycoon, Gen. Robert E. Wood, head of Sears & Roebuck, and Henry Regnery, the Midwestern businessman who later started the first conservative publishing concern, were the core of the opposition to Roosevelt’s economic policies, and the financial center of the Republican party.

Lord shoves this well-known history down the Memory Hole, and replaces it with a version made for the dumbed-down cable-TV/talk-radio world that he and his fellow neocons imagine will turn on Paul. This shows the utter contempt the neocons have for their supposed constituency: just throw the rubes some red meat (it doesn’t matter if it’s rotten) and they’ll gobble it down, no questions asked.

But I have a few questions for Lord, such as: where does he get his lessons in Bizarro history? He cites historical “facts,” and then not only manages to get them stupidly wrong, but turns the truth on its head. Such as his accusation that, because a book list offered by the Paul organization recommends As We Go Marching, by John T. Flynn, that Paul is “anti-Semitic” – because, you see, Flynn was anti-Semitic, too, and birds of a feather….

This is nothing but a flat-out lie [.pdf].

In the first half of the 1930s, Flynn was a popular writer for The New Republic, and other mass market magazines, author of several best-selling books on economic matters, and a liberal of some note. With the coming of the New Deal, however, Flynn turned rightward, and by the 1950s he was one of America’s leading conservative voices. What won him over to the conservative cause – aside from the increasingly corporatist direction the New Deal was taking – was the right’s vehement opposition to US entry into World War II, and he became the head of the New York chapter of the American First Committee (AFC), which was led by “isolationist” (i.e. anti-interventionist) conservatives. The issue of whether to enter the war pitted the right against the left, with the latter taking the militantly pro-war position – especially after Hitler attacked the Soviet Union. Lefties, generally sympathetic to the Soviets, ditched their previously held antiwar views and jumped on the War Party’s bandwagon, going all out to save the “worker’s fatherland” no matter how many lives – and principles – were lost in the process.

The left viciously attacked the AFC as the “Nazi transmission belt.” The neocons of today, in labeling opponents of their post-9/11 strategy of world conquest “pro-terrorist,” and “appeasers,” took a page from history in limning the Roosevelt administration’s accusations against the “isolationists” – that in opposing war, they were consorting with the Enemy. Lord, who spends so much time trying to convince us Ron Paul is a “leftist,” sounds just like one of these leftist character assassins of days gone by when he accuses Flynn of anti-Semitism, because that is precisely what they did say about him – a charge entirely without any basis in fact.

Indeed, far from being anti-Semitic, Flynn was fanatical in his opposition to Nazism, and vehement in his campaign to rid the movement of anti-Semitic elements who tried to latch on to the AFC. As New York City chapter leader, he personally reviewed each and every letter they received offering support, checking it twice for evidence of any unsavory opinions. When Joe McWilliams, a dime-store American Hitler, and head of the “American Destiny Party,” showed up at a Madison Square Garden AFC rally, Flynn denounced him from the speakers’ platform, noting dryly that that pro-war media always knew where to find him.

It was Flynn, furthermore, who personally rebuked Charles Lindbergh, the famous aviator and spokesman for the AFC, after the infamous Des Moines address, in which the Lone Eagle identified Jews as one of three groups pushing for war. In a letter to Lindbergh, Flynn noted that while some Jewish leaders had inaccurately equated opposition to the war with anti-Semitism, and that it would be disastrous to make the war an ethnic issue, as the aviator had claimed in his speech, it was Lindbergh who had done precisely that. Surely pro-war propagandists who argue in such terms should be taken to task, said Flynn,

“But this is a far different matter from going out upon the public platform and denouncing ‘the Jews’ as the war-makers. No man can do that without incurring the guilt of religious and racial intolerance.”

This is an anti-Semite?

Lord’s faked-up “evidence” of Flynn’s bigotry is a speech by Senator Nye, supposedly written by Flynn, in which the Senator goes after Hollywood for pushing pro-war messages in films, naming leading movie studio executives by name – and, because most of these executives were Jewish, this, according to Lord, is prima facie evidence of “anti-Semitism.” Yet the same speech also goes after “British movie actors” for exerting the same influences, as well as pro-Communist elements: is the act of merely pronouncing someone’s name an “anti-Semitic” act? According to Lord, it is indeed – and one cannot really argue with such dogmatic ignorance.

Once again, Lord gets his history all wrong: indeed, he manages to turn the truth upside down. Because the real point of the hearings that investigated Hollywood’s bias in the war debate was over the question of monopoly: the movie industry was tightly controlled by the studios back then, on account of legal and economic realities of the time. Flynn and the anti-interventionist Senators were making the point that the studios wanted to save England’s skin because it represented a good chunk of their market, and their acting (and directing) talent. Economics rather than ethnicity was the central issue for Flynn and Nye: being Jewish had nothing to do with it.

The pro-war media of the time, staunchly pro-FDR and viciously partisan, took precisely the line echoed by Lord: the conservative media, notably the Chicago Tribune, defended the hearings. After wading through thousands of words in which Lord tries to paint Paul, and the America Firsters, as “liberal Republicans,” RINOs, and “leftists,” he repeats nearly word-for-word the accusations hurled at Flynn, Nye, and the rest by the most radical lefties of the day.

By repeating the standard leftist (and neocon) lies about the pre-WWII conservative movement, Lord hopes he can count on the ignorance of his audience – the conservatives of the year 2011 – to make them fall for it. That may have worked as recently as the last presidential election cycle, but this time around I rather doubt it: conservatives are rediscovering their own history, their real history, and getting back to their roots. Flynn’s works are a treasure trove in that regard, and anyone reading him today is going to immediately recognize that the issues he wrote about – the relationship of perpetual war and economic regimentation of the home front – are still at the center of the debate.

The idea that Paul is a “leftist” because he wants to return to the foreign policy of the Founders – who inveighed against going abroad “in search of monsters to destroy” – is patently absurd: even more ludicrous is Lord’s invocation of the timeworn smears of twentieth century leftists against the conservatives of yesteryear – and then pretending that authentic conservatives like Flynn were “men of the left.” They were not. Indeed, they have far more claim to that title than Lord and his cronies in the Hate Paul Brigade, who have to resort to falsifying history in order to smear a brave and decent man.

The most ridiculous charge coming from Lord – and, believe me, it’s a fierce competition – is perhaps his contention that the mere use of the word “neocon,” or neoconservative, is evidence of anti-Semitism. He “reasons” that since very many of the leading lights of neoconservatism are Jewish, that therefore “neocon” is a “code word” for “Jew.” On that basis, one could conclude that an attack on libertarianism is suggestive of an anti-Semitic pogrom, since virtually all the leading lights of the movement Paul comes from – with the exception of Friedrich Hayek – were of the Jewish faith: Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard (Paul’s friend and intellectual inspiration), Ayn Rand, and the list goes on. But of course no one on our side of the barricades would ever make such an accusation on such flimsy “evidence” – we’ll leave that to the professional character assassins, of which Lord is a leading practitioner.

By the way: who the heck is Jeffrey Lord, anyway? During the Reagan administration he held the non-job of White House “assistant political director,” i.e. professional political hack. However, his most recent claim to fame is a weird footnote to the Shirley Sherrod brouhaha. Lord wrote an article for the American Spectator claiming that Sherrod’s cousin – who had been attacked by three white policemen, and beaten to death with truncheons and lead pipes – hadn’t really been lynched, as she claimed, because the lynchers didn’t use a rope to hang him, but instead bludgeoned him to death.

The reaction to his piece was swift and unanimous: even other writers for the Spectator denounced him, and the magazine tried to distance itself from such a loopy assertion. Rather than admit he was wrong, and let it go at that, Lord kept digging, insisting that, no, it wasn’t a lynching based on some obscure quasi-legal argument.

That someone notorious for racial insensitivity – at the very least! – has the nerve to accuse anyone of bigotry takes the cake: Lord should get some kind of prize. His assault on Paul – and Flynn – is nothing but a classic case of projection.

Dr. Paul has become a lightning rod for all the worst tendencies in American politics: the neocons, the “Progressive” imperialists in the Obama camp, the Republican Establishment, and the crazed nationalists – or, as Lew Rockwell calls them, “red-state fascists” – who worshiped Bush II and handed the presidential nomination to John McCain, who never saw a war he didn’t want to involve the US in. Together, these factions have run the country into the ground, crippling the economy and making us hated all around the world. Their day is over – Ron’s has just begun.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].