November 05, 2008
As Tom Piatak discusses over at Chronicles, David Frum hastened to the defense of his fellow-neocon Anne Applebaum, the historian of the Soviet gulags and the current wife of the current Polish foreign minister. It seems that NR dared to rebuke this lady for her enthusiastic backing of Obama. Frum complained about “how the house of conservatism has shrunk” if it could not find any place for his Obamaite pal. According to Tom, the house of conservatism has been shrinking for years partly because of the “smears” that Frum and his companions have inflicted on journalists and scholars identified with the Right. As one of those many people whom Frum has smeared, I too find it laughable listening to him yammer about “intolerant” movement conservatives, when they occasionally pay attention to those who have strayed off the ranch in the direction of the left.
At the same time, one has to notice a beeline forming from the movement conservative camp into the Obama fold, and the list of defectors now includes Ken Adelman, Francis Fukuyama, Christopher Buckley, Jeff Hart, and Anne Applebaum. I”ve no doubt that one week hence this group of apparent defectors will have swelled into swarm of rent-seekers. FOX news this morning was full of good cheer about our latest victory over racism and its reporters were vibrating with good will (or else laughing gas) as they read Senator McCain’s concession remarks about how “we have overcome the prideful arrogance of bigotry.” So much for the neocons” no longer even feigned dread of Obama’s presidency!
Now there is nothing unusual about the official Right’s movement toward the left being observed. Among neocons this shifting is standard procedure, as I learned from Daniel Bell, when he told me in a letter in 1986 about his tactics and those of his friends in the 1972 presidential race. Danny and Irving had “agreed” to take different sides in the Nixon-McGovern race, so that everyone in their group would come out on top. Neocons are always concerned about taking and keeping power, and if they like to foul other people’s nests as they move about, one has to be a fool or else in their pay not to observe this defining trait. In any case I don”t feel sorry for either the thoroughly compromised GOP or its adjunct conservative movement. Both deserved to have their nests fouled.
In fact Senator McCain may be wishing he had never taken over neocon rhetoric lock, stock and barrel and particularly since some of its authors are now rushing into his opponent’s camp, even before the moldering corpse of the most recent GOP campaign has been given proper burial. Still and all, judging by his unconvincing campaign and his exultant remarks about Obama’s shattering racial barriers, we might assume that the GOP standard-bearer was complicit in his own justified defeat.
But there is a second factor, beside opportunism and group strategy, at work here. NR “conservatives” deciding to go over to the Obama- camp is part of a process that has been unfolding for decades. The establishment Right has become steadily more leftist and it has happily thrown overboard those who couldn”t accommodate themselves to changing times. My book Conservatism in America and a forthcoming piece in The American Conservative fill in the details here, but this veering toward the left on the part of the American Right did not start the day before yesterday. If Bill Buckley had remained in charge of NR and in reasonably good health up until the present, it is not unlikely that he would have made the same political journey as his son, given the leftward trajectory of his politics for more than thirty years. While this clearly doesn”t mean that “conservatism” becomes more leftist with each passing day, it does mean that during a twenty to thirty year period, it has steered leftward on a wide range of social issues.
This process of forced adjustment, however, has now hit a snag, and it may not be open to resolution by doing the usual thing, which is dumping and slandering rightwing deviationists. Kicking out people on the left may be truly problematic for the neocon masters and minicon operatives who manage the current movement conservative media. Behaving in the way in which Tom Piatak reproaches Frum for behaving made sense up until now. After all who in media journalism took the slightest offense when Frum decried Pat Buchanan as a Nazi or me as a madman? The liberal pals of the neocons couldn”t be happier than when seeing them lower the boom on “fascist” or “extremist” types. Nor did liberals care, as in the case of Bill Buckley’s disingenuous polemics, that “moderate conservatives” stretched the truth a bit by presenting ordinary political enemies as borderline Nazis. Attacks on the right are the kind of thing that neocons have grown rich from. They have certainly never weakened their organizational strength, and they provide a grave warning to their dependents not to step out of line, lest they too are smashed like bedbugs, to the thunderous applause of the leftist media.
But what is now happening is that some of their colleagues are moving too quickly in the direction in which the movement has been going. How does one hold them back in order for the movement to make further adjustments in an orderly way, while pretending to be swimming along in an unhurried fashion? I”ve no idea how these people will deal with their problem, and it would delight me no end if it caused them perpetual agony. But it is nonetheless a question worth pondering. And an equally critical one is whether the next collective adjustment carried out by establishment conservatives will result in dogmatic doubt being aroused among the movement’s followers and fellow-travelers. Will their adherents adjust to this new veering leftward, when it inevitably comes? Or will some of them become disenchanted?
This may depend on age and degree of association. If the Right is to make a comeback, and such a comeback means counteracting the effects of political changes enacted in the 1960s, such a true resurgence would require the recruitment of those who were never contaminated. And I shall elaborate on this historical situation. What rendered the 1960s particularly grim for the real Right, beside the obvious concern about dwindling anti-Communism, as one could learn from reading NR before it became a leftist publication, were such transformational changes as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Immigration Reform Act passed in the same year. Those changes had long-range consequences that we are still trying to absorb, and the pervasive white guilt, persistent black resentment against whites, and the electoral and social impact of the mass Latino influx into the US from across our Southern border made the political events we are now living through inescapable.
Since the 1970s the conservative establishment has become increasingly euphoric about these changes while systematically removing from places of prominence in the movement those who have not shared this de rigueur enthusiasm. The criticism of the 1960s that is still permissible on the respectable right has been limited to epiphenomenal fluff, such as the failure of hippies to apply sufficient body deodorant or to brush their teeth often enough or the predilection of certain unidentified antiwar protestors for dead Teutonic critics of democracy. At the present time we need new blood and resources for a Right that will no longer have to live on a support-system. This Right will have to come back to life, like the dry bones of the House of Israel in the vision of Ezekiel, if an oppositional force to the multicultural Left is to have a chance. And it cannot depend on geriatric time-servers to cross party lines. Such old-timers who have shifted with the movement are of no use to the real Right. Good riddance to them all! Or to give my message a positive tone, let these useful idiots help President Obama “shatter racial barriers.”