April 23, 2007

Every once in a while the political spectrum changes polarities, and the traditional concepts of “Left” and “Right” undergo a radical transformation: wars have this effect, quite often, and, in the present case, the political landscape is shifting before our eyes.


How do I know this? Well, suddenly I find myself agreeing with all kinds of people I would never have given the time of day to: Dennis Kucinich, The Nation, the folks at dailykos.com. It’s uncanny, but understandable, given that George Bush and the “conservative” movement have signed on to a program of perpetual war abroad and the unlimited power of the executive branch on the home front. After all, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. And I also find that it isn’t just the Iraq war, and our crazed foreign policy, that I find myself agreeing with lefties on: I see that at least one liberal writer has now come to agree with us paleocons on a vitally important issue, one that unites us no matter what our other differences, and that is the Jonah Goldberg Question.


I made this pleasant discovery in a bloggingheads.tv interview with Eric Alterman, a columnist for The Nation, conducted by bluestocking-babe Garance Franke-Ruta, in which Alterman bemoaned the lack of “conservatives with whom I can respectfully disagree,” or even “learn from and admire,” instead of merely disdain. The lovely Garance confesses to an affection for Andrew Sullivan, which provokes Alterman to complain that he just isn’t getting any support anymore for his unabated hatred of Sullivan. (Hey, Eric, you are – see here, and here, and here!) Alterman makes an argument that many of us paleocons have been making for years: that Bush has so corrupted the conservative movement that there’s none left he can respect. Christopher Caldwell is mentioned, and Richard Brookhiser is given the thumbs-up as “a decent fellow.” And that seems about it. David Brooks – he’s “gone off the deep end,” says Alterman (too much of that neocon Kool-Aid, no doubt). Alterman doesn’t like the neocons, clearly, and he especially doesn’t cotton to Jonah Goldberg, The ascension of Goldberg, avers Alterman, dramatizes the intellectual bankruptcy of the Right, and shows how much conservatism has turned into “movement shtick.”


Paleocons have long cited National Review columnist and well-known Mama’s boy Jonah Goldberg as the epitome of all they find contemptible in the “new” (i.e. neocon-ized) conservative movement: Paul Gottfried coined the term “Goldbergism” to describe what has replaced the old conservatism of Frank S.Meyer and Russell Kirk in the pages of National Review. Whatever else we paleos disagree about – and, not being a party-lining, neo-Trotskyite cult, we often disagree about many things – we can all agree on one overriding principle: Jonah Goldberg represents All That Has Gone Wrong. Or, as Paul Gottfried so memorably put it: “Goldbergism – The Lowest (Terminal) Stage of Conservatism.”


Just look at how this young up-and-comer rose to his present position. It was Jonah’s mother, Lucianne Goldberg, who advised Monica Lewinsky to record her conversations with Bill Clinton, and save the infamous stained blue dress, and he was privy to all that: as he put it, “I did my bit in the trenches of Clinton’s trousers” – and it launched his career as a “conservative” luminary. He went from being a retailer of dirt, to a retailer of neoconservative talking points – not a very difficult transition to make.


Goldberg has taken a series of positions that limn the neoconservative heresy to a tee:


· We must go to war with Iraq in order to save Israel’s neck, and, by the way, just to demonstrate our destructive power. As we were about to invade Iraq, he wrote:


“It seems obvious, to me at least, that the destruction of Israel — be it slow or fast — would be perceived as further dissolution of the American Empire. So, as a matter of cold political calculation, avoiding war now would only delay the inevitable, leaving Israel at the mercy of states dedicated to its death (or at least its constant insecurity). In short, the destruction of Israel would launch the next war, it would not avert it.


“So how does all this, or the humble attempt at a history lesson of my last column, justify tearing down the Baghdad regime? Well, I’ve long been an admirer of, if not a full-fledged subscriber to, what I call the "Ledeen Doctrine." I’m not sure my friend Michael Ledeen will thank me for ascribing authorship to him and he may have only been semi-serious when he crafted it, but here is the bedrock tenet of the Ledeen Doctrine in more or less his own words: "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business."


This, it seems to me, displays the same mentality as exhibited in the rantings of the Virginia Tech killer: we have to terrorize people just because we can, just because we’re angry – and just because it’s time to show them who’s boss. It’s pure sadism, in other words, that motivated Goldberg to stand on the sidelines and cheer as the greatest military disaster in American military history was launched.


Here’s another pillar of the Goldbergian “conservative” dispensation:


· Political correctness must come before conservative principles, because the only conservative principle worth preserving is loyalty to the Republican party. As Trent Lott was being sacrificed on the altar of political expediency, Goldberg averred:


“The idea that fairness to Lott should supersede what’s good for the Republican party is of a piece with precisely the sort of back-scratching, log-rolling mentality that got the GOP in trouble in the first place. It bespeaks a mind-set that says, “Well, Senator so-and-so voted for my pet project, so in fairness to him, I’ll vote for his.” Nowhere does this calculation figure in the good of the country. Lott’s rehab is a nice story — for Lott. But it’s hard to see how it will have a happy ending for the rest of us.”


The only problem is that there is no ending: it started with Senator Lott, but it won’t end with Don Imus.


· Speaking of enforcers, neoconservatives of the Goldbergian ilk are the chief enforcers of political correctness in the U.S.


Goldberg has long vied with David “Axis of Evil” Frum for the role of chief enforcer of the neocons. Back in the day, he complained to the Cato Institute’s Tom Palmer that libertarians weren’t doing enough to “police their own movement.” What he meant was that it was time for libertarians to rid themselves of “radicals” (i.e. libertarians who take libertarianism seriously, as opposed to treating it like something between a counter-cultural sideshow and an intellectual parlor game) like me. (Palmer has since tried taking him up on his challenge, albeit without much success.) He took a leading role in the smearing of Pat Buchanan, another “police action” that had little effect, and when Commissar Frum issued his fatwa against antiwar conservatives, there was Goldberg, cackling and rubbing his hands together in glee like some comic strip villain.


Of course, now that the war he and his fellow Israel-Firsters wanted has turned into such an unmitigated disaster that not even they can deny it any longer, they have taken to denying … their own existence. Neocons? What neocons? According to Goldberg, there ain’t no such creature as a neoconservative – it’s all a scheme by nefarious “anti-Semites” who couldn’t bring themselves to say the word “Jew” and so had to content themselves with a “code word” like neocon. It didn’t matter that the intellectual authors of neoconservatism were writing screeds hailing “the neoconservative persuasion” or that the saga of the neocons’ migration from far left to “moderate” right was well-known to intellectual historians – it was all a myth, a canard, and a smear, personally directed at him!


As one of our leading advocates of torture – it would be “dogmatism” to oppose it – Goldberg is surely doing his part to inure us to the practice, as reading his prose is – I hope – the closest thing to torture that I’ll ever experience.


This is to say nothing of his sillier sallies into High Theory: such as his long treatise (in two parts!) on why we should invade and “liberate” Africa, a real classic of Goldbergiana. Or his venture into on-the-spot reporting, such as his breathless account, in the early days of Iraq’s “liberation,” of supposedly grateful Iraqis greeting us with rose petals and cries of “Bush!” That particular piece he had the nerve – or utter cluelessness – to title “Antiwar Shame.” Yet it is he who knows no shame, as the war he assured us would be victorious—and even lots of fun—turned into the nightmare that won’t go away.


Having dragged the GOP down to the status of a small, beleaguered cult, and reduced the conservative movement to an adjunct of AIPAC, the neocons still maintain their characteristic arrogance: humility is not part of their psychological makeup. Even as the American Right crumbles all around them, Goldberg & Co. assure the stockholders that the company still has value, but the signs of intellectual bankruptcy are unmistakable – Goldberg himself being one of them.

Image courtesy of Vinyl Abuse.


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