April 22, 2008
Sunday’s NY Times story talks about the divergences between one-time running mates (and popular vote winners) Al Gore and Joseph Lieberman. Noting that Lieberman has moved to the “right” by becoming hawkish on Iraq, while Gore has moved to the “left” by staying true to his initial skepticism about that war, and becoming an activist on the subject of global climate change. Lieberman has gone so far as to start campaigning for John McCain—leading some lefties to wonder if they should try (again) to take him out of the Senate. But no: “A member of the Senate Democratic leadership, who insisted on not being identified, said: “The bloggers want us to get rid of him. It ain”t happening.” He added: ‘We need every vote. He’s with us on everything but the war.’”
How telling that is. Turn it around, and imagine a Republican leader admitting: “He’s against us on everything but the war.” Immigration, affirmative action, even partial birth abortion… on each of these subjects Lieberman votes like what he is—a liberal Democrat. Yet this is the man whom John McCain is still considering seriously as a VP candidate, whom the White House quietly supported against his Republican opponent in his last senatorial bid, when a peace candidate, Ned Lamont, wrested from Lieberman the Democratic nomination. And now this muttering Kermit is a star of Republican presidential rallies. Which just goes to show you what matters to the party leadership, and the most influential voices in the “conservative” media: Nothing but the war.
In 2002-3, when I was one of the least significant of the few conservatives to warn against invading Iraq—I was snubbed by Frum in his honor-roll of “unpatriotic conservatives”—I had no idea quite how important the war would turn out to be. I suspected that it would last far longer, cost much more, and turn out very much uglier than the chicken-hawks all promised. I knew that the Christians of Iraq were probably doomed to death or exile, while the prospects of building an Arab Switzerland on the Euphrates were pretty much nil. But no part of me expected that over 100,000 Americans would still sit under siege in Iraq in 2008; that the war would break the budget, inflate the dollar, cause a recession, and kick the Republicans out of leadership in two houses of Congress. All those outcomes exceeded my Criswellian powers of prediction. Not that it would have mattered—such predictions would have sounded deranged to my gung-ho friends and my readers at FrontpageMag. Like telling the Kaiser in August 1914 that invading Belgium would lead, by 1919, to Bolsheviks seizing power in Munich. To which he would have answered something like “What-sheviks?”
One thing I did suspect, however, was that the war would quickly eclipse other issues among conservatives, as wars always do. The deep-seated, anthropological instinct to rally behind the troops kicked in among most Americans, and this White House is skilled, if in nothing else, in manipulating primal instincts—turning wholesome responses into political pathologies. Soon, any leftist hack (like Christopher Hitchens) who jumped onto a tank and waved a flag was christened a comrade, while long-time conservative, patriotic stalwarts like Pat Buchanan were tarred as saboteurs. (Or should I say, “wreckers”?) When Taki was first planning to launch what became The American Conservative, I urged on him a different title, meant to mock this emerging meme among the warmongers. “Let’s call it Fifth Column, I urged him.” (Cooler heads prevailed.)
Soon enough, “conservatism” came to mean in the media and even inside the movement, “unlimited, unconditional support for this particular war.” Perhaps the crowning moment arrived with Ann Coulter’s TV “endorsement” of Hillary Clinton over John McCain: “She’s better on torture, and she’s better on the War.” So that is what “conservatism” has come down to, for the headline speakers at gatherings like CPAC, for the party that once stood for caution abroad and prudence at home, for social stability and (briefly, in the 1980s) traditional morality: War and torture. And lies, of course—it was only with a wave of misinformation reminiscent of Watergate that the neocons sold America on this war, and Americans should never be permitted to forget it. Mushroom clouds over major American cities. (More like magic mushrooms.) Iraqis behind the anthrax attacks. Mohammed Atta drinking pilsner with Al Qaeda in Prague. Curveball. Chalabi…. These words should serve as our mantra, and every time we read (by some strange mischance) a “conservative” magazine that happily spread these lies pontificating on any other subject—immigration, abortion, global warming—we should ask ourselves: “Are they lying again?” By which I mean: Does this magazine (this columnist, this pundit) really care about this issue? Can it be trusted to tell the truth? Or does its agenda boil down, in then end, to “nothing but the war”? Here’s a quick and easy test: Use your handy Google window to find out how this news/opinion source handles Joseph Lieberman. If it treats him as a statesman, an ally, a solid patriot who might be a tad misguided on one or two “marginal” issues, but is fundamentally One Of Us…. well then, you have your answer.