February 06, 2007

(To the tune of “Thanks for the Memories.”)

Thanks to the neocons
Their websites full of dreck
The magazines they wrecked
The foundations they took over
In service to a sect.
How easy it was…


And thanks to the neocons
Our girls are off at war
On a hateful foreign shore
Our cluster bombs trashed Lebanon
But strengthened Hezbollah
How heady it was…


But when the voters demote us
Send us skulking home in a daze
Like whipped dogs we lick our disgrace
And learn to get used to the taste.

But thanks to the neocons
For every war a shill
We’re driven from the Hill
But their mission was accomplished
Since our troops are dying still
A cakewalk it was…

Thanks for the neocons
Those late-night shows on Fox
We watched while drinking shots
Sure Cheney lied and soldiers died
But ain’t Ann Coulter hot?
A kegger, it was…

Thanks to the neocons
Pelosi runs the House
The Court’s still Blackmun’s spouse
Today the way things look
I need a book by Leo Strauss
How subtle he was…

Gone are those brunches on K Street
With salmon, and champagne, and Perle
Now we’re chewing corndogs on Main Street
We wish that Frum
Would also come…

I once heard a prophecy
That the people can’t be fooled
And ridden like a mule
But for five years we deluded them
And it felt really cool.
What chutzpah it took….

This little lied I composed on the morning after past November’s electoral devastation of Republicans across the country—from senatorial seats in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island to district attorney races in places like Dallas County, Texas. I sent it to a few friends, who duly forwarded it to their circles of contacts, one of whom, Scott McConnell was kind enough to reprint part of it in The American Conservative. As I step in as managing editor of this site, assisting the gifted and delightful Taki in his endeavor to broaden the range of discussion on the Right from its current cramped and paranoid state, I thought it fitting to reproduce it—and to append a note of explanation.

First of all, let me anticipate the chorus of innuendo which will arise from my use of a single word—chutzpah. While it is indeed of Yiddish origin, it long ago passed through Ellis Island and enriched the English language. It is by now a good American word, and perhaps the only word, really, to express a certain jaunty, masculine courage (with a hit of gall) which to dusty European émigrés like me characterizes some of the best attributes of Americans—the spirit which drove them to conquer a continent, and eventually (if only for a brief, historical moment which is ending) dominate the globe.

But there is what you call in American English a “down-side” to this kind of courage. It is an engine, and a powerful one, which can drive a man or nation forward against all manner of obstacle, in the face of the cautions of the timid and the calculating, the pessimist and the realist—sometimes to achieve what few had imagined possible.

And sometimes to unmitigated catastrophe. By overriding the virtue of prudence with the voice of manly vigor, it can silence reason itself. It was chutzpah that led Lenin to seize St. Petersburg in 1917. His bold move directly inspired Mussolini—in 1917 still, like so many neocons, a recovering Marxist—to march on Rome. Chutzpah again. While both of those decisions were in the short run successful, each one ended in misery for millions of innocents—from the gulags of Siberia to the plains of Ethiopia, and the death camps where the Duce sent Italian Jews.

The United States is currently governed by a man who possesses chutzpah in abundance. Indeed, he displays few other positive qualities. (I do hear that he’s kind to his dog.) A man who failed at every private business venture which he managed—despite the significant advantage of being the son of a vice president, then of a president, of the world’s most powerful country. A man who cannot string together a coherent sentence, or reliably read from a teleprompter the words of more articulate men. A man who seems utterly deaf to counsel, bored by ideas, resentful of contradiction, and implacable in his determination to pile blunder upon blunder—to dig his every limb into the tar baby, as one of your folk tales would have it. A man who labored mightily during wartime to avoid combat service—and whose vice president said of the Vietnam years that he had “other priorities” than combat. Well, yes, Mr. Vice-President. I imagine that some of the middle-aged men currently residing in V.A. hospitals with prosthetic limbs or incurable trauma might have had other priorities, too.

Growing up as a Catholic of the old school, I learned that the business of virtue and vice is never so simple as it looks. There is not simply courage and cowardice, standing in stark opposition. No, as Aristotle taught St. Thomas Aquinas who taught the Jesuits who taught the Sartos, the good stands not at one extreme, but in a mid-way position, upon the balance of the Golden Mean, between two opposing errors. One’s conscience can be too lax—think of some corrupt Renaissance pope—or too harsh and scrupulous. The latter was what damned Judas, goading him into despair when forgiveness was at hand. Likewise, a man can be too lazy, or too energetic. Too stingy or foolishly lavish. And so on.

In the matter of courage, the Greeks and the priests tell us that virtue lies between the cowardice which leads a man to flee the field of battle (in pursuit, no doubt, of “other priorities”), and the rashness which drives him to throw his life away in a useless attack. The coward flees a necessary fight; the rash man picks fights, desperate to prove something to himself.

Rashness in a man is typically self-destructive—which tends to weed this sort of fellow out of the gene pool. It becomes a more serious matter when this vice pervades a leader, or the men who influence him. It is bad enough to waste your own life; it is far worse to squander the lives of others, whose well-being you will answer for on the Day of Judgment. When rashness corrupts a political faction, it acts like a Midas touch in reverse, transforming gold into dung. It takes a political philosophy and by applying heat, kills off the rich complexity which mirrors external, historical reality, creating the highly distilled and toxic brew which American thinkers like Russell Kirk labeled ideology. It transubstantiates patriotism into nationalism, of the sort which ruined much of Europe in 1914, and again in 1939.

I daresay that the vice of rashness has pervaded much of the conservative movement in America (as it once did right-wing movements in Europe—see Justin Raimondo’s excellent column for more on that). In fact, it has almost destroyed that movement. I challenge the reader to visit a public library and go through old numbers of long-standing conservative magazines, and compare the essays they published 30 or 20 years ago, to the sort of thing they are pumping through the editorial pipes today. The experience, I must warn you, will prove depressing.

Likewise, the reaction on the left against the excesses of the right has driven liberals to paroxysms of mindless rage, to reactive anti-Americanism, to a mindless and promiscuous embrace of an Islamic world which is theologically programmed to overwhelm and destroy every opposing view. A left which once was inspired by Herbert Marcuse (a fool, but an educated one) now marches to the tune whistled by Michael Moore. In this intellectual and moral race to the bottom, it unclear which side will win. But we may with confidence predict who will lose: Americans, especially those brave and self-sacrificing enough to put on the uniform of their country when it led by an unaccountable fool, a dry drunk, a blustering coward, who moves their lives into hazard like the Risk counters he used slide around in his gothic dormitory at Yale. The key to that game, as players will recall, is to control the Middle East.

Franz-Josef Sarto, managing editor of this site, is an Austrian-born journalist residing in Rhode Island.


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