June 04, 2008
I’ll admit this up front: On the subject of Pat Buchanan, I’m not an objective observer. Since 1992, when he launched his creative dissent from the faltering conservative movement, my admiration for him has grown and deepened. My first job in journalism”obtained through an Operation Rescue connection”was lost over a letter I wrote in Pat’s defense to The New Republic. (Some helpful soul who ran an ad agency sent a letter to the magazine where I worked, threatening a boycott.) At least once a year I watch his 1992 convention speech (with damp eyes, I’ll admit), and mourn the fact that the Republican party has no more leaders of his stature. (Ron Paul is a leader all right but not, alas, of Republicans.) Look forward, next week, to my slightly biased review of Pat’s fascinating new book.
I was proud to take part in the meeting over mutton chops at Keen’s Steak House in Manhattan where Taki, Scott McConnell, and Angelo Matera cooked up the idea for The American Conservative“and appalled when McConnell chose to yellow the pages of that magazine with a smear-job that linked Buchanan to David Irving. There’s a deep circle in Hell for those who betray their benefactors. I’m sure it sears McConnell’s ego to think of Buchanan that way, but let’s face facts: Without Pat’s name, his “brand,” and his mailing list, The American Conservative would not exist, and Scott McConnell would still be a half-remembered one-time editor of The New York Post, a Lenox Hill elitist yawning his way through Policy Review on the Hamptons Jitney.
For most readers of The American Conservative, their “hot-button” issues are subjects like abortion, gun rights, immigration, or the Iraq War. The only subject on which I’ve seen McConnell wax passionate is golf. One time at lunch, after he’d nattered on about that sport for 15 minutes while I listened politely, I attempted some response. “Well, I’ve never played, but perhaps sometime I could come out with you and give it a try….” Scott reacted as I might if someone grabbed the Eucharist from the tabernacle and stomped on it. Indignant, he spat back: “I have no interest in giving you free golf lessons. If you care to attain a decent level of proficiency first, I might be willing to play a few rounds with you.” For the first time in some 40 years, Zmirak was actually speechless.
It’s worth pointing out, for those who haven’t been privy to inside conversations at TAC, that in private McConnell describes himself as “a New York Review of Books liberal,” and refers to stories on immigration, abortion, 2nd Amendment rights, and other populist issues as “red meat” he has to toss the readership. The stories he really treasures are pieces by leftish Jews that skewer Israeli policies. Yet for all that, he was genuinely wounded when Norman Podhoretz snubbed him at a party. (Was he expecting, maybe, that Norman would rush up and give him a hug?) It’s apparent to me from everything I’ve heard McConnell say, and the kind of stories he runs, that his real ambition to establish himself as a center-right Beltway pundit on foreign policy”a golfing man’s Fareed Zakaria. Now, to imagine that he could accomplish this by running a populist magazine funded by Taki associated with Pat Buchanan… to think up a strategy that boneheaded requires a certain kind of genius. It’s right up there with ideas like, “Hey, let’s dissolve the Iraqi army!” It’s bad enough to be Machiavellian; but before playing that game, one really should at least “attain a decent level of proficiency.”
So it’s no surprise to me that McConnell finally gave vent to his resentment of the genial giant in whose shadow he dwells by commissioning Lukacs’ piece. In fact, I’m amazed it took this long for the mask to drop. I trust that many of the good men who write for TAC will now take their talents elsewhere.