‘Don’t Call Us Neocons!’

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by Paul Gottfried by Paul Gottfried

Those who stay up nights (and I know such people) agonizing over the thought of anti-Semitism polluting our media should applaud the approach to this problem taken by Julia Gorin, a contributing editor of JewishWorldReview.com, in her comments on the epithet "neocon" for the Wall Street Journal’s OpinionJournal.com.

According to Julia (given my age I’m entitled to call her by her first name), journalists and TV personalities are now allowed to characterize others as "neocons" without being called to account. Thus liberal (Jewish) comedian Jon Stewart has bonded with "paleoconservative [Pat Buchanan] over their mutual opposition to the liberation of Iraq," and "while Mr. Buchanan derided u2018neonconservatives’ four times in the course of the six-minute interview," "Mr. Stewart didn’t ask Mr. Buchanan what he meant by u2018neoconservatives.’ It was clear that Mr. Stewart didn’t realize that Mr. Buchanan was using what had become an epithet for u2018Jews’ — an epithet employed most often by the left." In the same vein, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times complains about a "Neocon Coup at the Department d’Etat," providing "a classical portrait of u2018neo-con’ [read Jewish] advisors, who drip poison in the ears of their hapless gentile bosses."

Julia hastens to let us know what she thinks is going on: "When a member of the enlightened classes, or Pat Buchanan, makes reference to a u2018neocon,’ what he’s saying is u2018yid.’ That’s right u2018neoconservative,’ particularly in its shortened form, when employed by a nonconservative (or by Buchananites) and therefore meant derogatorily, is the modern, albeit more specific, word for u2018kike’ that the left can say — and it has been doing so liberally ever since American conservatism became yet something else that Jews have managed to benefit from — the conquered final frontier of Jewish manipulation."

To avoid calling influential people, at least by indirection, "kikes," Julia sets up etiquette for the tasteful use of "neocon." Neoconservatives or those who are "right-leaning and don’t intend the word disparagingly, get a pass." But the rest of us will have to bear the consequences of our unseemly speech, and judgment for sin will fall beyond the Jewish and non-Jewish left upon those of us who belong to the category "Buchananite," which is media shorthand for antiwar paleoconservatives and, oddly enough, paleolibertarians. Henceforth our group will not be allowed in the court of public opinion to describe our political opponents as "neocons," since this hateful ethnic slur will be seen as every bit as hurtful as the "N" word.

Julia’s toilsome erection of semantic roadblocks reminds me of similar work done by a group that will remain unnamed. For months now members of this group have denied that they are in fact what they call themselves. They warn us against the commonly accepted term for themselves, which they denounce as an anti-Semitic slander, while publishing commentaries defending themselves under the term they have dismissed elsewhere as a libel. But the reason for this apparent confusion of identity has to do with a strategy that the usual suspects are pursuing.

If one can restrict any mention of the term in questions to those who apply it favorably, it will be difficult for any critic to call a neocon a neocon, except through circumlocution. That way the friends and members of this group will always bring up the recognized designation in a positive sense; by contrast, their enemies will be groping for labels that never quite apply to what they intend to designate. None of the terms Julia does permit us to pronounce, e.g., "Republican Jews," "Jews for Bush," and "Jewish conservatives," indicates specifically neoconservatives and might apply just as easily to Jews on the right who detest the group that Julia admires.

Given this verbal manipulation, why do establishment conservatives, like Joel Mowbray of National Review, go along with denying that neocon exist and try to bully us into constructing substitute terms for them? A fellow-Jew and fellow-Old Rightist Murray Rothbard once offered a credible explanation for why there are gentiles who would say anything the neocons told them to. These people when they speak look anxiously over their shoulders in search of the approving faces of Norman Podhoretz, Alan Dershowitz, and Abe Foxman. Such men without chests fear the "branding iron of anti-Semitism," coming from the "anti-anti-Semites," those who in the post-Communist world have replaced the "anti-anti-Communists."

But Julia has carried this branding process even further. She goes after Jewish liberals as well as the "Buchananites" for not flailing away at those who disapprove of what the neoconservatives advocate. These liberals should be making common cause with Julia’s heroes and attacking the rightwing critics of Wolfowitz, Perle, and Kristol as anti-Semitic bigots. After all, if Jewish liberals like Jon Stewart cannot be counted on to marginalize the antiwar paleos, other more disastrous things may soon come. Establishment conservatives may start bolting at the present Stalinist policy in their movement of democratic centralism, with the result that the "anti-Semites," Jews and non-Jews alike, will join the media debate on foreign and domestic policies. Julia understandably hopes to protect us from such orgies of openness.

September 28, 2004

Paul Gottfried [send him mail] is Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College and author of, most recently, Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt.

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