Fatuous and Malicious

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by Paul Gottfried

Responding to David Frum (who may soon become the first non-Catholic editor-in-chief of National Review) is a bit like wading through a cesspool. His writing is wall-to-wall toxic waste, though apparently smelly enough to scare Bob Novak into denouncing the "unknown" paleos with whom he was being linked. Novak assured his readers, before Frum went after him a second time this Tuesday, that he thoroughly "abhors" the "racist and anti-Semitic" paleos Frum had just excoriated. Although Novak strained to distance himself from the evil ones, he gave himself away by defending one of the neocons’ favorite whipping boys, Charles A. Lindbergh. That may have driven Frum into launching his second attack.

The question that goes begging in any case is whether Frum proves that any of his targets is a racist, except by implication. Expressing reservations about the fetid personal life and leftist demagogy of Martin Luther King, a practice that Bill Buckley, George Will, Will Herberg, and even Ronald Reagan once pursued, now qualifies as "racist." And somehow all paleos, including Tom Fleming, who is perpetually denouncing racial nationalism, are linked to explicitly racial nationalist publications. As for the anti-Semitism raging among the paleos, has Frum bothered to notice all the Jews lined up on the paleo side? One could furnish several minyanim (prayer quorums), including Israelis. Speaking of Israelis, Frum should read the acidic comments about his bad manners published on this website yesterday by Ilana Mercer. In contrast to the NR editorial board, Ilana is not impressed by David’s slipshod accusations or his endorsement of Jewish interests.

Another relevant issue that comes to mind about Frum is selective amnesia. Certainly he knows me and not only as a "relentlessly solipsistic" and "unfocused" professor. My late father-in-law rented commercial property to his family; and my late wife knew his mother, a famous leftist TV personality on CBC. I first met David (before he became a neocon echo) in 1986, when I was a featured speaker at the Philadelphia Society panel to which he makes portentous references in his screed. In fact, the speech that he (Ed Feulner and Emmett Tyrrell) objected to most strenuously at the time was mine; not surprisingly, I was never invited back to inflict my rhetoric on another national meeting of the Philadelphia Society. What I said tout simplement is that neocons are social democrats and that except for their rightwing Jewish nationalism, it is hard for me to see how they fit into any kind of Right. This judgment came from my investigations as an intellectual historian, who had written books on the European and American Right. At that time, however, I had not yet encountered the Trotskyist fury of the Frum-Goldberg-Podhoretz gang.

The speech by Stephen Tonsor, which the Frum claims "startled the room by anathematizing the neocons and their work," is falsely depicted as a statement of Catholic anti-Semitism. For those who are interested, William Campbell of the Philadelphia Society has available for distribution tapes of this oration, which should make the following facts clear: Tonsor was attacking the neocons (counterfactually) as rightwing Nietzscheans, "whose ideas, as even the guards at Auschwitz knew, led to the death camps." Tonsor was speaking as a Catholic democrat, who based his belief in constitutional government on Catholic and Anglo-Catholic natural law teachings. Supposedly the neocons were dangerous to the American Right because they believed in pagan elitism, which Tonsor considered as incompatible with American conservative values. While the speaker went on to criticize the self-assertiveness of neocons trying to take over and redefine the American Right, it is unclear to me what was anti-Semitic about his presentation.

Note this speech was full of dubious assertions: that Nietzsche’s thoughts led ineluctably to the Holocaust, that the neocons are (utinam fuisset) rightwingers, and that the conservative movement until the 1980s was Catholic and Anglo-Catholic. (What the hell do you do with all those Protestants who predominated in the interwar American Right?) What Tonsor was not doing, however, was venting anti-Semitism on his Jewish listeners.

A few other observations may be in order concerning the dishonest way in which Frum pads his brief against the paleos. Mel Bradford did not come "to the government hiring window with certain disadvantages" in his bid for the directorship of NEH in 1981 simply because he was too far to the right for a "balky Congress." He underwent months of character assassination at the hands of Frum’s neocon pals, including George Will, Ed Feulner, and the Kristol family, the result of which was to make him unconfirmable. One of the most effective smearers was the far-left historian Eric Foner, whom, as I show in my history of the conservative movement, was awarded under Bill Bennett’s tenure as director close to a half a million dollars in personal grants. The incriminating statement by Bradford, which Foner and his neocon sponsors turned against Bradford, comparing Lincoln to Hitler, was yanked out of context. It came from a crabbed footnote about messianic rhetoric in a number of political figures, among whom were listed Lincoln and Hitler. By the way, it is not clear why Southerners like Bradford, whose ancestors had been devastated by invading federal armies sent to overrun them by President Lincoln, should share the admiration for the same heroes as a Canadian global democrat resident in the US. Why can’t Frum and Bradford have their own separate list of heroes? Although I personally regard Cromwell as a protector of my own Jewish ancestors and as an inspired nation builder, I do not expect my wife, who had Irish ancestors, to share this admiration.

And even assuming that I am "relentlessly solipsistic" and "unfocused" as a teacher, neither of which charge Frum demonstrates, why should I not "repeatedly complain" if neocons kept me from a graduate professorship at Catholic University? If that charge is true, which happens to be the case, why should I not be ticked off, even if the Frum judges me in a malaprop to be "solipsistic"? What he means to say is that I’ve been graceless enough to go after my attackers, who left fingerprints all around the scene of the crime.

Since a number of young defenders have weighed in on our beleaguered side, I shall skip over the rest of Frum’s baseless accusations. But I would like to underline, as Myles Kantor began to do a few days ago, that the most lurid examples of unpatriotic conservatism and rightwing racial and ethnic insensitivity can be found in Frum’s and Goldberg’s magazine of choice. In the sixties National Review, and its flamboyant editor-in-chief, defended segregation and the civilizational right of white people to keep Negroes, as they were then called, from gaining political power. One of Buckley’s best-remembered editorials of the sixties took this position emphatically. During the Eichmann trial in 1961, the unreconstructed NR lamented "Jewish vengefulness" and the harmful effect that this alleged German-bashing would have on the "struggle against Communism."

Only God knows what Frum (or perhaps Novak) would say about us paleos if we sounded like the old Bill Buckley, before he was taken over by the neocon body-snatchers! And on the subject of the unpatriotic American Right, what about this statement, ostensibly on white identity politics, that Jonah Goldberg placed on NROnline: "After all the United States took land from the British. And, no matter how you slice it, America’s claim to Texas and the Southwest is certainly far less compelling than Israel’s to its land. When European Jews not already living in Palestine arrived there after World War II, the area was largely empty. Meanwhile, when colonists came to North America, they had no historic claim to the land whatsoever and, besides, it was occupied."

This last assertion is so unmistakably stupid that Goldberg should be "envious," as he told us in a recent blog, of Frum’s relatively elegant polemics. For the record: Arabs were far more densely present in Palestine and stood at a higher level of civilization when Jewish settlers arrived there from Europe than were those 3 to 3.5 million Amerindians who were roaming North America when the European settlers came. The pristine character of Palestine when the Jewish settlers arrived is even more questionable than the image of American pioneers building their homes on totally uninhabited American land. But why would a "conservative" and "patriot" sound like the Nation in challenging the American claim to what is now American territory, while pushing a chauvinistic Israeli fiction that most sensible Israelis have rejected?

Shall we try to guess? The answer, I would submit, is not that Goldberg and his fellow-neocons are real or wannabe agents of the Israeli government. I doubt such an explanation can account for why Frum this morning announced on public radio that the US must revolutionize Iran, because women there are being "punished for wearing lip stick." The neocons are serious about their doctrine of permanent modernizing revolution spearheaded from Washington, quite independently of their commitment to the Israeli Right. Moreover, their place of origin and activity is in this part of the world and not in the Middle East; and their chief sponsors have been those who enabled the neocons to take over the American Right. It is these enablers, and not Mr. Sharon, who produced the American conservative debacle. This disaster on the Right has now morphed into something even worse that is polluting the entire body politic. Bob Novak’s attempt to protect himself from being identified with those who have noticed the problem will help neither his moral reputation nor his journalistic credibility.

March 28, 2003

Paul Gottfried [send him mail] is professor of history at Elizabethtown College and author of, most recently, the highly recommended Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt.

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