Now, Be a Good Little Right-Winger

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by Paul Gottfried by Paul Gottfried

In a critical letter that appeared in the American Conservative (January 31), a "conservative Republican" reader takes to task the editor for "repeating the same liberal propaganda that is the staple of the mainstream news media," and for imitating the New York Times in discussing the conflict in Iraq. The letter-writer is nice enough to grant a restricted "right to attack the neocons and the Bush administration," but then insists the editor must do so without "recycling liberal news media attacks." He also states the opinion that the New York Times has been proven wrong on the war, seeing that "sixty million votes for George W. Bush is a substantial mandate." Of course Bush did not receive such a resounding mandate, given that his opponent received about 3% fewer votes than he did. In any case it is hard to see how the New York Times has been wrong about the war simply because one of our two catchall national parties recruited voters a bit more effectively in November than the other one. Nor is it clear that the votes the Republican Party tirelessly scraped together represented massive support for Bush’s invasion of Iraq. If this is the case, I have seen no evidence.

But what is more annoying about this letter than the automatic association of things conservative with the Republican administration is an insidious premise. It is that paleolibertarians and paleoconservatives should respect the present conservative establishment, to the extent that they never permit themselves to replicate phrases found in the anti-Republican New York Times. Obviously the one who provides this instruction has lived in a time warp for thirty years and has not noticed the agony of the Right, which has consisted of a neoconservative takeover and the desperate battles waged against it. Those who have refused to bend their knees to neocon icons and policies, most of which have a leftist provenance, have not (to engage in meiosis) been treated well. They have been relentlessly excluded from "conservative" events and philanthropies, do not typically have their books reviewed in "conservative" magazines, and hardly if ever appear on Fox News. By contrast, neocons happily exchange favors with those whom the letter-writer scolds our side for not shunning more completely. When I open the New York Times or Washington Post, I see neocon columnists holding forth and flattering puff pieces about Bill Kristol, David Frum, and David Brooks. When I turn on the supposed opposition channel, Fox News, I find (lo and behold) more of the same, self-satisfied neocons mingling with smiling liberals.

My question then is why are neoconservatives allowed to patronize and receive patronage from the enemy but our side not allowed to make even occasionally the same arguments as conventional leftists. My point is neither to defend nor disagree with this overlap, if one exists. There are times when even I lean a bit more to the neocons than to the paleos. But there is reason to challenge the special obligation being placed on the battered Old Right to stay clean of those whom neocons often cultivate as friends. Did neoconservatives consult us before they and their liberal buds began pummeling our side as fascists and xenophobes? Are the neocons to be so privileged that they should dictate our behavior, even while defaming us and even while sharing favors denied to us with their fellow-leftists?

As for Fox News, I find it remarkable that given its continuing programming needs, it has allowed (as far as I can tell) at most a few paleos to slip onto all of its shows combined — for a few minutes. By now we are talking about tens of thousands of viewing hours, including regular visits by revered leftist pundits Dick Morris and Juan Williams. One may observe scads of leftist weirdoes on Fox but a remarkable absence of those who are sometimes mistaken for the neocons’ allies on the right. Not being a fool, I do not view this as an accidental omission. It is a methodical attempt to exclude those whom the neocons hate far more than their leftist sparring partners. Only Heaven knows why we should take our cues from the tongue-tied chief executive or from Sean Hannity or Paul Wolfowitz!

But we are a forgiving lot. If Bush’s handlers and the neocon propaganda network reach out in our direction, we’ll talk to them, as readily as to the New York Times. As for our loyalty, our present enemies have no claim to it whatever. It is we who have a claim to the term "conservative Republican." It belongs not to that zombie army around the neocons and Karl Rove but to those who take their bearings from Robert Taft. This old-fashioned constitutional (true) liberal is someone whom Republicans should be looking up to — instead of wasting their energy defending George Bush. I doubt that, were he alive today, the Ohio Senator would be fighting for global democracy in Baghdad. And I can’t imagine that he would avoid giving offense to Bush and his handlers for fear of sounding like the New York Times.

January 21, 2005

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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