Tarnished Medals

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by Paul Gottfried by Paul Gottfried

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Our fondest wish to the contrary notwithstanding, it seems unlikely that those whom some of us would like to see fall hard will be getting their comeuppance soon enough. Certainly this will not happen if we are to judge by W’s taste for neoconservative spokesmen, some of whom are this year’s recipients of the Medal of Freedom. Among the award’s recipients, aside from the usual quotas, whom the Republicans are still frenetically reaching out to, and a few others are Natan Scharansky, Paul Johnson, and William Safire. (Can Max Boot and Jonah Goldberg be far behind?) Sharansky, for those who may have forgotten, wrote a book The Case for Democracy that Bush is rumored to have actually read. Sharansky’s neo-Wilsonian prose has given expression to our president’s rhetorical dream of bringing global democracy to every earthling. The former Soviet refusenik now divides his career between two activities that at least in his mind fit together, taking a hard line as a Jewish nationalist in dealing with the Palestinians, as exemplified by Sharansky’s call to strip Palestinian property-holders of their land in East Jerusalem; and sounding a no less insistent call to impose a post-national, egalitarian government on every other country for the sake of world peace. Given his "gentile brain," Bush should have no problem with this kind of dichotomy and may in fact be the proof of its validity.

Paul Johnson should be known as a British journalist who writes long historical surveys aimed at pleasing the usual suspects. Johnson, of course, has many unpleasant things to say about the German people in any time period, and he assails those Arabs who challenge the right of Israelis to occupy territory they had once held. His history of the Jews, which could have been written by John Podhoretz — provided that John could put together enough sentences sequentially — brought Johnson the favor of "our crowd" and their pampered progeny. Since then the obliging Brit has made a new career writing for neocon publications, and he does so more often than I would care to notice. As for Safire’s appearance on the list of honorees, proving his neocon credentials is belaboring the obvious. What is interesting to meditate, however, is whether Safire’s award was meant to coincide with the report recently submitted by the Baker Commission. For those afflicted with short memory spans, it may be useful to note that Safire accused the former Secretary of State of "anti-Semitism" —and with particular ferocity after Baker was seen as tilting toward the Arabs in Middle Eastern affairs. The sixty-four thousand dollar question, however, is what any of the honorees has done to advance "freedom," which is why the medal is supposed to be bestowed. But if honoring "freedom’ were Bush’s real concern, he would award the bauble to Ron Paul, before going into retirement.

The mention of Paul Johnson as a recipient of the Medal of Freedom also made me think of his son Daniel, another kept journalist, who is about to launch, with Miriam Gross, a former assistant to Melvin Lasky at Encounter, a British equivalent of the Weekly Standard. A prominent Zionist and a London metal-trader, Alan Bekhor, is contributing to the project now underway an initial installment of 6 million pounds. I wish his enterprise every possible success, on the grounds that the British deserve this American import, for having pushed us into World War One. We are now returning the favor belatedly by dumping our latest example of toxic waste onto their newsstands. Besides, the neocons claim to adore the Brits, as they dislike the French and detest the Germans. Why shouldn’t they be allowed and even encouraged to put part of their propaganda machine in the British Isles? Perhaps some of our premier neocons can be urged to move across the Atlantic and to devote themselves to Mr. Bekhor’s venture fulltime. If they do a good enough job, they may be invited back to receive Medals of Freedom — or whatever else these awards will be called under a Giuliani, McCain, or Hillary presidency.

December 19, 2006

Paul Gottfried [send him mail] is Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College and author of Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt and The Strange Death of Marxism.

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