Neocons and Demagogues

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The
bombs-away neocons are taunting principled libertarians who refuse
to get sucked into the war fever. As usual, National Review Online
editor Jonah Goldberg depicted LRC readers as nuts, and laughed
off concerns about the erosion of liberties during wartime. Other
conservative writers, even ones mature enough to know better, are
trying to outdo each other with the most outrageous chest-pounding.

H.L.
Mencken would have understood. "Wars are not made by common
folk, scratching for livings in the heat of the day," he wrote
in a 1939 Baltimore Sun column. "They are made by demagogues
infesting palaces." Because these demagogues "quickly
acquire a monopoly of both public information and public instruction,"
people find it harder and harder to resist the pressure of war to
the point that even "the dissenter is not only suspected by
all his neighbors; he also begins to suspect himself."

It's
hard to understand why supposed conservatives, people who claim
they believe in limited and constitutional government, are so eager
to engage in the demagoguery. How can anyone with a straight face
embrace "Operation Infinite Justice," a name so pretentious
that it explains much about why so many people in the world hate
us?

I
know why most liberals – as opposed to the occasional anti-war leftist
— are so eager to kill and maim tens of thousands of innocent sheep
herders. These folks love the government. They thrill to the thought
of national crusades that unify the nation behind an agenda that
elevates the state and its symbols to near holiness.

On
Wednesday, Los Angeles Times columnist Ronald
Brownstein
captured the sentiments of those who are pounding
their chests for war, in a column titled: "The Government,
Once Scorned, Becomes Savior."

"The
erosion of faith in the federal government has been probably the
most profound change in America's political landscape over the last
generation," he lamented. "In a 1964 University of Michigan
study, 62 percent of Americans said they trusted the federal government
to do what's right most of the time. By 1994, that figure had dwindled
to 19 percent." He recalled various statements by conservatives
such as Ronald Reagan and Dick Armey who mocked the wonders of the
almighty feds.

In
Brownstein's view, this erosion of faith in Leviathan and the rising
respect for the private sector is a troubling thing. Government,
he argues, can learn lessons of efficiency from the private sector.
And the private sector does a good job providing most goods and
at making a profit. But only the government is capable of providing
for the public good. It's during a crisis such as this that the
public learns what it can truly depend upon, he argued.

"Only
days before the attack, Bush was arguing that the shriveling of
the federal budget surplus was a good thing because it meant Washington
would have less money to spend on public programs," Brownstein
wrote. "Yet in the attack's dizzying aftermath, where did almost
all Americans turn for answers if not to the federal government?"

As
he sees it, we've all learned this lesson from the World Trade Center
bombing: "It's simply misguided to see the federal government
as something divisible from America, when it is in fact the tool
through which we meet collectively the challenges that we can't
handle alone."

Either
Brownstein is misguided, or the founding fathers were. Obviously,
the nation's founders thought of the federal government as something
divisible from the people. That's why they went to all the trouble
of devising checks and balances, so that government officials could
not usurp the natural rights that individual citizens hold.

But
to modern liberals, the people and the government are the same thing.
You know, when cops wrongly bust down your door and shoot your wife
in the back by mistake, it's no different than if your wife had
shot herself in the back. When government steals your property or
infringes on your rights, no big deal either. You and the government
are the same thing.

Again,
I understand why liberals think this way. They always want to build
a bigger, more glorious State. They are, in essence, socialists.
But what explains the neoconservatives, who at least pay lip service
to liberty? Why are they so willing to beat the drums for war? Why
are they applauding as the nation descends into a pit of bipartisanship
and unity, where everyone runs over the same cliff together? Why
don't they see what Brownstein does – that the expansion of the state
goes hand in hand with crisis?

September
21, 2001

Steven
Greenhut [send
him mail
] is a senior editorial writer for the Orange County
Register in Santa Ana, Calif.

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