In coming days, weeks, and (especially) months, we’re going to be seeing a lot of obituaries of the Bush presidency, with a great deal of blame placed squarely on the heads of the neocons (where it belongs, by the way). Even William F. Buckley, Jr., has lamented that, if Bush loses on account of Iraq (and not Viet Nam), the neocons will be dead. And it appears that Bush will indeed lose on account of Iraq, since, if his performance there had any merit whatsoever, he would be beating Dukakis Junior by at least ten points. So the neocons have killed Bush’s chances for re-election. Do you think they’re going to hang around for the funeral?
Look, the neocons might not like being called duplicitous or Trotskyites or Straussians or pointy-headed intellectuals, but they share one core belief that is fundamental to all those adjectives, and more: they don’t believe in truth.
Now, you don’t have to be a Straussian to deny metaphysics, any more than you have to be a Trotskyite to believe in the Big Lie or a Maoist to believe in the stealthy, self-serving manipulation of contradictions for one’s own purposes. But all of these ingredients are decidedly non-conservative, if that word has any meaning at all any more (and I believe it does). Conservatism believes in truth, in metaphysics, in the limits of politics imposed by the laws of nature and of nature’s God, and in humility, not hubris, as the appropriate disposition that inclines one favorably towards civilized politics.
The neocons, wherever they went to school, do not believe in all this — anymore than Thrasymachus did when he confronted Socrates, or Herod when he confronted Christ, or Faustus when he confronted Augustine, or Henry VIII when he sent Thomas More to the scaffold. They always object when critics place them in one philosophical school rather than another, but the one ingredient they share is a denial of metaphysics, the ground of reality that is beyond our grasp to manipulate and change at our whim. For them, truth is a tool, just like Bush was — and, like Bush, truth can be wrung dry of any usefulness, and then discarded at will. Just ask Chalabi.
Pity the poor Bush. He never knew what hit him.
And so, when all the "I told you so’s" are written about how the neocons caused Bush’s demise, and that of the Republican Party and of conservatism itself for this generation, don’t expect the neocons to swallow hard, stand tall, and take their turn to walk to the scaffold and be dispatched ignominiously into the dustbin of history. This is not what they were made for. This is not why they do what they do. Own up to the truth, and their role in killing it? No, not this crowd.
When George Bush loses (not to John Kerry, by the way, but all by himself), the neocons won’t be reading the critiques, articles, and obituaries — all of them — that we write. They are going to be too busy.
Who could possibly be more grateful to the Neocons than President-elect John Kerry? Without Bush’s fanatical foray into Iraq, we’d already be exiling Kerry to that same mausoleum where we put McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis, and Gore. House of Has-Beens galore.
Kerry owes the neocons — major league, big time. And let’s face it, he doesn’t differ from Bush one iota with regard to any of the nefarious disasters that the neocons wrought — Kerry just objects to the cast of characters, not to the plot or the play. They will fit in perfectly with the flim-flam man and the swift-boat clan.
And neocons are smart, flexibly so, in a politically agile way. As the neocon rats have been bailing for months from the sinking ship, the USS "Mission Accomplished," you can bet they haven’t been idle. They have doubtless made many contacts at many levels with their old pals, fellow Democrats all, in the Kerry Administration-to-be. And they have one succinct argument that cannot be ignored by any Democrat who remembers Sam Rayburn: "John, you wouldn’t be here without us. We’re the ones who have brung ya to the dance. So dance with us."
And what a powerful argument they can make (and what powerful patrons and protectors they boast, not in a bipartisan way but in an above-politics, vast-neocon-conspiracy sort of way). They took Bush, who ran and won as a conservative, and turned him around 180 degrees. They made him a "big-government conservative" and a foreign marauder on the scale of Wilson and FDR. On Bush’s few conservative pro-family inclinations, they winked often and stabbed him gamely in the back.
In brief, as our obituaries will duly and persuasively conclude, they sank Bush.
And their lifeboats will be bobbing gaily in the November sun as the USS JFKII sails in to throw them all life preservers. A grateful left will welcome them back with open arms, prodigals returned from the pigsty, where all they could do was listen to bluegrass and hear those unbearable pests, their indispensable evangelical allies, rave about Mel Gibson.
Ah, what a sweet, happy homecoming it will be.
And Perle gets Richer.