The Conservative World Champs

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Defending spying, torture, assassination, and preemptive and perpetual war — Is this what conservatism has come to?

For some unknown reason, I have received in my mailbox the last three issues of National Review (dated July 17, Aug. 7, and Aug. 28). I don’t subscribe, and don’t remember returning any postpaid card to receive a trial subscription. My mailing label reads 061507, which I assume means that I will be receiving the magazine until the middle of next year. Perhaps some conservative is trying to win me back to the fold.

But three issues are too much — I am canceling the subscription. Here is just a sampling of what one misses by not reading the official publication of the “Conservative World Champs.”

On page 4 of the July 17th issue we are told that the U.S. House’s approval of a line-item veto for President Bush is “a small step toward sensible budget reform.” Also on page 4, the president’s goal of shrinking the budget deficit is now working: “revenues are increasing and the deficit is rapidly shrinking.” But as I pointed out last year, “Conservatives who think for a minute that if President Bush were given a line item veto then he would suddenly turn into a fiscal conservative and rein in Congressional spending are naïve or just plain stupid.” And if deficits are “rapidly shrinking,” why did Bush earlier this year sign into law a $781 billion increase in the ceiling on the national debt to nearly $9 trillion? Interest payments on this debt totaled $352 billion for fiscal year 2005. A budget deficit that is less than projected is still a budget deficit. On page 12 we are told that “the longer Iran is allowed to dodge penalties for its nuclear activities, the closer it comes to building an atomic bomb.” Okay, then why did Bush’s recent nuclear deal with India include the U.S. lifting its ban on selling nuclear technology to India? Oh, I see — it is only certain countries that we don’t want to have “nuclear activities.” For more on Iran, see the August 28th issue below. On page 15 there is a defense of the re-labeled “Terrorist Finance Tracking Program.” On this see James Bovard’s recent piece in The American Conservative. On page 27 there is a defense of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay by Bing West, a former “assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration.” West admits, however, that many of the detainees “could not be convicted in an American courtroom, because they were captured on battlefields without physical evidence or witnesses to a crime.” Then on page 51 we are told that since the United States has been in Guantanamo since 1898 that we have a “formal historical right to remain there.” In fact, the United States “is permanently at liberty to maintain a naval base” there.

On page 4 of the August 7th issue there is a call for an investigation into “the media’s exposure of the details of the Treasury Department’s surveillance of terrorist finance.” The National Review writer assures us that “there seems little question that the program was effective, legal, and no threat to civil liberties.” On this see Bovard above. On page 6 another writer is upset that the New York Times gave detailed directions to the Cheney and Rumsfeld residences on the east side of Chesapeake Bay. The same writer goes on to lament that the Times does not respect “our president and his officers.” On page 8 we are told that American soldiers in Iraq “face the daily grind of protecting Americans from terrorism.” The thought that some people actually believe this leaves me speechless. On page 10 there is a veiled push for war with Iran. It may be only “American resolve” that stands “between the mullahs and the nuclear arsenal they covet.” On page 12 there is an announcement that “Warren Bell, frequent contributor to NRO and, by his own estimate, u2018thoroughly conservative,’ has been nominated to the board of Corporation for Public Broadcasting.” It wasn’t that long ago that conservatives were calling for the elimination of the CPB. On page 16 someone is disappointed in “the Pentagon’s announcement that enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay will be accorded Geneva Convention protections.” On page 17 the president is criticized, but only in the weakest possible way: “We wish that the president had not waited so long to cast his first veto.”

On page 4 of the August 28th issue a writer tries to paint as leftist any calls for the president’s impeachment. On page 6 Republican Senator Lindsey Graham is criticized for blocking the nomination of William Haynes to the federal appeals court. Haynes was the general counsel for the Pentagon who has been called “the poster boy for the administration’s torture policies.” On the same page, there is another defense of Gitmo which maintains that it is the prisoners who are the abusers, not the abused. On page 8 Senate Democrats are chided for blocking a bill that would reduce the estate tax, even though Republicans coupled that provision with an increase in the minimum wage. Is there anything that Republicans could possibly do that would trouble anyone at National Review? There is an attack on U.S. farm programs on page 10. Indeed, “the farm program is a monument to waste, fraud, and abuse.” The solution: “President Bush and Congress should work unilaterally to reduce levels of farm spending in the United States.” Has National Review forgotten that it is the Republicans who have basically controlled Congress for over ten years? Have they forgotten that we have had a Republican president for almost six years? Who does National Review think is responsible for all these years of “waste, fraud, and abuse”? The war in Iraq is defended on page 16. The United States has “an obligation tot try to save the country as long as there is a reasonable chance of doing so.” It is troubling to see on page 18 an article by the historian Paul Johnson in which he downplays American casualties in Iraq because “they are very few in comparison with wars of comparable political importance, and we are learning how to minimize them.” He goes on to say that “if Iran succeeds in producing a few nuclear weapons, there is absolutely no doubt that it will use them immediately.” Absolutely no doubt? Just like there was absolutely no doubt that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction? And speaking of Iran, Mario Loyola, “a former consultant for communications and policy planning at the Department of Defense,” writes in favor of a preemptive war against Iran on page 20. How many ex-government employees are there that write for National Review? On page 30 there is an article by “The Sage of Fresno,” Victor Davis Hanson — “Farmer, Scholar, Warmonger.” No comment on the article is necessary, as Hanson has churned out article after article for National Review since September 11 — all espousing U.S. intervention and war in the Middle East. Finally, on page 33, Michael Rubin, “a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute,” tells us “why the U.S. government should consider assassination.”

Reading National Review only serves to reinforce my belief that conservatism today is totally devoid of principle, except for that of militarism. Lew Rockwell’s recent analysis of modern conservatism is worth repeating:

The problem with American conservatism is that it hates the left more than the state, loves the past more than liberty, feels a greater attachment to nationalism than to the idea of self-determination, believes brute force is the answer to all social problems, and thinks it is better to impose truth rather than risk losing one soul to heresy. It has never understood the idea of freedom as a self-ordering principle of society. It has never seen the state as the enemy of what conservatives purport to favor. It has always looked to presidential power as the saving grace of what is right and true about America.

In the most recent issue of National Review I received (dated Aug. 28), there is an ad for “the Official NR Baseball Cap” (p. 44). “Now Get the Official Cap of the Conservative World Champs,” says the ad’s headline. But is it conservative champs or conservative chumps? If there was ever a mouthpiece for the Bush administration, the Republican Party, and the warmongers in the conservative movement it is National Review. This should come as no surprise, however, since the magazine has from almost day one sought to redefine conservatism in its own image. As Murray Rothbard explained in “The Life and Death of the Old Right“:

As the older intellectual and political leaders died or retired, a powerful new force arose in 1955 to fill that vacuum. This new force — people grouped around National Review — set out to transform the nature of the American Right, and they succeeded brilliantly. Headed by a brace of shrewd ex-Communists, steeped in Marxist-Leninist cadre organizing tactics, allied to youthful Eastern seaboard Catholics, the New Right determined to crush isolationism, and to remold the right-wing into a crusade to crush Communism all over the world, and particularly in the Soviet Union.

At first, NR had a patina of individualism, in order to capture the considerable amount of Old Right libertarian sentiment and wed it to a policy of global war. The Buckley machine founded Young Americans for Freedom as its youthful political arm. The Intercollegiate Society of Individualists for libertarian-minded student intellectuals, and headed by NR publisher Bill Rusher, moved to capture the College Young Republicans, then the YRs nationally, and finally moved to dominate the Republican Party with the Goldwater movement.

Early in this process, moreover, National Review, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, moved quickly to read out of the New Right, or “conservative” movement, all “extremists” who would prove an embarrassment in its march to power. And so, in a series of purges, the Birch Society, the Randians, and the libertarians (those who remained isolationists) were ousted from the right wing. NR and the New Right were ready to achieve power, which they eventually would attain with the Reagan administration. But the point is that the ideological transformation — into a warmongering and vaguely theocratic movement — was achieved by the early 1960s. The Old Right was dead, and those libertarians who still remembered and cleaved to their principles, were out in the cold.

Just like the Republican Party in which it feels comfortably at home, the modern conservative movement has no connection with the pre-National Review Old Right. Militarism, Interventionism, Big Government: Vote Republican.

National Review: Standing athwart history, yelling War!

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