What Has Happened to Human Events?

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Ah, for the good old days when conservatives could appeal to honesty ("In Your Heart You Know He’s Right"), when we railed against runaway executive power (remember the Bricker Amendment?), and when all of us waited for Human Events to arrive in the mail.

From my earliest days in politics I remember Human Events. In 1960 we "Youth for Goldwater" kids were mocked as we carried our signs for Barry through the hall of the 1960 Republican convention next to Chicago’s Union Stockyards. We thought everyone else was bought — and apparently a lot of them were: There were four lines of "Nixon Girls" outside the floor entrance, waiting to give their "spontaneous" floor demonstration. I asked one of them how she could possibly be for Nixon when Barry was such a great guy. She proudly showed me her Kennedy button, hidden inside the strap of her dress. "I’m gettin’ paid for this, honey," she said.

The years have come and gone, and, as though like clockwork, the trough-dwellers are back in power. Now both "major parties" revel in the hot tub, and political millionaires abound. The Old Guard would not be surprised that this might be the case with the party of FDR and LBJ, or the party of Nelson Rockefeller, but I think they would expect Human Events to be manning the ramparts of the right and calling all true conservatives to be champions of the Constitution, not prideful hacks in an increasingly polluted party of profligates and profiteers.

Yet these strange times have brought strange signs at Human Events. Allan Ryskind used to hang out in our Capitol Hill offices in the 1980s, but apparently he and Tom Winter are long gone. Now one Jed Babbin edits Human Events, and, earlier this week, he commented on Sunday’s Republican debate. For a bewildered moment, I wondered if my computer had been hacked. Here was an editor of Human Events going ga-ga over that "great campaigner," the "comfortable" Rudy Giuliani, and attacking Ron Paul, the race’s only defender of the rule of law, as a "Constitutional gadfly" because Ron Paul has the temerity to point out that the war in Iraq is unconstitutional. Evidently Ron was not aware of just how dear Jed Babbin holds his war.

Once upon a time, Human Events stood for conservative principle. Now, it appears, the Iraq War is its principle. And since the war and its attendant "truths" change every day, so too must Human Events. Heraclitus of old could have warned Mr. Babbin, "do not cling to changing things, but seek the logos," the truth (and so much more). But alas, Mr. Babbin apparently does not have ears to hear.

If Mr. Babbin has never heard of Heraclitus (which is his loss), perhaps he has heard of Felix Morley. (On second thought perhaps he has not.) Mr. Morley was one of the founders of Human Events. As our colleague Tom Woods relates, Mr. Morley 48 years ago was as right as Mr. Babbin is so profoundly wrong today (I quote Dr. Woods at length because Mr. Babbin might not have Morley’s work at hand):

In Freedom and Federalism (1959), Old Right journalist Felix Morley suggested that the process of empire-building was "essentially mystical. It must somehow foster the impression that a man is great in the degree that his nation is great; that a German as such is superior to a Belgian as such; an Englishman, to an Irishman; an American, to a Mexican: merely because the first-named countries are in each case more powerful than their comparatives. And people who have no individual stature whatsoever are willing to accept this poisonous nonsense because it gives them a sense of importance without the trouble of any personal effort."

Morley, a co-founder of Human Events newspaper, added that empire-building amounted to "an application of mob psychology to the sphere of world politics, and how well it works is seen by considering the emotional satisfaction many English long derived from referring to “the Empire on which the sun never sets.” Some Americans now get the same sort of lift from the fact that the Stars and Stripes now floats over detachments of “our boys” in forty foreign countries."

(Ah, the old days, when it was only forty.)

I am struck by Mr. Morley’s observation that "people who have no individual stature whatsoever are willing to accept this poisonous nonsense because it gives them a sense of importance without the trouble of any personal effort." I haven’t seen that in Human Events lately. I do not know of Mr. Babbin’s personal stature, but I do know that of Human Events, and it has changed. In fact, it has sunk. It was once prestigious and commanding. Now it apparently just channels neocon talking points to GOP county chairmen and aspiring Young Republicans on the make.

The Babbin Human Events suffers from the same neocon disease that plagues the ranks of operatives clustering around the 2008 GOP race (which might explain its Babbinization — it’s the same old story: politics triumphs over principle). When the Washington Times asked Dick Allen, President Reagan’s first National Security Advisor, about the race, Mr. Allen was blunt: “There is an overwhelming presence of neoconservatives and absence of traditional conservatives that I don’t know what to make of,” he said.

Today, alas, we can say the same of Human Events.

"Ideas have consequences," said Richard Weaver, a contemporary of Mr. Morley. In contemplating what idea could possibly have wrought the consequence of someone of Mr. Babbin’s ilk becoming the editor of Human Events, I dimly recalled an article he had once written in another publication. I had saved it under "flagrant curiosities." Written in November 2004, it cheers on the U.S. attack on Fallujah, which had just gotten under way. What caught my eye was this apparently passing observation: "Our attack is made easier by the fact that about 75% of the civilian population has fled. There is little reason to restrain the use of air power, heavy artillery, and tanks."

Could it be true that Mr. Babbin considers the fact that only 25% of the civilian population remained in the city presented "little reason" to refrain from killing them en masse? We know now that the operation was one of the most disastrous episodes in Donald Rumsfeld’s failed plan to terrorize (oops, strike that, it’s the Lenin in me) — to intimidate other Sunni population centers into submission to the U.S. occupation. Instead, as Juan Cole sadly relates, "the U.S military really did destroy Fallujah to save it."

That Mr. Babbin has departed so far from the principles of Mr. Morley and the Human Events of old is bad enough, but he cannot resist the all-too-familiar temptation of smarmy self-adornment with the heroism of others confronting dangers far, far away: "Today, 10 November, [2004] is the 229th birthday of the U.S. Marines. Happy birthday to all leathernecks, and may God bless and protect every Marine, soldier, sailor, airman and coastie now in harm’s way."

It would be useful here to observe, as Mr. Babbin — firmly out of harm’s way — cheaply arrogates to himself the bravery of the men and women who are fighting and dying in Iraq, Mr. Morley’s observation once more: "people who have no individual stature whatsoever are willing to accept this poisonous nonsense because it gives them a sense of importance without the trouble of any personal effort."

That Fallujah was destroyed and 300,000 people were left without homes is now small potatoes, given the millions of refugees that Mr. Babbin’s cause has created to date. And, since the U.S Military will not divulge the number of civilian casualties in Fallujah, nor the number of civilian casualties it slyly denominated as "terrorists killed," we will know only at the Last Judgment how many thousands of innocent people died as Mr. Babbin cheered "this poisonous nonsense" from the comfort of the beltway.

So just who is the gadfly? Is it Ron Paul? Or is it Mr. Babbin? And how did Human Events come to hire this fellow after he had published such nonsensical puffery? And why are so many neocons, as Mr. Allen correctly observes, controlling so many 2008 campaigns when the abject failure of every single one of their nightmare forays is plain to see?

I mean, why didn’t they just go to the source and hire Richer Perle?

After all, the zillions of our taxpayer dollars flowing into the war effort and its domestic companion, "Homeland Security," are enriching well-placed Republicans as well as Democrats. So who’s to complain?

"I’m getting’ paid for this, honey."

The story addressing the Human Events conundrum would prove helpful to anyone trying to understand the collapse of the conservative movement under George Bush — but you know what? I don’t think Human Events will ever write it.

Well, what is to be done? (I know, Lenin again.) As Human Events sinks into the indistinguishable neocon mire of treacle at the RNC, one wonders whether Rupert Murdoch would even bother trying to buy it. But one issue is going to arise — if it hasn’t already: there is clearly going to come a clash between the neocon Babbin (if he has hiring authority) and John Gizzi, one of the best political reporters in the business — because John calls them as he sees them.

For example: Bob Novak has written that "Republican leaders report that the most enthusiasm among grass-roots activists is for Gingrich and libertarian Rep. Ron Paul." Will the voluntary Babbinesia at Human Events allow John Gizzi to follow up on that story?

The future is indeed hard to read, but frankly, I doubt it. I reckon John will be sticking to the "all politics is local" routine for a while, so he doesn’t accidentally confuse any Human Events readers about the innate goodness and virtue of the brazen Mr. Babbin or his lovely little war. But the longtime readers of Human Events love the Constitution; Mr. Babbin, who dismisses the race’s only advocate of the Constitution as a "gadfly," apparently sails by other lights. Sooner or later, as Mr. Weaver observed, ideas will have their consequences — and bad ideas have very bad consequences.

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