THE POOP: There are those who qualify as the worst of the neo-conservatives: knee-jerk, inflexible shits like Dick Cheney, or blinkered ideologues like Paul Wolfowitz who will lead an entire country to war over their nebulous, ill-thought-out principles. There are those who are the funniest of the neo-conservatives, hilariously dumb Bush lapdogs like Debbie Schlussel or Ann Coulter. And there are those who are the lamest of the neo-conservatives, tired wannabes like Jonah Goldberg and Andrew Sullivan, whose hearts really aren’t in it and would far prefer to be watching Battlestar Galactica or barebacking an off-duty submariner, respectively. And then there are ones who are the biggest, the best, the papi culos of the whole movement, guys who were there from the come-out and who defined neoconservativism before there was even a name for it. At the head table in this Asgard for Assholes is nobody’s friend, Stormin’ Norman Podhoretz.
It’s hard to count the number of great things Norman has bestowed on an insufficiently grateful world. He virtually kickstarted the whole neo-conservative movement back in the 1960s, back when it was still called “the new class” or any number of other euphemisms for this strange blend of conservative warmongering and liberal heavy spending. He gave us Commentary magazine, an early prototype right-wing hack rag that existed largely to employ his otherwise unemployable friends and did much to create an entire class of professional pundits. As a Jew, he provided future generations of angry, defensive conservative Christians the opportunity to smear anyone who disagreed with them by calling them anti-Semites. He married Midge Decter, as fierce and ignorant has himself, who made homophobia fashionable as early as 1970. (Norman himself did his part in an infamous essay called “My Negro Problem – and Ours”, in which he admitted that he simply didn’t like black people, and thus cleared the way for acceptable public racism on the part of conservatives in the name of standing up to ‘poltical correctness’.) A liberal for about five seconds, he studied under Lionel Trilling and was close to the brilliant Hannah Arendt before switching sides and providing a sterling example for future turncoats like Zell Miller, Joe Lieberman and David Horowitz. He is so widely reviled by those who know him well that he has actually written a book – entitled Ex-Friends -- about how everyone from Allen Ginsberg to Norman Mailer eventually wised up to what an insufferable jackass he is. As a founding father of the Project for a New American Century, he is one of the original architects of our winningly successful middle east policy. And he and Midge, taking a break from writing about how much they hate blacks and gays, loved each other enough to make their son, John Podhoretz, who hangs around at the National Review watching Star Trek with Jonah Goldberg.
Norman also spent some time whoring American propaganda on behalf of the Reagan administration in the 1980s, as part of the amusingly named U.S. Information Agency, before doing what every other right-wing pseudo-intellectual does and sucking up the Scaife money as a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. He continues to produce Commentary just as if anyone was reading it, and now that he’s gotten the president he wants, likewise produces commentary about how the savage Palestinians will eat the lights of every last Jewish baby if we don’t throw all of them into a volcano posthaste. But his true legacy to the neoconservative movement isn’t having argued in advance for every war since Korea, or giving the whole morally bankrupt movement its purpose and direction, or even starting a trend towards nepotism unseen since the reign of the Pharoahs: no, Norman, you see, is a real live intellectual. He’s a thinking man’s conservative, a progressive philosopher in pragmatist drag. You know: a shithead. The shit in his head has coagulated into a number of foul-smelling books that are essential reading for the au courant dupe: he wrote Breaking Ranks, a book which details how he came from writing odes to glorious Stalingrad to writing odes to glorious Nixongrad in ten short years; he wrote Why We Were in Vietnam after we safely hadn’t been for seven years; he wrote My Love Affair with America: The Cautionary Tale of a Cheerful Conservative, in which he introduced the staggering notion that he was not an intolerable old crank; and he wrote the hilariously titled The Present Danger: Do We Have the Will to Reverse the Decline of American Power?, which he originally presented as a position paper to the state department on the assumption that all of American foreign policy should be decided by a dumpy egomaniac besides Dick Cheney. (The answer, in case you were wondering, was: “Yes, if we don’t mind starting a new war every five seconds.”)
Aaaah, war. Norman Podhoretz’ greatest joy, his first-case and worst-case approach to all problems. All the petty little troubles of our day – budget deficits, civil rights, unchecked negroes – they all seem to fade to insignificance when have a good old-fashioned war goin’ on. The authoer of not one, not two, but four articles about how we (America) can “win” (by liberal use of nukes) the conflict known as “World War IV” (against the terrorists and/or communists). Normally a pedestrian, even tiresome read, Norman gets downright fruity when he gets to talking about war; in his many defenses of many wars (he has written entire volumes defending WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and the Iraq war, apparently on the “Operation Just Because” model of declaring war every so often just because we can), he sounds like Peggy Noonan describing Ronald Reagan’s shoulder span, a giggling schoolboy delighted to export democracy no matter how many people who are not him have to die because of it. In a particularly instructive moment in one of his recent books, Podhoretz launches into a lengthy, invective-filled tirade against his own grandmother for daring to fret when her son was called to service in the Second World War.
As the years have passed, Podhoretz – who, after all, is an old man, who in addition to having to sleep with Midge Decter and listen to his loser kid write about Star Wars all the time, can now afford to live far away from the coloreds who so energized his youthful spirit – has narrowed his stock-in-trade to a handful of easily identifiable quirks (tar everyone who disagrees with you as an anti-Semite, support Israel at any cost, and never, ever question the wisdom of going to war) and pet issues (pacifists are unrealistic cowards, liberals are people who haven’t been mugged yet, and hey did I mention Israel?). But his determination to never ask questions of the right kind of power and his willingness to subordinate any questions of economics, ethics, justice or international harmony to the service of a good old-fashioned shooting match make him a perfect patron saint for neoconservativism. It’s his controversial, lonely stance that power – especially military power – always deserved the benefit of the doubt that built his movement and which sustains it today. Mazel tov!
WHAT’S THE ONE THING HE KNOWS FOR SURE? War is the answer.
DEFINING MOMENT: Poddy’s finest hour came in 1963, when he used the bullshit pulpit of Commentary to pen “My Negro Problem—and Ours”. He’s still proud of this piece – it gets a place of honor in his most recent collection, probably because, since it ends with him grudgingly accepting that his fiercely burning hatred of black people is something that he should probably be mildly ashamed of. Indeed, the Norman Podhoretz who wrote this piece (and who, 40 years later, reprinted it with self-congratulatory footnotes) clearly thinks he is, as a virulent racist who has become less virulent, on the cutting edge of realistic thought. Yes, Norman has come to think that (assuming color cannot be annihilated through miscegentation, as he hopes will happen midway through the piece) one should not discriminate against people based on their skin color, even though he spends half the article scoffing at the notion that blacks have it as bad as Jews, or even whites, and the other half engaging in the basest stereotypes imaginable of African-Americans (relating vignettes of their violent nature, their slurred, apelike speech, the “special brand of paranoid touchiness to which many Negroes are prone”, their “superior physical grace” that they display “on the dance floor, or…playing baseball or basketball”). But if only the liberals could see! If only they didn’t “permit Negroes to blackmail them into adopting a double standard of moral judgment” and leave themselves open to “cunning and contemptuous exploitation by Negroes they employ or try [!] to befriend”! For you see, to the Negro, the white man – even one as snowy innocent as Norman – is forever the oppressor: “If I represented the jailer to him, it was not because I was oppressing him or keeping him down: it was because I symbolized for him the dangerous and probably pointless temptation toward greater repression…I personally was to be rewarded for this repression with a new and better life in the future, but how many of my friends paid an even higher price and were given only gall in return.” The ungrateful swine! EXTERMINATE THE BRUTES!