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The Winter of NR Discontent

One of the more enjoyable schadenfreudian aspects of watching the Republican Party of the 20th century degrade into its latter-day know-nothing phase has been the utter disintegration of the National Review.

Once the most respectable of conservative magazines, it was founded in 1955 by right-wing patrician William F. Buckley, who, for all of his various degeneracies, was at least a genuine intellectual; however, by the 1990s, it had largely given itself over to anti-Clintonian mania, and by the turn of the century, it was little more than a FOX-like forum for unprincipled movement conservatives whose only genuine beliefs were that taxes should always be lower and anyone with a (D) after their name was the spawn of Satan. A magazine that had once featured the likes of Russell Kirk, Garry Wills, and Willmoore Kendall -- that had made conscious efforts to shed the influence of Birchers, ultra-nationalists, and anti-flouridators -- is now in the hands of subpar intellects like Kathryn Jean Lopez and Rich Lowry; moronic reactionaries like Dennis Prager, Michelle Malkin and John Derbyshire; and vacuous non-starters like Greg Gutfeld, Jay Nordlinger, and Jonah Goldberg, a perennial candidate for the most embarrassing conservative alive. What passes for an intellectual at NR these days is the washout farmer Victor Davis Hanson, whose specialty is torturing the classics in order to prove that Barack Obama is a Hun.

In recent years, the National Review has grown downright Soviet in its tendency to expunge from the rolls anyone who doesn't toe whatever the Kook Klux Klan party line of the moment happens to be. The most high-profile of these cases was in 2008, when Christopher Buckley -- son of the founder, and a man who shows the uncharacteristic-amongst-right-wing-pundits ability to be successful in ways other than parroting the latest Scaife Foundation talking point -- decided he could no longer pretend that George W. Bush hadn't made a complete mess of the country, and instead endorsed Obama for president. Despite Buckley the Younger's impeccable conservative credentials (he had been a speechwriter for Bush's father), this deviation into wrongthink could not be borne, and he was shown the door with much fanfare.

That wasn't the only sign of the magazine's Stalinist shadings in recent years, though. About six months ago, an NR minor-leaguer named Jim Manzi dared to cross Mark Levin, one of the bowel-movement conservative higher-ups, because he felt Levin's ideologically driven global warming denials had crossed beyond healthy conservative skepticism into outright delusion. Well, no Jim Manzi was going to tell the clucking cabal of the world's greatest nuthouse that their opinions had ceased to reflect reality! Manzi, too, was handed his walking papers, though he apparently relocated to Paris and can thus be said to have come out ahead on the whole deal.

The latest brouhaha should be an interesting one indeed. When news spread that President Obama had the power to order the covert execution of American citizens suspected of terrorist involvement, the reaction on the left was fairly predictable: covert assassinations of anyone, especially of one's fellow citizens, by their own government, is frowned upon on our side of the aisle. The New Right became a bit flustered, though: small-government types of the conservative old school get nervous about granting the power of police-state terror to even our own leaders, while new-school Neocons are more than happy to cede Minipax-style powers to anyone who promises to use them only on dark-skinned folk of the Mahometan race. Further complicating things: opposition to the assassination policy not only places one on the same side as left-wing liberals (a position that causes NRO readers to break out in the piss-shivers), but support of the policy places them on the same side as the Kenyan usurper, so-called 'President' Obama. What's a moron to do?

Andy McCarthy, a leading light at the National Review and a man who can be counted on to defend any position, however despicable, if it results in Muslims being in horrible pain or dying, laid down the orthodoxy's official position: the President must be allowed to covertly murder American citizens without trial, even if that President is Barack Obama, because we are at war against the vile ifrit of Islamovania, and victory in war depends on democratic leaders being able to covertly execute their countrymen. This position came as no real surprise; the latter-day NR has always supported all sorts of unconstitutional mayhem when its end product is dead Arabs, and as for this putting them on Barack Obama's side, well, even a stopped clock sometimes finds a nut, etc., etc. What was a surprise was the dissenting opinion lodged by minor-league scribbler Kevin J. Williamson, who penned his own death notice by daring to disagree with McCarthy. Like Chris Buckley and Jim Manzi before him, Williamson committed the gravest of all errors: he made sense in full view of his betters.

Getting in a cheap, cater-to-the-punters shot right away ("Strange things indeed are afoot...when Andy McCarthy bases an argument on an implausibly generous interpretation of the Obama administration’s motives"), Williamson goes on to intelligently criticize the notion of granting the power to assassinate US citizens, making it clear that he's all to happy to see the likes of Anwar Al-Awlaki get reduced to a fine red mist, but reminding his readers that we already have laws and policies to ensure the legality of just such an occurrence, and that there is no need to tempt fate by further giving the chief executive the power to dispose of his fellow citizens free of consequence. "The Obama administration has put a U.S. citizen on an assassination list," he soberly notes, "which is in and of itself worrisome enough, regardless of whether actual assassinations occur." He also handily disposes of the absurd idea, promoted by NR's sister publication, the American Spectator, that we have no choice but to invest the President with the proprietary authority over life and death simply because there is a war on; he calls this "ahistorical" and "morally illiterate", and suggests that "whatever kind of conservativism is arguing" in favor of the assassination policy, "I am not that kind of conservative".

He is also, I would wager, not the kind of conservative who has a job at the National Review. I would be shocked if he is still employed there next month. Never mind that he gave Obama his due whipping; never mind that he reaffirmed the idea that the bloody death of our ideological enemies is a noble goal Williamson committed the cardinal sin of the modern conservative movement, which is to suggest in front of your bosses that they are wrong about some point of conservative doctrine. Intellectual principle, however misguided, was once the ruling principle at the National Review; now it's blind obedience. William F. Buckley once described the role of his magazine thus: "It stands athwart history, yelling 'Stop'." Now, the mission statement is to stand athwart thought, yelling 'Shut up!'.

Comments

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ext_271837
Sep. 30th, 2010 07:49 pm (UTC)
Yeah but
Williamson left himself a out: He flattered McCarthy by portraying his opposition as principled, rather than mandated by a blood-thirst that is even stronger than his Obama-hatred. I bet he'll get a pass.
ludickid
Sep. 30th, 2010 07:58 pm (UTC)
Re: Yeah but
You could be right. Even now, he might be in Andy's office saying "Look, I know you want the leader of our constitutional democracy to have the power to freely murder its own citizens for all the right reasons." Then he'll get assigned to some desk that no NRO readers care about, like education or the economy, and bingo! Penance made.
(Anonymous)
Oct. 6th, 2010 05:08 pm (UTC)
yeah but
Have you noticed a familiar itching, burning sensation? It's your old friend LILEKS! His daily blog is now purged of overt politics (other than obsessed anti-70s diatribes) and he permits only favorable comments. But he hides behind the "paid content" bully-proof shield at Hewitt's site and apparently participated in a National Review cruise. Sorry I can't offer details but he's pretty much gone underground. Here I'd say "like a dangerous, hunted dissident" but I can only imagine he pounds out screeds like Lower Taxes! and Obama Consorts With Radical Hippies!Who Are Just Like Teabaggers If I Ever Thought About It!
slammerkinbabe
Oct. 10th, 2010 12:32 am (UTC)
Okay, so I can't believe I'm actually linking you to this, because it's seven years old. But I came across it while I was link-surfing stuff related to Ghostbusters, of all things, and if you hadn't seen it I thought it might give you a laugh. It is an article by Jonah Goldberg about what would happen if a giant baby stomped America to pieces (the answer, as you might expect: liberals would be very concerned about the baby's welfare and would refuse to blow off its dimply little face with nuclear missiles, and all of America would die). He articulates his central point by referencing the scene in Ghostbusters where Ray thinks up the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man as something that could never possibly destroy us, and reveals as he goes along that his entire philosophy on counterterrorism is based on monster movies. Plus... oh, my God, so much more. It's just gorgeous. You probably saw it seven years ago, but if not, it is really good for a giggle. And, of course, most of it consists of the same points about dirty tehrust Ay-rabs that he is still hammering into the ground seven years later, so it hardly feels dated at all.
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ludickid
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Leonard Pierce is a freelance writer wandering around Texas with no sleep or sense of direction. If you give him money he will write something for you. If you are nice to him he may come to your house and get drunk.

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