The State of Israel has cast its lot with an array of American forces now working the economic, cultural and political destruction of their own country.
That Mr. Netanyahu should choose this course need neither surprise nor detain us. The important questions now are, first, is this situation permanent? And if the damage be irreversible, how pernicious might it prove to be?
Barack Obama is not my favorite citizen. Perhaps he should be no one’s. But back in 2012, when Mr. Netanyahu made Israel a partisan electoral issue, he supported, flauntingly, Obama’s opponent, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Lest we forget, this was a man who said that there should be “no daylight” between the positions of the United States and Israel, and who also said that he was “not interested in” forty-seven percent of the American people
Let me repeat that. A candidate for the American Presidency expressed his desire to give Israel a de facto blank check while writing off nearly half his countrymen.
If you were an American assessing this juxtaposition, what would you conclude?
Now back to the tale.
We’ve been masticating the history of American conservatism. It arose as a conflicted but more or less coherent movement in the 1950s. Its early articulators were heavily Catholic and/or enamored of the High Church Episcopalian ethos. If they claimed more and more important intellectual and philosophical predecessors than the facts supported, nonetheless they were keenly aware of the importance of intellect.
They were serious people and, like their right-libertarian cousins, content to remain comfortably cloistered, always listened to but not often heeded.
Then came Big Mike Goldwasser’s grandkid.
Perhaps no one could have beaten Lyndon Johnson for the White House in 1964. Senator Barry Goldwater certainly didn’t. I was there, a Jewish teen-ager working for Goldwater in a Jewish community. It didn’t make me any friends.
But Goldwater lost, and the Jews rejoiced. And in the aftermath of the debacle, several sections of the conservative movement that had doted on him – the screamers, the crazies, the white supremacists, the fundamentalists, the “Commies under the Bed” crowd – got to schemin’ how to keep the game going until the next Messiah showed.
In retrospect, it’s a pity that Barry Goldwater, a decent man with surprisingly rational views on many things, abdicated his leadership. Lesser, more opportunistic potentates and pubahs filled the vacuum. So did a half dozen major philanthropic foundations, and a lot of local money. So did millions of solid citizens, many of them nouveau riche, disgusted by the excesses of Culture War I and determined to “Take America Back.”
And so began the conservative Long March through the institutions. True Believers captured local school boards, Republican precincts and churches (mainly Protestant/evangelical) throughout the country, but especially in the newly Republican South, the booming Sun Belt, and California. New media, new “community outreach,” new programs for youth. New think tanks, new periodicals, new experts “available for comment” mushroomed like sprouts.
These new “public intellectuals” and their funders and minders cared little for serious thought and even less for the politically significant aspects of serious culture. Instead, they churned out policy papers, manifestos, hyperventilated press releases and “hot-button” political porn until, like McDonald’s, they could no longer number them.
Just “Billions and Billions Served.”
Perhaps anybody could have beaten Jimmy Carter for the White House in 1980. Ronald Reagan did. Today, Mr. Reagan’s fondly venerated as the patron saint of the movement. Back then, it wasn’t that simple. President Reagan often (usually?) ignored his conservative acolytes, alternately exhorting them to speak out and “Keep my feet to the fire” while also quipping that “Sometimes the right hand doesn’t know what the far right hand is doing.” And today, save for two unfortunate developments, Mr. Reagan might well be remembered as the genial euthanizer of a movement that had risen from the ashes in 1964, only to have its ashes hauled off by Bill Clinton and the economic boom of the 1990s.
The first unfortunate post-Goldwater development was . . . Jews. Specifically, the elder generation of Jewish neocons. Strident, arrogant, argumentative, elitist: They’d survived, as Norman Podhoretz once put it, that longest of journeys, from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Some were former Marxists, Trotskyites. Their passion was anti-communism and American “will” to dominate the world. Domestic affairs, with the notable and blessed exception of Irving Kristol, barely interested them.
They drove the older conservatives, the “Paleocons,” crazy.
I liked and sometimes admired the elder neocons. For all their intellectual pomposity and rigidity, they’d also lived. Depression. World war. Divorce. The genuine anguish some felt at breaking from their old liberal causes, careers and acquaintances over Vietnam and their refusal to justify the emotivism of the so-called New Left.
Ronald Reagan found them occasionally useful. And, like the “Paleocons” and the Religious Right, they should have vanished with the 20th century.
Why didn’t they?
Many partial reasons may be adduced. But at bottom, it was this:
America, though few noticed at the time, was starting to grow poor. And the people responsible for the accelerating impoverishment, and those who profited from it, found the neocons and the fundies and the love-to-hate types too useful to do without.
Useful in that they might serve to convince much of the nation that the causes of their undoing were actually the divinely ordained, natural, unalterable way of things.
All they’d have to do is get the scores of millions on the Right to adopt as their mantra: “If I feel it . . . and they tell me so . . . then it is.”