Affirmative Action, Meritocracy, Nepotism and the Podhoretz Clan

 Over the last four decades, there has been no more vocal and insistent enemy of affirmative action than Norman Podhoretz. From his influential perch at Commentary magazine (which he edited from 1960 to 1995), Podhoretz launched attack after attack on affirmative action as an affront to the sacred principal of meritocracy.

In a speech given at the National Review Institute in early 1993, Podhoretz made the argument with typical forcefulness: “Affirmative action and quotas represent the most radical assault yet on the traditional American ethos. It is an assault on the idea that was the revolutionary principle of the American Revolution, and still is a revolutionary principle: the idea that it doesn’t matter who your father was. The counter-revolutionary principle to which we are now succumbing is that all individuals are to be judged by their ancestry, by the group to which they belong – racial, ethnic, religious, sexual.”

Consider the implications of what Podhoretz is saying here: that apart from affirmative action, America is a meritocracy where ancestry is irrelevant. Or at the very least, the ideal America is one where “it doesn’t matter who your father was.”

Does this really describe the America produced by the revolution of 1776, where the daughter of a slave was still a slave?

Is this really an accurate description of the America governed by George W. Bush, a man whose entire career from prep school to presidency has been aided by his family connections?

Does the ideal of meritocracy, an indifference to parental powers, even describe Podhoretz’s own career? As editor of Commentary the elder Podhoretz very much governed as a benevolent paterfamilias, publishing countless essays and even short stories by his wife Midge Decter, his son John Podhoretz, his step-daughter Naomi Munson (nee Decter), his other step-daughter Rachel Abrams (nee Decter), his son-in-law Steven C. Munson, his other son-in-law Elliot Abrams, and his grand-son Sam Munson. (This is a very incomplete list: it would take an army of genealogists to do justice to Podhoretz’s editorship by blood-line. Nor does this list include all the other neo-conservatives families that clutter the Commentary table of contents: the Kristols, the Himmelfarbs, the Pipes, the Kagans, etc. No less than dry-cleaning, a wag observed, neoconservatism is a family business).

Some of these branches of the family tree made their appearance after Podhoretz stopped the grubby job of editing the magazine and was elevated to the title of editor at large. Podhoretz’s replacement as editor was Neal Kozodoy, a capable and loyal underling but not a fit genetic heir. Now Kozodoy in turn is ready to step aside. His designated replacement? John Podhoretz, the only full-blood son of Norman.

Thank God America is a meritocracy and “it doesn’t matter who your father was.” Now if we can only get rid of affirmative action to make sure that jobs only go to those who have proven their worth in the marketplace.

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