Our Podhoretz Problem at 50

Norman Podhoretz: for the greater good he'll accept swarthy grand-kids but won't be happy about it.
Norman Podhoretz: for the greater good he’ll accept swarthy grand-kids but won’t be happy about it.

Fifty years ago, Norman Podhoretz wrote a profoundly stupid article called “My Negro Problem – and Ours.” The article was published in Commentary magazine, which is marking the anniversary.

I say “profoundly stupid” advisedly because Podhoretz himself, despite his reprehensible politics, is not a dumb guy. In fact, he’s a gifted editor and polemicist. The article itself is sometimes praised for being an honest attempt to describe the seriousness of racism.

Yet, what other phrase than profoundly stupid can apply to an article that argues that the best solution to racism is miscegenation. At the end of the essay Podhoretz writes:  “I cannot see how [the dream of erasing color consciousness] will ever be realized unless color does in fact disappear: and that means not integration, it means assimilation, it means—let the brutal word come out—miscegenation…. in my opinion the Negro problem can be solved in this country in no other way.”

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Reagan Versus the Neo-Cons

Mikhail Gorbachev: More dangerious than Stalin, according to Commentary magazine

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the tendency of neo-conservatives such as Norman Podhoretz to celebrate Ronald Reagan as a great president is more than a little disingenuous. Back when Reagan was actually in power, the neo-cons supported the president against his liberal and leftist critics but had their own problems with the Gipper, who they regarded as a weak appeaser all too willing to negotiate with an implacable enemy, Soviet Communism. This neo-conservative critique of Reagan was especially virulent in President’s second term when he came to the conclusion that Gorbachev was a sincere reformer worth doing business with.

In his book The New American Militarism, Andrew Bacevich acutely sums up this phase of neo-conservatism:

Podhoretz found much to like in Reagan’s rhetoric, but he warned against confusing words with actions. The two differed, often drastically. To take Reagan’s famous condemnation of Moscow’s “evil empire” at face value was “to fall victim to a campaign of disinformation.” In practice, Reagan had proven himself “unwilling to take the political risks and expend the political energy” to break with the Nixon-Ford-Carter policy of détente. Like his immediate predecessors, the president seemed obsessed with making the world safe for Communism, thus implementing “a strategy of helping the Soviet Union stabilize its empire.” Indeed, to Podhoretz, Reagan appeared “ready to embrace the course of détente wholeheartedly as his own.”

For all of his high-sounding talk, the fortieth president of the UnitedStates, Podhoretz reluctantly concluded, lacked backbone. Although he “seems to have a few strong convictions,” wrote Podhoretz in 1985, Reagan “invariably backed away from acting on them” if they threatened to “cost him more political approval than he might gain by tacking and trimming.” As late as 1986—three years before the fall of the Berlin Wall—Podhoretz was still insisting that “‘the present danger’ of 1980 is still present today, and the question of whether ‘we have the will to reverse the decline of American power’ still hangs ominously as it did then in the troubled American air.” As the end of the 1980s approached, the threat posed by Communism was becoming, if anything, greater than ever. That Reagan was apparently falling victim to Mikhail Gorbachev’s charm offensive was almost unbearable. In Podhoretz’s eyes, to parley with the enemy was to appease him.

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From Lionel Trilling to Sarah Palin: Podhoretz’s Pilgrimage

 

Sarah Palin

Once upon a time, Norman Podhoretz admired intelligence. Podhoretz’s best book, Making It, is a non-fiction bildungsroman, the story of how an uncouth Brooklyn boy learned to love literature and high culture, eventually becoming a formidable critic and editor. The book is filled with tough-minded but loving portraits of Podhoretz’s teachers, especially Lionel Trilling and F.R. Leavis. Podhoretz was a scholarship boy, someone whose gift for words transported him out of his humble origins into the heady world of Partisan Review and the New Yorker.

Here is Podhoretz’s account of his first visit to the home of Lionel Trilling: “Everything there was easy and informal – even, I thought, rather surprisingly bohemian – and no one seemed to care whether my tie was on or off. It was an atmosphere in which I could loosen up, and after a swim and several martinis, I began talking my head off abut Cambridge, about Leavis, about Europe, and even, finally, about my secret uncertainties….Yes, of course, he [Trilling] said, he understood exactly what I meant, and proceeded – with a witchlike precision which the hesitant style of his speech and the diffidently soft quality of his voice left one unprepared for and somehow surprised by, even though one knew he was Lionel Trilling and one of the most intelligent men in the world – to tell me what it was I had been trying to say.”

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Obama, Hitler, and Commentary Magazine

Does this picture hang on the walls of Commentary magazine?

In his 1979 memoir Breaking Ranks, Norman Podhoretz, then the editor of Commentary magazine, told the story of his political shift from left-liberalism to neo-conservatism. A key reason for his political rethinking, Podhoretz asserts, was the intemperate attacks on legitimate political leaders by the New Left and its fellow travelers. As an example, we’re told about an argument Podhoretz had with his old friend Jason Epstein, the book publisher and eminence grise behind the New York Review of Books. Continue reading

Great Moments in Nepotism

1) In an blog post about the young writer Sam Munson, the New Yorker Observer describes him thus  “Mr. Munson, the online editor of neoconservative journal Commentary.” A sentence later we’re told, ” Mr. Munson—who is, incidentally, the grandson of former Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz.”

2) In the pages pages of the Jerusalem Post, Ruth Blum Liebowitz (daughter of Norman Podhoretz) interview Elliot Abrams (son-in-law of Norman Podhoretz). To her credit, Ms. Liebowitz frankly owns up to the fact that the man she’s interviewing is married to her sister.

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AIDS and the Neo-conservatives

allan-bloom-1-sized1

Allan Bloom

 

Before the rise of modern science, it was common to think of diseases and plagues as scourges sent by God to punish humans for their sins. We now know better, or at least we should. Diseases are biological phenomenon, best treated by medicine and public policy. But some still see sickness as a curse, shameful evidence of cosmic retribution.

Consider the neoconservatives, who are usually described as among the more secular, rational, and modern of right-wingers. Yet when it comes to AIDS, most neo-conservatives are no different than medieval peasants who prayed and flayed themselves in order to be free of the black plague.

In the mid-1980s, Norman Podhoretz, editor of Commentary and one of the key shapers of  neo-conservatism, wrote that the government should not spend any money on AIDS research, since a vaccine would only “allow [gay men] to resume buggering each other with complete medical impunity.”

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