Dec 6, 2013
Words From the Right: On Buckley and From Paul and Breitbart
Posted on May 27, 2011
By Allen Barra
“The Civil War,” he writes, “was fought to keep all states under the thumb of a powerful central government.” No, it wasn’t. It was fought because states that owned slaves were afraid that states that didn’t have slaves were going to outnumber them in Congress, so they banded together to go to war—and they weren’t shy about saying beforehand that they were doing so in defense of slavery.
“We are policed everywhere we go: work, shopping, home, and church.” We most certainly are not, and people who are held up going to work or in shopping mall parking lots might argue that we could use a few more police.
“Nothing is private any more ... not even our houses of worship.” Indeed they aren’t private—many of them have become untaxed corporations.
And, finally, on bipartisanship: “When it comes to any significant differences ... both parties are very much alike.” And, “Bipartisanship will not help ... mainly because there are so few things on which the two parties agree. ...” Wait, what? I thought the parties are very much alike. Which is it?
Right Time, Right Place: Coming of Age with William F. Buckley Jr. and the Conservative Movement
By Richard Brookhiser
Basic Books, 272 pages
Liberty Defined: 50 Essential Issues That Affect Our Freedom
By Ron Paul
Grand Central Publishing, 352 pages
Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World!
By Andrew Breitbart
Grand Central Publishing, 272 pages
Surely the two parties can’t be that much alike, if only because only one of them is very, very angry. But exactly what it is so angry about?
“As a New Media addict,” says Andrew Breitbart in “Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World!,” “I am both junkie and supplier.” The junk, it would appear, is pure anger laced with paranoia. When Paul Krugman coined the term “the angry rich,” it’s difficult to believe he didn’t have Breitbart in mind.
With Breitbart, the last vestiges of the classic conservatism of Buckley and National Review are gone; he doesn’t engage his opponents in debate or even bother to define the boundaries of the discussion. The enemy is simply anyone who can be counted as the left. “The left,” he writes, “is the media.” He repeatedly equates the “mainstream media” with “left media,” so often, in fact, that one wonders why he bothers to use the term mainstream media at all, and the left media would appear to be anything to the left of him—which leaves a huge amount of media in the category of left.
For Breitbart, a vast territory is involved: “when the Soviet Union disintegrated, the battle simply took a different form. Instead of missiles, the new weapon was language and education, and the international left had successfully constructed a global infrastructure to get its message out.” Readers old enough to remember the farthest out of right-wing conspiracy theories, the “Communist-Catholic-Jewish One World” notion, might experience the warmth of recognition, but for Breitbart, owner of a series of conservative websites, the targets are closer to home. He “knew the fix was in [for the current president’s electoral victory] when Oprah Winfrey featured Obama twice on her mega-influential daytime show.”
Winfrey, in Breitbart’s scenario, almost seems like a character out of “The Manchurian Candidate.” After all, “any criticism of Obama, with his thin résumé and shadowy past, could be framed by a like-minded media class as racism, cowing dissent.” Of course. One sees it immediately. How could a supporter of half-term governor Sarah Palin such as Breitbart be accused of racism for talking about Obama’s “thin résumé”?
What other forces are to be found in the conspiracy? Apparently Columbia and Harvard, since Barack Obama rose through “the corrupt ranks of modern academia.” (Presumably Yale was not part of this corruption when George H.W. and George W. were shepherded through.)
Obama, Breitbart claims, achieved nothing on his own merits and owes everything to “a media and cultural system [constructed] to affirm liberal narratives [which] granted Obama a mega catapult to launch him in a way that no Republican or conservative could ever experience.” All it took for this system to kick in, apparently, was an eight-year stretch when the Republicans were in control and ran the economy right into the ground. In an article in The New Yorker last year, written before Breitbart achieved national fame in the Shirley Sherrod scandal, he was quoted as saying, “Obama’s election was the culmination of a plot set in place in the 1930s by émigré members of the Frankfurt School.” (One can almost hear the conversation when Adorno, Benjamin and Marcuse first met in Greenwich Village after coming to New York in 1935: “OK, first step of our plan successfully completed. Now we find the right Negro to run for president. ...”)
If you buy a copy of “Righteous Indignation” to read an explanation of the Shirley Sherrod incident, you’ll be disappointed to find that Breitbart has little to say about it, commenting near the end of the book, “You probably know that Sherrod has threatened in the media to sue me.” Actually, she filed suit against him back in February for posting a video that had been selectively edited to make her appear racist in a speech she gave. If Breitbart had announced on Page 1 that he wasn’t going to deal with Sherrod, I might not have purchased the book. He does tell us, “I can say this: there’s a hell of a lot more to the Sherrod story than you’ve heard at this point. Stay tuned.” I can hardly wait; Breitbart, perhaps unwittingly, gave us a tantalizing preview on the April 29 episode of Bill Maher’s “Real Time” cable TV show when he said Glenn Beck “threw me under the bus” when Beck reported and commented on the Sherrod affair.
Whatever happens in court, events have already overtaken Breitbart the prognosticator. 2011, he tells us, “is going to be less about holding Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reed accountable than it’s going to be about holding George Stephanopoulos, Andrew Morse, ABC News, and the rest of the mainstream media [sic] accountable. ... It’s going to be about holding Arianna Huffington and Christiane Amanpour and Contessa Brewer and Katie Couric and Pinch Sulzberger accountable.” Forget the rest—Katie Couric? How did she get to be included on Breitbart’s list of the liberal media’s power elite? By asking Sarah Palin what she reads? In any event, we’re almost halfway through the year and the only ones being held to account are the Republican candidates whom Breitbart favors. (Though, as this article is published, Ron Paul, against all odds, is hanging tough.)
Richard Brookhiser relates a story about a former National Review editorial assistant named Bob Mack who “was a Randian, though pleasant. After he left, he wrote a hatchet job on his former employer and place of work. The illustration said it all: it showed Bill [Buckley] in Mortimer’s, a clubby Upper East Side restaurant, a yachting cap askew on his head, his belly stouter than it was (though it was stouter than it had been), a glass of red wine tipped in his hand. Outside the window stood the next generation of would-be conservative leaders, noses pressed vainly against the glass. ... Bill, said Mack, was tired, old, lazy, burned out. The truly consequential right-wing thinker of our time was the late Ayn Rand.”
It’s an ugly story, but I think Mack was ultimately correct. The real avatar of American conservatism was not Buckley or any of his acolytes or even the man Buckley helped become president, Ronald Reagan. Buckley and his writers will now fade further into the background of American political history until they are mere footnotes. As for Reagan, conservatism has moved so far to the right that if he appeared on the political scene today, those who call themselves conservatives would greet him with the same animus as Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor greeted Christ, pointing at him and yelling “Socialist!” just as they now do to Obama, whose policies, in many ways, resemble those of a moderate Republican of an earlier day.
But this is probably all academic. As Garry Wills once shrewdly observed, “The aftermath of Reagan’s presidency has proved, over and over, that Reaganism without Reagan is unsustainable. Even with him, it was a tottering edifice.” Reagan, Wills wrote, “gave conservatism the elements it had signally lacked—humanity, optimism, hope. ... Reagan, without much wit or passion or intelligence, had a humanity that made up for anything he lacked.”
With Paul and Breitbart, the purest products of Randism (though Rand herself loathed libertarians, calling them “worse than the new left”), we get neither wit nor intelligence, and passion only if one equates it with anger. Humorless and as utterly lacking in irony as an Ayn Rand novel (or the recent, cheerless film of “Atlas Shrugged”), Paul and Breitbart are the greatest gift the Democratic Party ever could have received. With every succeeding week, they drive a wider wedge between the right wing and the American mainstream—the real mainstream, not Breitbart’s—with greater effectiveness than the Democrats ever could. Between them, they are succeeding in marginalizing conservatism.
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