Ship of Fools

June 26, 2007

A couple of weeks ago, the Internets were loaded with clips of Norman Podhoretz, the eminence grise of neoconservatism, idly shrugging off the prospect of death and mayhem resulting from his dreams of conquest in Iran.

Johann Hari, a journalist who should be much better known, went on a National Review ship cruise and captured this snapshot of an argument between Podhoretz and William F. Buckley that shows the Podfather (and conservatives in general) fully in the grip of a predatory delusional system:

“Aren’t you embarrassed by the absence of these weapons?” Buckley snaps at Podhoretz. He has just explained that he supported the war reluctantly, because Dick Cheney convinced him Saddam Hussein had WMD primed to be fired. “No,” Podhoretz replies. “As I say, they were shipped to Syria. During Gulf war one, the entire Iraqi air force was hidden in the deserts in Iran.” He says he is “heartbroken” by this “rise of defeatism on the right.” He adds, apropos of nothing, “There was nobody better than Don Rumsfeld. This defeatist talk only contributes to the impression we are losing, when I think we’re winning.”

The audience cheers Podhoretz. The nuanced doubts of Bill Buckley leave them confused. Doesn’t he sound like the liberal media? Later, over dinner, a tablemate from Denver calls Buckley “a coward.” His wife nods and says, “Buckley’s an old man,” tapping her head with her finger to suggest dementia.

There is rich, savory irony in the sight of William F. Buckley, the man who did more than anyone else in the 1960s and 1970s to save conservatism from its popular image as a movement for foam-flecked loons, being dismissed as a loon himself by the very people he helped make respectable.

But the density and resilience of the fantasy world constructed by these Pod people is, frankly, daunting and scary. There was nobody better than Donald Rumsfeld? Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction were all shipped to Syria? Hey, Podfather, why just say they were sent to Mars?

Come to think of it, that might be one way to get conservatives lined up behind that Martian exploration program Bush was touting a few years back. Put Poddy and his crew on the first ship to launch, and the neoconservative movement will be on its way to finding a truly hospitable environment for its kind of thinking.


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