Wednesday, July 18, 2012

David Frum's "Conversion": Neocon Morality Tales and History's Judgment

Mark Oppenheimer's fascinating roadmap of the twists and turns neocon Wunderkind David Frum has taken in his talking-head career is well worth the read.  I find it valuable for the following reason (among others): it bluntly says what many similar reviews never say outright, as they survey the careers of other neocon young Turks who have now broken with the crazy show that the GOP has become.

It admits that Frum (and by implication, other loud-mouthed young neo-conservatives of his generation) benefited largely from their outspoken conservatism in the final decades of the 20th century.  They benefitted largely, as in having access to cushy jobs at well-heeled right-wing think tanks and in having immediate entrée to important power circles in American culture.

We're often asked to believe that the political and religious right "won" during the final decades of the 20th century because it had such brilliant, principled leaders (John Paul II, Reagan, etc.), while the tired old left had become obsolescent and had nothing but blowzy slogans--no intellectual substance--to offer any longer.

If the right "won" as the 20th century wound down, it won solely because it had money on its side.  And because it could afford to hire more talking heads than the left had, to turn traditional moral principles upside down so that the rapacious pursuit of money and callousness towards the poor became virtue--and the sole virtue--while the traditional teachings of world religions about the heinousness of greed and abuse of the poor were trampled in the mud.

And reinterpreted by mindless hacks of the ilk of David Brooks, who just can't get beyond his silly, counterintuitive, and self-serving neocon meme that capitalism is "dynamic" and that it whips lazy, immoral shlubs (read: working-class folks) out of their "puffy and self-indulgent" ways with the tonic of work and privation.  "Dynamic" capitalism good; puffy, self-indulgent working people bad.

As Tana Ganeva reminds us today in a powerful article about homelessness of some American families, one among several mind-boggling prices Americans have paid for this toxic silliness spewed out by one  shallow neocon talking head after another from the latter decades of the 20th century up to the present is that, from the 1980s forward, we have, for the first time since the Great Depression, seen a precipitous rise in homeless families.

As a direct result of Ronald Reagan's decision to dismantle the social safety net for those families.  The problem is so overwhelming for many cities and many areas of the country that we have simply decided to let it exist.  To let it continue.  To let babies, who need special attention in their formative years in order to grow up to be happy and productive adults, be raised in homeless shelters.  To let schoolchildren, who need sleep, quiet conditions in which to read and learn, grow up in homeless shelters.

When these families are lucky enough to have shelters, that is.  As Ganeva's article also notes, in the heart of America's bible belt, the South, where more people report that they believe in God than any other part of the country, such shelters are few and far between.

Why have David Frum and other talking heads who were such starry-eyed neocon ideologues in the latter part of the 20th century begun to break with the movement that produced such conditions?  Because it's increasingly an embarrassment to have built such a society, while maintaining that one was serving the cause of virtue.

And because the insanity--not to mention the immorality--of those promoting a social scheme whose sole claim to virtue is advancing the interests of the rich and trampling everyone else down is becoming more and more apparent to more and more people.  And associating oneself with causes that eventually reveal themselves to have been destructive, demonic, and insane is not a recipe for being remembered well by historians.

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