Political Pilgrims at the National Review
Jude Wanniski
August 16, 2005


Memo To: Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Wow, A Constitution for Iraq!

A few days ago, I got an e-mail from a young British historian who asked for my help on a project he is embarking on -- an account of how the American conservative movement morphed into the neo-conservative movement. It’s quite a story, for another time, but I was at least prompted to devote today’s memo to the topic by Lew Rockwell’s commentary today on his website. As a libertarian, Rockwell has observed the process, and writes about the net result, the political pilgrimage of William F. Buckley Jr’s National Review from small state, antiwar libertarian upon its founding a half century ago to today’s rubber stamp for whatever the federal government wants as long as it has the Republican label. Buckley no longer runs the magazine and has agonized in print over its support for the war in Iraq, but in the end has joined the political pilgrims in cheerleading for the war and all the good things it is bound to produce in the end.

The theme is a simple one: In for a dime, in for a dollar. Once you decide to invest in a war that seems justified, you can’t let go even when hindsight justification of the war seems preposterous. It is too personally embarrassing to quit, even though staying the course means how many more dead soldiers and innocent citizens -- who have been bombed for their own good.

To get the full flavor of Rockwell’s trenchant observations you should read them in full, especially when he slices and dices yesterday’s piece at NR Online, “Constitutional Crossroads,” by Williamson M. Evers & Tom G. Palmer, the former of the conservative Hoover Institution, the latter of the libertarian CATO think tank. For example, the two rhapsodize that the draft of the constitution they looked over actually prohibits torture!! Here is the opening of Rockwell’s column:

Last Friday, as the puppet leaders in Iraq were arguing about what is going to be the Iraqi constitution, they had to speak especially loudly to be heard over the explosions and bombs outside. These are not ideal conditions under which to forge a new governing authority, especially one purporting to grant liberty and rights. The first ambition of the state will always be to exercise power. And if there were ever a constitution designed to enhance government power, this is it.

There will always be "political pilgrims" who say otherwise. This is a phrase coined by the sociologist Paul Hollander, who documented the absurd travels of Western leftists to remote parts of the world where communism was being tried out. They invariably found a future of prosperity, freedom, and justice for all, and developed an incredible blindness to terror, starvation, and despotism of all sorts, dismissing it as necessary to block the work of evil dead-enders. Also, in another famous excuse, if the government has to expend so many resources on fighting off dissidents, it couldn’t make basic provisions for the masses or so goes the claim.

Their ideology allowed them to see only what they wanted to see. Commies have done this since the earliest days of the Bolshevik Revolution. But political pilgrimages are not a partisan party. Anyone of a certain bent regardless of ideology is susceptible to becoming a spokesman for the Party. Ideology can do that to people, for reasons that will never be fully clear.

And so we have our own political pilgrims going to Iraq to see the wonderful world that Bush has made. They pay no attention to the bombs and death, or write it off as evidence of reactionary sentiment that must be stamped out. The Bush regime claims that it is creating liberty there, so the pilgrim’s job is to find it and defend it, with no critical or independent thought allowed.

What better publication for a right-wing political pilgrimage than National Review? Every day you can read the "good news" on Iraq from their interchangeable columnists such as Deroy Murdock who thinks it is just glorious that there are ever more troops in uniform in Iraq. He paints a beautiful picture, from the Pentagons standpoint, over the canvas of reality

The phrase “I have seen the future and it works” is attributed to a New York Times reporter, Walter Duranty, the paper’s Moscow correspondent from 1921 to 1934, who won the Pulitzer for a 1931 series of reports about Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's five-year plans to reform the economy. His stories appeared in the Times before the Ukrainian famine of 1932-1933, which left 5 million to 10 million dead. Somehow, I doubt there will be any Pulitzers awarded to the National Review for its unabashed optimism for Iraq’s future and neo-con foreign policy.

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Since writing this last paragraph attributing the quote about seeing the future to Walter Duranty, I've learned I was in error. The quote dates to Lincoln Steffens, a "muckraker" journalist who visited Petrograd in 1919 and decided communism was working and it would be the future. His illustrious career went into decline in the 1920s, so it seems.