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The Ornery Observer
November 6, 2007

Rules of Engagement
by Paul Gottfried

As an adolescent attending middle school, I was familiar with two types of bullies. Seeing that I had the misfortune of being both fat and short at the time, this knowledge came in handy. The first type of bully towered over his victim, and unless you immediately surrendered your candy or change, he would not hesitate to push you around. Occasionally in this Hobbesian world, another gigantic bully would come along and beat up your oppressor, but then instead of ending the extortions, the victorious tough would proceed to shake down those who had already been exploited. It was truly an example of the circularity of history that the ancient Greeks wrote about.

But there was also a second type of bully, whom my friend Taki mocks to perfection. It was the puny, insecure kid who tried to act tough as long as his bigger buds, who were usually in hearing range, could rush to his aid. All that the bluffer had to do for protection would be to shout for the big bruisers to rescue him. Once the incident was dealt with, the faux bully would be able to go back to “talking big.”

For those who might not have guessed, I consider the neoconservatives, and particularly their minicon offspring and hangers-on, to exemplify the second type of bully. By themselves they are quite ineffective and, like the upstart editors of National Review, they are something less than genuinely tough guys. What allows them to push around dissenters on the American Right is that they have useful “connections.” Among their helpers are the stooges who go after anyone who presumes to question the present “moderate” leadership of the “movement.”

More important, the neocons have friends in the establishment liberal press who have no desire to see political debate drift toward the right. They therefore help the neocons to marginalize their right-wing critics by trashing them as “anti-Semites” and extremists. It is surely a plus to have stiffs like Rush Limbaugh, who insist that those who use the term neoconservative in a noncomplimentary way or who are small-government critics of the invasion of Iraq are really baiting Jews.

One also learns from reading this month’s British New Statesman that Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul was engaging in an anti-Jewish outburst when he asserted that the “neoconservatives wanted this war.” And I won’t even go into the diatribe against the late Russell Kirk done by Alan Wolfe in The New Republic in June, since I responded to this rant at some length on another website. But it would not be overspeculative to assume that Wolf’s invective might have been published as a way of punishing those reactionary “anti-Semites,” who, like Kirk, had not always treated The New Republic’s preferred opposition with appropriate respect.

At one time, back in the 1980s and 1990s, the mock bullies were allowed to get away with their intimidation; and I noticed how effectively they blackened the reputations of Mel Bradford, Joe Sobran, and Sam Francis. What has happened since then, however, is that the bullies have gone from being feared to being despised, and the result has been to change the rules of engagement. Before that juncture those whom the neocons disgraced, such as the hapless Professor Bradford, withdrew from the battle or else, like my departed, very close friend Sam, struggled on with diminished resources.

Perhaps the fact that Pat Buchanan did not cave in before the onslaughts of his neoconservative-liberal enemies somehow affected the way the war would take shape afterward. What Pat called the “branding iron of anti-Semitism” no longer necessarily achieved its effect by reducing its victim to a cowed or thoroughly ruined object of obloquy. Of course, Pat also had his own big guns to pull out in that struggle, but the important thing is that he gave even better than he got and is still an author and TV personality with a huge following.

Now the neocons themselves are being turned into punching bags, whether or not they publicly acknowledge what is going on. They are being knocked from pillar to post on websites that attract millions of readers; all they do in response, save for an occasional, soporific reference to “anti-Semites,” is try to ignore their attackers, while making sure they have closed all their resources to their critics on the right.

But these responses are no longer adequate. The attacks continue to come. Personally I hope the devastation never stops until we have humiliated the cowardly bullies, who have marginalized so many of us professionally. Special rules of engagement exist for such a struggle, in which one finds oneself dealing with a less-than-honorable adversary. These are the rules that applied when a phony bully at our school, perhaps someone who looked like David Frum, was no longer seen as invulnerable. We would be happy to rumble with their lefty protectors, once we have finished with the blowhards on the playground.

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