In a recent column at antiwar.com, Scott McConnell, the one-time editorial page editor of the neoconservative New York Post who later became an outspoken critic of Israel and a speechwriter for Patrick Buchanan in the 2000 presidential campaign, announced the birth of a new magazine to be edited by Buchanan and himself, The American Conservative. With all due respect to two individuals whom I once had more respect for, The American Conservative does not look to be good news for conservatism or for America. According to McConnell, the raison d'être of this journal will be to oppose what he calls "The War Party," a denigrating phrase to which he resorts no less than seven times in an 800-word column. Now, a writer is clearly on shaky ground when he tries to blame a position he disagrees with — a position, moreover, that happens to be embraced by a majority of the country — on a single "bad guy" or group of bad guys such as "The War Party." Rather than appealing to our common rationality and our common interests, he is relying on demagogic characterizations designed to create dislike and resentment of the named enemy.
This unwholesome rhetorical technique is a staple on today's antiwar right — a group that, while certainly having valid concerns about the dissolution of the American nation under an emerging American empire, have gone beyond the bounds of reason in their fierce opposition to any projection of U.S. power abroad, as well as in their often unrestrained hostility against the most important foreign object of American solicitude, Israel. Thus, in a column written at the time of the Israeli incursion into the West Bank after the Passover terrorist bombings last April, Buchanan shamefully described Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as "the raging bull of Ramallah" who had sent his "army rampaging onto the West Bank." As I wrote at Front Page Magazine ("An Open Letter to Patrick Buchanan," April 15, 2002), Buchanan's portrayal made it appear as if Sharon was some freelance killer who out of sheer wanton malice was crushing innocent Palestinians, whereas, in fact, Sharon's action was supported by the whole Israeli nation, from the right to the left, as an urgent act of self-defense after years of enduring unendurable suicide bombings by those same Palestinians.
A similar ad hominem methodology can be seen at work among Buchanan's somewhat more extreme allies on the antiwar right, the paleo-libertarians and neo-Confederates whose main hangout is lewrockwell.com. For the neo-Confederates, the evil American empire does not begin (as it does for the Buchananites) with the Gulf War or the Kosovo War or the Cold War or World War II; it begins with the Civil War and Lincoln's unprecedented exertion of national power to suppress the Southern rebellion. The neo-Confederates hate Lincoln's policy both as unjust and wicked in itself and as prototypical of the current American empire and its client state Israel. Just as Buchanan smears the "rampaging bull" Sharon as the fons et origo of Mideast violence, the neo-Confederates rant about "the blood-thirsty Lincoln" as the sole cause of the South's ruin. This "blood-thirsty" slur contains two false inferences: that Lincoln's primary motive was to kill as many people as possible, rather than to save the United States from dismemberment; and that it was only the evil Lincoln (or Lincoln and his band of radical Republicans) who wanted a large-scale war on the South and forced the rest of the country to go along with that tyrannical policy. The truth, of course, is that it was the majority of the Northern people, Republicans and Democrats, who through their elected representatives supported the war; and that their motive was not to shed blood but to save the Union.
Like Buchanan when he blames Mideast violence on the "rampaging bull" Sharon, and like the neo-Confederates when they blame the Civil War on the "blood-thirsty" Lincoln, McConnell when he singles out the "War Party" is suggesting two slanderous falsehoods. First, he is implying that it is only a small group of manipulative ideologues, the (largely Jewish) neoconservatives, who support the overthrow of the Iraqi regime, rather than, as is the case, the majority of Americans. Second, he is implying that those who support a war on Iraq are motivated by a love of war for its own sake — for what else is meant by "War Party"? — rather than by a responsible concern for America's security. For McConnell to admit that the majority of the American people agree with Bush's Iraq policy, and that they do so for rational and patriotic — not ideological or imperialistic — reasons, would compel him to engage in rational and respectful debate with them instead of trying to provoke fear and hatred of a neoconservative bogeyman. Unfortunately, it would appear that such restraint is beyond McConnell's ability or desire at this point, as it is for many others on the antiwar right.