Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Conversations With The Blustery

UC Berkeley's Conversations With History is a nice enough series; sure, it's PBS-y, but that's not a bad thing. The interviews are long enough so that one may gain a fair assessment of the subject, which is not the case in soundbite journalism or even with the "extended" profiles as in A & E's Biography series.

It's also nice that Berkeley's series has most of their catalogue online. Thus, one can sample from the good, the legendary, the fallen, and the thoroughly reprehensible. Let us consider that last interview, the subject of which is Norman "The Pod" Podhoretz.

In the interview, I learned that The Pod:

1. Is solipsistic. Which is okay, because he invented solipsism.
2. Is an "intellectual" advocate of tribalism. As long as that tribalism is by and of rightwing Jews. Any other tribalism is "multiculturalist", which only Bad People engage in. The "melting pot" and what used to be called "assimilated Americanism" is for everyone else except The Pod and other rightwing Jews. As a bonus, he implies that leftwing Jews aren't really Jews at all in any meaningful sense.
3. Thinks Norman Mailer is a failure as a writer and as a person because he didn't embrace tribalism as much as The Pod did. Podhoretz thinks Mailer is a self-loathing Jew, a commie, a human disaster.
4. Considers Nazism and Communism moral equivalents.
5. Thinks nationalism is a wonderful thing as long as it's American or Israeli. All other nationalist tendencies are evil. Thus his arguments of "exceptionalism"; his license to jingoism by which he may get round that pesky double standard thing.
6. Is addicted to exhibiting bathos and intense self-pity.
7. Was the bravest man in the history of the universe when he re-invented himself as a wingnut and brown-nosed his way around the corridors of power, sucking up to such fellow underdogs as Reagan, Bush I, and Henry Kissinger.

There's more but I can't bear it right now. I'll save it for his Wingnut All-Star entry.

Incidentally, Theodore Draper, one of the last historians to work outside of Academe, recently departed this vale of tears. Draper's name rings a bell in my head, but I don't remember specifically reading anything he wrote. I don't know much about him, but from the Times obit, it appears he got at least one thing right:

In a review of Norman Podhoretz's book "Why We Were in Vietnam" in The New Republic in 1982, Mr. Draper sharply criticized the author's defense of the war, saying it "represents a trend of selective moralistic zealotry which, if permitted to spread, will give both anti-Communism and neoconservatism a bad name." He called Podhoretz a "potted historian." The review reflected a sharp turn in Mr. Draper's political thinking and left Mr. Podhoretz bewildered over what he called the cruelty of the attack, especially since Mr. Draper had been a friend.

If Mr. Draper was obsessive about politics, he was equally so about his privacy. When approached by a reporter for an interview about his life, he declined and offered instead to write a statement to be sent in a sealed envelope and not opened until his death. In it, he said of his review of "Why We Were in Vietnam": "I broke with Podhoretz when he changed the political line of Commentary," a reference to what he saw as the magazine's shift to the right in the mid-1970's.


Tee hee. Like James Capozzola says, "watch for a lengthy hatchet job in Commentary within the next few months..."

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