By Joe Bast | July 18, 2022
I know of Norman Podhoretz mostly as the long-time editor of Commentary, a famous convert from liberalism to conservatism (or “neoconservatism”) back in the 1960s, and a hawk on foreign policy. I met his son, John, a few times when we were both undergraduates at The University of Chicago. He has since become a notable Never Trumper. Honestly, I figured Norman had passed away, but here he is, at age 92, being interviewed by Charles Kesler in the Spring issue of Claremont Review of Books.
Early in the interview Podhoretz says “I am perfectly prepared to believe that the 2020 election may have been stolen,” “I think [Trump] should run and I would support him if I thought he had a good chance of winning,” and “I thought then [in 2016] that Donald Trump turned out to be the one person who had what it took to stand between [the Left] and the rest of us, which he did imperfectly, but he did it. He put the brakes on them, and he did a lot to expose what they were up to. And they did everything in their power to destroy him.” On each of these points, I’m in total agreement with Podhoretz.
It gets even better: He says the New Left, which he helped found, believed “America is bad, but it’s only bad because it’s not living up to its ideals.” Today’s Left, in contrast, believes America per se is bad, has always been bad, and must be burned to the ground for its sins and replaced with something brand new.
The Left, says Podhoretz, “took the long march through the institutions,” winding up in control of virtually all the major institutions in the country. “I never dreamed that the march would wind up so quickly where it wound up.”
When people you know complain about how “polarized” the debate has become today, and wonder why Republicans and Democrats can’t get along like they used to, try to remember these words from Podhoretz, who was “present at the creation”: “What’s happening today is that the gloves are off, the disguises are off, the leftists, black and white, talk now publicly the way they only used to talk privately, it’s out in the open and there is a tiny bit of resistance being mounted recently, but only a tiny bit so far.”
During the decades that I was in charge of a major conservative think tank I counselled staff not to attribute bad motives to the people who disagreed with us. We agree on the ultimate objectives, I would say – peace, prosperity, happiness — but disagree on how to achieve them. That became a difficult stance to defend in the 2000s and by 2016 it was simply and demonstrably untrue. Podhoretz agrees: “I don’t hesitate to use the word ‘evil’ in talking about the ideas and the people promulgating them who are trying their best to tear that precious system [created by the founders] down.”
Podhoretz ends the interview with a solemn warning we should all take to heart: “We all have to face the fact that we are at war, albeit a cold civil war, and that this moment is not just an ordinary political disagreement in which we can all be partisan, etc. etc. All that, that’s gone. God bless America is all I can say. Amen.”