Once in a while, without a hand from outside "fact-checkers" or partisan "attack machines," the best journalists in the mainstream media light up the sky and show us what is at stake.
With one column, and its ghastly aftermath, Maureen Dowd reintroduces us to the people Mitt Romney would bring back to the White House—the warrior intellectuals of the Bush years. Her New York Times column Neocons Slither Back, and the next morning’s Politico summary of their outraged responses, should be read together.
Alone, Dowd’s column is merely a workmanlike reminder that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan rely on the same neocons George Bush used to intellectualize about shaping events around the world with US armed forces. It contained two rather unoriginal insults: suggesting that Paul Ryan relies on the words of his campaign manager, Dan Senor, a right-wing flack with a world view, and repeating Paul Wolfowitz’s concern that Obama should not be allowed to “slither” back into office without a clear position on Libya.
By next morning, five neocons were already on record accusing the outrageous Maureen Dowd of being a creepy, hate-mongering, and lazy peddler of anti-Semitic imagery. Apparently "slither" has Jewish copyright. It can be used by Jewish American hawks when questioning the "moral clarity" of a Kenyan-friendly president, but can’t even be repeated by an insolent Catholic feminist in the New York Times.
The accusation that Dowd was reviving a vile ancient stereotype about doltish gentile politicians being manipulated by “clever and snake-like Jews” is laughably self- aggrandizing, ineffectual, and uncivil. It tells us, however, that the neocons have lost none of their edge, that their menace is as fresh as a fall north wind.
Maureen Dowd is too smart to think and too good a writer to imply that Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and George Bush were stupid, innocent puppets of the neocons. She was simply reminding us that the staff a president assembles reflects on the character of the president, and doesn’t diminish his power.
This incident, however, does say quite a lot about the caliber of the public intellectuals Romney and Ryan are presently indulging. They misjudged the Middle East over the last decade and misjudge their detractors at home today.
Accusing someone of being anti-Semitic is going nuclear. It’s the polemist’s application of “shock and awe.” It’s designed to cower weaklings. Dowd, however, is still at it.