OK, Ann's just a fringe player whose 15 minutes had ticked off the clock long ago. But here's another disturbing look inside the conservative mindset that can't be quite as easily ignored, because these are real people (to an extent) who actually hold these views. Johann Hari's tales from the annual National Review reader cruise includes the following:
Robert Bork, Ronald Reagan's one-time nominee to the Supreme Court, mumbles from beneath low-hanging jowls: "The coverage of this war is unbelievable. Even Fox News is unbelievable. You'd think we're the only ones dying. Enemy casualties aren't covered. We're doing an excellent job killing them."
Then, with a judder, the panel runs momentarily aground. Rich Lowry, the preppy, handsome 38-year-old editor of National Review, announces, "The American public isn't concluding we're losing in Iraq for any irrational reason. They're looking at the cold, hard facts." The Vista Lounge is, as one, perplexed. Lowry continues, "I wish it was true that, because we're a superpower, we can't lose. But it's not."
No one argues with him. They just look away, in the same manner that people avoid glancing at a crazy person yelling at a bus stop. Then they return to hyperbole and accusations of treachery against people like their editor. The aging historian Bernard Lewis declares, "The election in the U.S. is being seen by [the bin Ladenists] as a victory on a par with the collapse of the Soviet Union. We should be prepared for whatever comes next." This is why the guests paid up to $6,000. This is what they came for. They give him a wheezing, stooping ovation and break for coffee.
[Norman] Podhoretz and [William] Buckley now inhabit opposite poles of post-September 11 American conservatism, and they stare at wholly different Iraqs. Podhoretz is the Brooklyn-born, street-fighting kid who traveled through a long phase of left-liberalism to a pugilistic belief in America's power to redeem the world, one bomb at a time. Today, he is a bristling gray ball of aggression, here to declare that the Iraq war has been "an amazing success." He waves his fist and declaims, "There were WMD, and they were shipped to Syria. . . . This picture of a country in total chaos with no security is false. It has been a triumph. It couldn't have gone better." He wants more wars, and fast. He is "certain" Bush will bomb Iran, and "thank God" for that.
. . .
"Aren't you embarrassed by the absence of these weapons?" Buckley snaps at Podhoretz. He has just explained that he supported the war reluctantly, because Dick Cheney convinced him Saddam Hussein had WMD primed to be fired. "No," Podhoretz replies. "As I say, they were shipped to Syria. During Gulf war one, the entire Iraqi air force was hidden in the deserts in Iran." He says he is "heartbroken" by this "rise of defeatism on the right." He adds, apropos of nothing, "There was nobody better than Don Rumsfeld. This defeatist talk only contributes to the impression we are losing, when I think we're winning."
The audience cheers Podhoretz. The nuanced doubts of Bill Buckley leave them confused. Doesn't he sound like the liberal media? Later, over dinner, a tablemate from Denver calls Buckley "a coward." His wife nods and says, "Buckley's an old man," tapping her head with her finger to suggest dementia.
We are now at a point in American political history when the definition of "conservative" continues to be launched further and further into deep space, and those who consider themselves "true conservatives" have drawn such wild distinctions between themselves and the rest of the world that "conservative" ceases to have any meaning in a domestic political sense at all. There once was a time when to be "conservative" meant favoring smaller government and less government spending, but then George W. Bush strolled into Washington to join the Republican majority in Congress, and the budget exploded like never before. (Actually, the myth of the conservative as frugal spender started being smashed all the way back in the mid-1980s, when Ronald Reagan ballooned the national debt past $4 trillion, but that's another argument for another time.) When conservatism ceased to be about lower spending, it could've still been about less government involvement in people's private affairs, but then Bush and the Republicans started getting an authoritarian streak and pushing all kinds of legislation about wiretaps and indefinite detention of American citizens just because, and there went that. So then being a conservative meant you were pro-Iraq war and everyone else was a defeatist cheese-eating surrender monkey. But then alleged conservatives in Congress started having doubts about the Iraq war, and even more signed on to an immigration-reform bill that surely no self-respecting conservative would ever support, so . . . what defines someone as a conservative these days?
The stomach-turning quotes from pundits and average Joes alike on the National Review cruise hold the answer: To be a conservative these days, you have to be in favor of killing as many Muslims as possible, whenever killing Muslims is called for, wherever Muslims are located. It doesn't matter if the Muslim in question is just some random guy the feds mistakenly yanked off the street in New York City or Dearborn; you have to be in favor of detaining him for as long as it takes, and torturing him to within an inch of his life, to find out what he knows (even if it's nothing). It doesn't matter if the U.S. military is stretched too thin as it is, if someone calls for an invasion of Iran, you have to be for that. Any hesitation on your part to call for a war or the killing of a Muslim somewhere just shows that you're weak, you're not really up for the fight, and you're not a true conservative.
The silver lining to all this, of course, is that if history is any guide, such ideologies tend to burn themselves out pretty quickly. The cloud is that there's usually a lot of hate, division, and yes, killing before they get there.