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Norman on Norman (As Usual)

So Norman Podhoretz has written a book, briefly excerpted in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal, in which he poses the age-old question (in the book’s title) Why Are Jews Liberals? Good question. And a deeply personal one for Podhoretz. You see, as one of the original neoconservatives, he moved right four decades ago and has grown rather lonely during his time hanging out with Gentile Republicans. He’s been waiting for the company of his fellow Jews—for vindication of his rightward lurch, for a sign that he was ahead of his time rather than a quirky anomaly. Surely the rest of American Jewry would eventually come to the same conclusions he did and begin voting in the same way. But it hasn’t happened. Not with Reagan. Or Bush I. Or Dole. Or Bush II. Or McCain. Nope, Jews remain liberals, and Norman remains lonely, waiting, “hoping again hope” that despite having given Barack Obama 78 percent of their votes in 2008, American Jews will turn against him and “the political creed he so perfectly personifies and to which they have for so long been so misguidedly loyal.”

Maybe, but I wouldn’t bet on it. I mean, it’s not as if Podhoretz has presented a compelling case in favor of such a development. On the contrary, his argument (at least as summarized in the Journal) amounts to the claim that among Jews liberalism has “for all practical purposes superseded Judaism and become a religion in its own right.” But this is just lazily circular. Why are Jews liberals? Because they really, really believe in liberalism, you know, like people believe in religion. Okay, but why is that, exactly? Norman hasn’t a clue because he can’t manage to enter imaginatively into the mind of his fellow Jews. Liberalism, for him, can be reduced to hatred of the United States and hatred of Israel, and Jews should love America and love Israel. So how could Jews possibly be liberal? The only explanation is collective self-delusion. You know, like people who believe in religion. (What will Norman’s allies on the religious right say about this insinuation that religion is an unquestionable dogma that obscures our view of reality? But I digress. . . .)

Everything Podhoretz has written for the past two decades reeks of self-absorption and self-satisfied certainty, and that’s what this project smells like, too. His work is an abject lesson in what happens to a man’s mind when he values nothing so highly as self-confidence. The animating thought behind his writing has long been, “I know I’m right—about America, about liberalism, about the '60s, about Judaism, about the religious right, about how to fight ‘World War IV,’ about Bush, about the Republican Party, about Israel, about Iran, about Islam—so why the hell doesn’t everyone agree with me??!!” That’s the mystery that sets the man’s mental life in motion.

So by all means read Norman Podhoretz’s new book. Just don’t expect to learn about much of anything besides Norman Podhoretz.