Conservatism Isn’t What It Used to Be
When I was in the Reagan administration, America had a lively press that never hesitated to take us to task. Even the “Teflon President” received more brickbats than Bush and Cheney.
The lively press disappeared along with its independence in the media concentration engineered during the Clinton administration. Shortly thereafter all the liberal news anchors disappeared as well. Today the US press a serves as propaganda ministry for the government’s wars and police state. Yet, some conservatives continue to rant on about “the liberal media.”
That other conservative bugaboo, liberal academia, has also been crushed. Universities once controlled their appointments, but no more. Recently, the political science faculty at DePaul, a Catholic university, voted to give tenure to the courageous scholar and teacher Norman Finkelstein. The department was unable to make its tenure decision stick over the objections of the Israel Lobby and their conservative allies, who were able to reach in over the heads of the political science department and the College Personnel Committee and force DePaul’s president to block Finkelstein’s tenure. Finkelstein had angered the Israel Lobby with his criticisms of Israel’s misuse of the holocaust sufferings of Jews to oppress the Palestinians and to silence critics.
On September 14, 2007, the Los Angeles Times reported that the appointment of the distinguished legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky as the Dean of a new law school at the University of California at Irvine had been withdrawn by the university’s chancellor, Michael V. Drake, who gave in to the demands of conservatives outside the university. Conservatives are outraged at Chemerinsky because he criticized Attorney General Gonzales. In withdrawing Chemerinsky’s appointment, Drake told him: “I didn’t realize there would be conservatives out to get you.”
Gonzales is the attorney general who wrote memos justifying torture and denying that the Bush administration was bound by the Geneva Conventions. Gonzales told a stunned Senate Judiciary Committee that the US Constitution did not provide habeas corpus protection to American citizens.
To experience an attorney general of the US fiercely attacking the US Constitution, rending its every provision, is the most frightening experience of my lifetime. That the head of the legal branch of the executive, sworn to uphold the Constitution, would turn against it in order to enhance unaccountable executive power is a clear impeachable offense. If anyone anywhere in the world deserved criticism, Gonzales did. But when Chemerinsky unbraided the despicable Gonzales, conservatives rushed to Gonzales’ defense, not to the defense of the American Constitution.
It seems only yesterday that conservatives were complaining about the liberties that liberals took with the Constitution. Liberals were expanding rights, fancifully perhaps. But today conservatives are curtailing long established rights, such as habeas corpus and protection against self-incrimination. Conservatives abandoned “original intent” and all of their constitutional scruples once they had a chance to cram more power into the presidency.
In my conservative days as an academic, I experienced some liberal blackballs. But liberals did not attack academic freedom per se. The new conservatives despise academic freedom and have created organizations to monitor departments of Middle East studies in order to lower the boom on scholars who follow the truth instead of neoconservative ideology or Israeli policy. Today academic freedom has disappeared just like the independent media. No one but powerful organized interest groups has a voice. In the media truth can only emerge on comic shows like The Colbert Report and Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show.
In years past, conservatives were often shouted down on university campuses by left-wing students. But today speakers disapproved by powerful interest groups are simply disinvited in advance. Even Harvard University has fallen to the new censorship. On September 14, 2007, the Harvard Crimson reported that the Israel Lobby was able to force Harvard University to disinvite three speakers, an Oxford University professor, a DePaul professor, and a Rutgers professor, because they had criticized Israeli policy.
In America today, speaking your mind in the media or in academia is a thing of the past. A country that has no voices independent of powerful interests is a country in which freedom is dead.
PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.He can be reached at: PaulCraigRoberts@yahoo.com