Friday, March 31, 2006

Defining moment for fledgling neocon?


Thirty years ago, this became one of the more dramatic moments in the history of Madison’s quadrennial revolving door for presidential primary hopefuls. The Capital Times ran the file photo (PDF "virtual newsprint edition") last night as “A Moment in History: March 30, 1976.”
During a Wisconsin presidential primary campaign stop in Madison, candidate Sen. Henry 'Scoop' Jackson was spat on in the face by protester Ben Masel. Later, Jackson said, "It didn't faze me one iota. It didn't bother me at all...That happens once in awhile in Madison, you know."
Looking back now, it’s not so much "the Senator from Boeing" who’s of interest, but the ambitious young Cold War liberals he gathered around him at the time, people like Perle, Wolfowitz and Feith. The photo was taken at what might have been the high point of the Jackson campaign. The next day, perhaps benefiting from a sympathy vote, he defeated Carter in Massachusetts, of all places, but the campaign soon self-destructed. Vietnam was behind us, and Democratic voters had tired of belligerent Cold War rhetoric. In a few weeks Jackson was out of the race. It was too late for him, but not his acolytes. Four years later the neocons found a more congenial home with Reagan, and eventually, an even more congenial one with Bush.

The rest is history. As Roger Morris wrote about Jackson and the neocons in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
"America's attack on Iraq started 65 years ago in the wooded curving inlets and gentle fog of Snohomish County."
Maybe it's just my imagination, but isn't that Paul Wolfowitz recoiling in shock and disdain to Jackson's right? I'm sure he campaigned with him. Hard to tell for sure in profile, but the guy seems about the right age, is wearing the same black campaign raincoat as Jackson. The hands, the dark, bushy eyebrows, and the unruly hair memorialized by Michael Moore — if it's not Wolfowitz, it's someone who looks a lot like him. It would have been a defining moment for him — about the closest the armchair warrior ever came to an actual act of violence, one that would have confirmed for him all his worst suspicions about those new left punks who undermined our noble effort in Vietnam.

It’s because the neocons took the new left so personally that the photo is eerily evocative all these years later. The neocons always seemed to be nursing some private humiliation (or, in this case, not so private). Theirs was the aggrieved resentment of people who felt they were the only sane adults in a world of children gone mad. This emotional baggage seemed to underlie their compulsive need to avenge vast imagined wrongs and restore America's honor through the forceful projection of military power. And this was years before 9/11.

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