I’m feeling a bit like the prodigal son’s older brother today after reading Max Boot’s opinion piece in the Washington Post. In it, the former Republican tells us the true history of the 20th and 21st century Republican Party. Turns out that the GOP has often come down hard on moderates like Eisenhower, instead pushing itself further and further right, not in defense of noble ideals like equal opportunity or service to the nation or individual responsibility but out of “racism, extremism, conspiracy-mongering, isolationism and know-nothingism.” This is all new to Boot, who apparently never bothered to read a book by someone who disagreed with his earlier view or else instantly dismissed it as liberal claptrap.
Boot, who served as a foreign policy advisor to three presidents, including the one who got us into the War on Terror, feels like Donald Trump was the surprise ending to Republican politics. Since his election, Boot has been reviewing the movie “to find the clues you missed the first time around” and he finds that, lo and behold, the clues were there all along. Goldwater was a nutjob. Nixon’s Southern Strategy was about racism. Phyllis Schlafly was a conspiracy theorist. (He’s almost on the verge of seeing that she’s an anti-Semite, but he’s not quite there.)
Above, Max Boot. Dear God, let me never be so confident about my uninformed opinions, and, if I am, give me friends who kindly help me do my homework.
I’m grateful, truly, that Boot has come to see things he couldn’t see before. He admits that he didn’t want to see them. (“It’s amazing how little you can see when your eyes are closed!”) I understand that the difficulty of facing facts that don’t align with how you want reality to be. What I don’t understand is why anyone else let him rise to a position of authority, given his apparent lack of curiosity about or ambition to investigate the history of the political party he argued for as a matter of his profession. Boot isn’t an armchair observer; he is a writer with a national audience (with a new book out about how he was mistaken–so, still making money off his mistakes!). Yet, by his own admission, he hadn’t even read the writing of his heroes. (“I used to think Goldwater’s reputation as an extremist was a liberal libel. Reading his actual words — something I had not done before — reveals that he really was an extremist.” Yes, Max, you should read the original sources.)
So, yeah, I’m glad he changed his mind. I’m dismayed that he did so little work to understand his own party but felt so confident about his right to a national stage that he pursued it anyway. This is what we mean by “mediocre white men.” If you don’t do the homework, I don’t think you should get a national stage–and I don’t think you should get to admit your laziness in a national newspaper and get accolades for it.