What makes a neocon? Andrew Sullivan takes a look at arch neocon Norman Podhoretz here, here and here.
Josh Marshall though I think nails it. He begins with a letter from a reader who's childhood was not unlike that of Podhoretz.
The simple explanation is that Podhoretz is suffering the rage of the impotent. When I was a young Jewish kid in the fifties, I lived in an area that was 90% Irish and Italian Catholic. I still like to joke that growing up I thought my middle name was "kike".Josh finds evidence of this in Podhoretz's own writing.
It was not unusual for my small crowd to be constantly bullied and intimidated by these other kids. Most of us were bookish and only a few of us were big enough or tough enough to fight back when it inevitably came to blows. Over the years, most of figured out a way to make piece and by the time we were in high school, some sort of truce had evolved.
Yet with all of that, when I feel I am being pushed around, my mental state conjures up what can only be called violent fantasies of revenge........inflict the beating on my persecutor that I couldn't inflict as a kid but that was the source of humiliation to me.
I am sure that Podhoretz must have had the same type of internal reaction. The difference is that he must have a personality defect and has been unable to evolve past the primitive emotional level of his childhood. Add a towering intellect and powerful personality and you get the kind of miscreant that throughout history has lead people into monumental carnage as a means to overcome their own insecurity and feelings of helplessness.
The most articulate analysis of the obsession with power and violence was actually written by Podhoretz himself, in 1963, in his famous essay "My Negro Problem—and Ours." Despite what the title might suggest, it is actually an argument against racism and in favor of miscegenation. When Podhoretz grew up in Brooklyn, the common assumption was that Jews were rich and Negroes were persecuted. This was not how things looked to Podhoretz on the playground of his local public school, where poor Jewish boys like him were regularly being beaten up by Negroes: "There is a fight, they win, and we retreat, half whimpering, half with bravado. My first experience of cowardice." Negroes, he goes on, "made one feel inadequate. But most important of all, they were tough, beautifully, enviably tough, not giving a damn for anyone or anything.... This is what I envied and feared in the Negro...." And then there were the effete snobs, "the writers and intellectuals and artists who romanticize the Negroes, and pander to them," and "all the white liberals who permit the Negroes to blackmail them into adopting a double standard of moral judgment...."What we see here is a man that belongs on a psychiatrist's couch not influencing foreign policy.
The key to Podhoretz's politics seems to me to lie right there: the longing for power, for toughness, for the Shtarker who doesn't give a damn about anyone or anything, and hatred of the contemptible, cowardly liberals with their pandering ways and their double standards. Since Podhoretz, himself a bookish man, can never be a Shtarker, his government must fill that role, and not give a damn about anyone or anything.
I fear we can carry it a step further and when we do we see what drives the Likud Party in Israel. In this case we are looking at 3,000 years of persecution - bullying on the world playground. The same need to be tough and get revenge.