Return to mossbackery

Russell Baker

September 11, 1990|By Russell Baker

NEWS reports indicate that conservatives and neoconservatives are at each other's throats. As an old-fashioned mossback, I urge them to go at it and to stay at it until each has destroyed the other.

That might clear the way for America to return to mossbackery. Notice I call it mossbackery, not mossbackism. We mossbacks are fed up with isms. (If you enjoy shouting, one of our most shoutable slogans is, "Down with ism!")

Today's problems began back in the 1960s when Barry Goldwater started referring to his fine, old-fashioned mossbackery as "conservatism."

Once mossbackery became an ism, the young show-off college crowd couldn't resist perverting it into radical intellectual nonsense. So we had the Pentagon, for example, pursuing the theory that while paying $600 apiece for toilet seats might be wasteful, it was better to waste money on toilet seats than on welfare queens.

It is ever so with isms. The suffix "ism" embodies everything that has made our century bleak: communism, Marxism, Leninism, Stalinism, Nazism, Hitlerism, fascism, elitism, populism, fundamentalism, creationism, symbolism, despotism, liberalism, sensationalism, exhibitionism, McCarthyism, nationalism, existentialism, masochism, feminism, modernism and schism, not to mention machismo, which is nothing more than another ism gussied up with a terminal "o."

Yes, mossbacks also include journalism in our list of modern afflictions. It has been mostly all downhill in this field ever since its toilers quit calling it "newspaper work." When mossbacks govern, Americans will be encouraged to rediscover Heywood Broun, Floyd Gibbons, Dorothy Thompson, H. L. Mencken, Louella Parsons, Bugs Baer, John Kiernan and Franklin P. Adams, all of whom would have recoiled in dismay had anyone called them "journalists." Well, maybe not Louella.

Bad as it was to have mossbackery perverted into conservatism, the arrival of neoconservatism was even more destructive. It was that "neo" on the front end that did it. Since "neo" is the Greek word for "new," neoconservatism seemed to threaten us with nothing less than -- yes -- a new ism!

Even without a neo, conservatism, Heaven knows, had already lost all touch with mossbackery.

For example, mossback philosophy is succinctly expressed in the statement: "Life was better before air travel." Yet the perversion now called "conservatism" was intent not only on making air travel more unpleasant with each passing day, but also on making it more expensive.

If turning mossback philosophy into an ism could produce such disaster, what might not result from letting that same wretched ism develop into a neo ism? Well, we now have the answer from The Times. It's war between ism and neo ism.

The cause? Neoconservatism wants President Bush to take a more warlike attitude toward Iraq while oldo conservatism thinks it would be folly. When we speak of "war" between neo's and oldo's, we do not mean war, of course. These are people whose mightiest blows are struck on word processors; unlike the wars they advocate or oppose for others, they produce nothing nastier than well-wrought sneers.

Such "wars" among word people and intellectuals are sometimes symptoms of old alliances coming unstuck, and this seems to be the case here. Anti-Communism was the glue that held these two breeds together. They were so worried that communism's collapse might destroy their collective future that they spent months telling themselves Gorbachev might just be fooling.

Such is the sad state into which the perverters of mossbackery have declined. The old-fashioned mossback wasted no time trying to deny what was right before his eyes. What interested him about Communism's resignation from the cold war was whether Gorbachev could possibly have been a CIA mole.

The moment is ripe for a mossback comeback. No, not a mossback movement. True mossbacks despise movements as much as they despise isms and all things neo. Except Neopolis, or Napoli, as it is called by mossbacks, who look forward to the day when they will once again be able to arrive there by ocean liner steaming up the bay between Capri and Ischia with Vesuvius in the background.

That cannot be done now. The century's monstrous isms have made it impossible.

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