The New York Post‘s editorial page has been one of the few bright spots in the City of Dreadful Night. Generally a steamy tabloid in its news coverage, the Post has nevertheless offered thoughtful and informed editorials and Commentary of a mainstream conservative orientation under its editorial page editor, neoconservative Eric Breindel, and his deputy, Scott McConnell.

Last summer, the Post editorial page underwent a shake-up. Mr. Breindel moved upstairs to a management position, and his position was filled by Mr. McConnell, whose own column had established his reputation as a thoughtful mainstream-right critic of America’s immigration policy and of such matters as multiculturalism and the kind of racial bellyaching that has enveloped the city and the nation for the last decade. It was expected that Mr. McConnell’s editorial page would reflect at least some of his views.

It did—but not for long. On July 14, the paper published Mr. McConnell’s editorial on Republican legislation promoting statehood for Puerto Rico, a piece that rehearsed the standard set of statistics on Puerto Rico’s poverty, welfare dependency, and alien cultural and linguistic heritage. Pat Buchanan, William Rusher, National Review, and other critics of the Republican legislation soon published columns or articles that offered much the same facts and point of view.

Alas, such candor proved too much for Mr. McConnell’s supervisors at the Post. In an article in David Horowitz’s Heterodoxy describing what followed, Mr. McConnell recounted how Post publisher Martin Singerman, who had read the editorial and complimented him on it, stacked a meeting with disgruntled Puerto Rican leaders who commented on Mr. McConnell’s ethnic background (he’s Irish). Some three dozen Puerto Ricans showed up at the Post‘s offices to grouse about the insensitivity of the editorial and the distasteful countenance of Mr. McConnell. (He was said to have “thin lips” and “somewhat disheveled hair,” among other features that Puerto Ricans seem to find unattractive.)

After the meeting, Mr. Singerman proved to be (in Mr. McConnell’s term) “rancorous,” and some weeks later, Mr. McConnell was fired. Mr. McConnell remarks that his dismissal over the Puerto Rico editorial was “due to deeper shifts within American society,” shifts that do not suggest a bright future for open discussion of ethnically and racially sensitive subjects. But the muzzling of frank discussion of ethnic issues is only part of what merits comment. The other part arises from the succession to Mr. McConnell at the Post editorial page and what sort of “shift” it signifies.

Mr. McConnell’s successor is none other than John Podhoretz, son of retired Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter, both mainstays of neoconservatism. For the last couple of years, Podhoretz fils has been an editor of the neoconservative Weekly Standard, also owned by Rupert Murdoch and edited by yet another neoconservative son, Bill Kristol.

In an interview with the New York Observer, a liberal newspaper, Mr. Podhoretz commented on his predecessor at the Post‘s editorial page. “Scott seemed to think if you speak Spanish, you’re not part of the United States,” he remarked. Mr. McConnell, he continued, “represents a ‘very dangerous strain’ of conservative thought that claims ‘America is being weakened by corrupting cultural influences.'”

It was both tasteless and profoundly unprofessional for Mr. Podhoretz to comment on his predecessor, to characterize his views, or to discuss why the Post fired him, but that’s the sort of behavior we have come to expect from neoconservatives. Yet apart from that, what’s interesting is not only Mr. Podhoretz’s remarks but also the attitude of the Observer to him and to Mr. McConnell.

Mr. McConnell’s Puerto Rico editorial, the paper commented, was “tremendously inflammatory,” and it’s clear that the Observer, as a liberal organ, doesn’t much care for the Post editorial page at all. The page, it holds, “could use some direction,” and under Mr. Murdoch “has done litde to appeal to the better side of anyone’s nature.” Hence, the Observer greets the coming regimen of young Podhoretz much as Sir Walter Scott greets Lochinvar coming out of the West.

Mr. Podhoretz told the Observer that “he wants the tone of the paper to be ‘sharp, clever, funny, punchy and firm,’ and that he is ‘not an enforcer of an ideological line.'” “I’m a hopeful conservative,” he assured the Observer. “I don’t think America is going to hell in a handbasket. . . . The Standard was a cheerful magazine, and I’m going to run a cheerful editorial page.”

So here’s what’s going on: an editorial page editor runs an editorial that offends a particular ethnic community, whose angry reaction scares the shoelaces off the newspaper’s publisher. The editor is then fired. The newspaper then replaces the offending editor with someone who at once distances himself from his predecessor’s views, denounces those views, and assures a voice of liberalism that he’s different—that he’s not an ideological enforcer and that his editorial page will be “cheerful” and “funny.” The voice of liberalism then pronounces a warm welcome to the new editor and the “direction” that he presumably will soon impart to the editorial page.

What Mr. Podhoretz actually will do with the Post editorial page remains to be seen, but if he fulfills his promise to the Observer, the page will reflect the unwritten social contract between liberalism and neoconservatism. Under that contract, neoconservatives are to foster a mild dissent from the pragmatic content of liberalism, and to avoid suggesting that liberalism is an avenue to national suicide, that American society is in serious trouble because of the dominance of liberalism, or that a degree of cultural and linguistic homogeneity is important or desirable. In return, liberals will brand any alternative version of conservatism as “tremendously inflammatory” and pronounce Podhoretzite neoconservatism “a friendly, nuanced, ironic conservatism” (to use the Observer‘s words).

In the process, liberal cultural hegemony is preserved, a serious radical conservatism that could lift America out of its handbasket is eviscerated, and the Dreadful Night that has so long enveloped New York City remains as tenebrous (and as powerful) as ever.

In his Heterodoxy article, Mr. McConnell writes that, during the exchanges between his publisher and the angry Puerto Ricans, it suddenly dawned on him that “our society had developed an expected script of white Anglo contrition and apology (President Clinton’s apology for slavery was exemplary) and that I had failed to follow it.” He’s right, but there’s more. The “shifts within American society” are not simply toward embracing the political and cultural demands of self-appointed ethnic and racial hit squads and apologizing for failing to embrace them gladly, but also toward dismissing, demonizing, marginalizing, and effectively suppressing any sounds that are not apologetic. The agencies of those “shifts” are the prevailing liberalism and its sibling, neoconservatism.

America is indeed being weakened by “corrupting cultural influences,” but they’re not coming from Puerto Rico.