The sale of The Weekly Standard should put paid to any lingering illusion that the neoconservative empire was anything but a Potemkin village.  Allegedly, Rupert Murdoch sold the magazine for one million dollars to Philip Anschutz, the billionaire owner of Clarity Media Group, but the price seems either much too high or much too low.  Too high, because only a fool would pay so much money for a property that does nothing but lose money without adding a glimmer of insight to political discussion.  Too low, because if The Weekly Standard actually did enjoy the influence that its editors have been so loudly and insistently claiming, $50 million would not be nearly enough.  For Anschutz, a million is the equivalent of the buck it takes to seal a contract.  It’s a rich man’s walking-around money—in other words, chump change.  If you were to believe the neoconservatives, The Weekly Standard has been the brains of the American Empire, but it went on the block for a lousy million.  Some brains!  Some empire!

Murdoch sank untold millions of his ill-gotten gains into TWS.  I suppose that is the proper shorthand, since “The Standard” properly means the Evening Standard.  (It’s funny that, for all its supposed influence, the magazine does not have a well-known acronym or nickname.)  Not long ago they were claiming a “growing circulation” of 60,000, and that may well be the case—though no one should ever accept anything an editor says about circulation.  In misleading advertising lingo that publishers love to use, TWS snookers would-be advertisers with this classic canard: “More than 65,000 politically active Americans nationwide receive the magazine each week.”  Note the key word receive, as opposed to subscribe to or pay for.

I once told Pat Buchanan that Bill Kristol had declared him politically dead in the pages of TWS.  “That guy,” Pat snorted, “he never gets anything right.”  Unlike the stopped clock that is correct twice a day, The Weekly Standard’s editors have never got anything right, from weapons of mass destruction to the presidential aspirations of Steve Forbes to “John McCain’s Moment,” which Bill Kristol was proclaiming last September.  TWS has never contributed anything to American political commentary.  When they are right, it is because they are saying what everyone else has been saying, and, when they are original or distinctive, they are wrong.

But, as the Frum person declared in a postmortem interview, TWS has influence.  Does it really?  Is it influence to run after a parade, shouting, “Me too, me too!” and then claim not only to lead the parade but to have started it?  It would not be so bad if their platitudinous conventional wisdom were at least some form of knee-jerk conservatism or capitalist greed, but it is neither.  Bill’s father, Irving (popularly known as “the godfather”), was famous for giving “two cheers for capitalism.”  (They can’t even be clever without imitating someone—in this case E.M. Forster.)  But Irving’s politics have only evolved from his original Trotskyism to a cross between Swedish socialism and Taiwan’s state capitalism.  Fred Barnes unwittingly spilled the beans, as he so often does, when he called for big-government conservatism.  Fred was not sufficiently acute to realize that he was uttering a contradiction in terms, and The Weekly Standard’s ideology is, at best, New Republic lite—an insipid brew that neither cheers nor inebriates.

TWS’s not-so-secret weapon was neither its ideology nor its “writers,” but Murdoch himself.  It’s like the old Henny Youngman joke about the man who crossed a lion with a parrot.

“What does he say?”

“I don’t know, but when he talks I listen.”

Not only is Murdoch a very powerful man, whose whims have to be catered to, but he also owns major newspapers and two television networks.  Who would listen to TWS’s platitudes—as poorly expressed as they are predictable—if the editors were not trotted out to tell their lies on FOX News?

The Weekly Standard did only two things.  On the positive side, it provided a living for writers who cannot write and intellectuals who do not think, but it also contributed to the senile dementia that has afflicted the conservative mind since the election of Ronald Reagan.  Bill Kristol did not destroy conservatism all by himself.  His father was a much more destructive force, but it would be a grave mistake to attribute too much blame to the Kristols and Podhoretzes.  They were welcomed with open arms by the unprincipled leadership of the conservative movement.  Generally, parasites do not destroy a healthy organism.  Of course, there were still good people working for Heritage in the 1980’s and writing for National Review, but the lightning success of the neoconservative putsch was as revealing as Hitler’s Anschluss (the annexation of Austria that met with so little resistance).

No one knows, exactly, what Philip Anschutz (no. 89 on the Forbes list of the richest people in the universe) will decide to do with The Weekly Standard, but whatever happens, he has already done us a big favor in revealing the low, low price of the emperor’s new clothes.  Ever since Obama’s election, the conservative chatter has been all about new ideas and new strategies, but the very fact that they are saying this shows how bankrupt the conservatives really are.  With this set of rookies heading for the showers, perhaps a few remaining veterans might come out of hiding and show us some of the stuff they had when they won the pennant in 1980.  Perhaps, but probably not.