I met McNamara once, at a conference. He was self-effacing, and breathtakingly concise. I understand the charm. But there is something wrong with a culture in which a McNamara is feted for his “guts” while George McGovern and Gene McCarthy, who opposed McNamara’s mistakes, are regarded as nobodies. In one of the uglier passages of In Retrospect, McNamara sneers at the antiwar protesters who marched on the Pentagon in 1967. If they had been more “disciplined” and “Gandhi-like,” he says, “they could have achieved their objective of shutting us down.” Instead they were “troublemakers” who “threw mud balls” and “even unzipped [soldiers'] flies.” This is contrition? Shouldn’t McNamara be admitting that the mudball-throwers, after all, had been right?
That’s Mickey Kaus, being a liberal, back in 1995 writing for The New Republic. Way more surprisingly, though-provoking, and interesting than any quantity of tired “contrarianism” about how conservatives are always right about everything.