John Podhoretz, the son of Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter, is a second-generation neoconservative. Like his father and mother, "JPod," as he is sometimes called, has been a vociferous proponent of aggressive U.S. foreign policies and been a strident supporter of hardline, Israel-centric Mideast policies, as well as a rightist commentator on U.S. domestic politics and pop culture. This pattern of family politics has also been repeated in other leading neoconservative families, including the Kagan and Kristol clans (see Jim Lobe, "All in the Family," Inter Press Service, March 7, 2003).
Podhoretz's family connections led to accusations of nepotism—or, as one New York Times writer dubbed it, "neo-nepotism"—after he was chosen in October 2007 to take over in January 2009 as editor of Commentary magazine, the flagship neoconservative journal that Norman Podhoretz edited for 35 years. Reported the Times: "Of the more than 30 people contacted for this article, several who have written for the magazine or have contributed money to the Commentary Fund said they were troubled by the family connection, the lack of an open search process, and what they consider to be Mr. [John] Podhoretz's lack of intellectual credentials for such a highbrow journal, partly because he has written so much about popular culture. A former writer for Commentary said the appointment repudiated one of neoconservatism's founding principles, a commitment to meritocracy. He, like other respondents, asked not to be identified because of longstanding ties either to the magazine or to the Podhoretz family" (New York Times, October 24, 2007).
Podhoretz came of age during the rise of the neoconservative camp to political prominence in the late 1970s and early 1980s. At the University of Chicago, Podhoretz came under the influence of Allan Bloom, the Leo Strauss acolyte who authored the controversial best-seller The Closing of the American Mind. Podhoretz also worked briefly in the Reagan administration. The Greater Talent Network, which promotes Podhoretz, says that he "was wholeheartedly attracted to the conservative atmosphere that permeated the city of Washington," which "seemed like Mecca of sorts to the neoconservative Podhoretz, still an impressionable young man in his early twenties." According to Podhoretz, Washington in the 1980s was "the red-hot center of the United States for the people of the right."
In 1994-1995, Podhoretz helped launch the Weekly Standard, one of right-wing media mogul Rupert Murdoch's many holdings and the leading neoconservative journal since the late 1990s. However, Podhoretz did not take well to being constantly overshadowed at the Standard by William Kristol and Fred Barnes, and in 1997 he left for another of Murdoch's enterprises, the New York Post.
Although his parents are deeply associated with U.S. political commentary, John Podhoretz has typically preferred to tread in lighter fare at the intersection of popular culture and politics. He continued his association with the Standard by writing movie reviews. During the run of the popular political television series West Wing, in 2001 Podhoretz trashed the show and its creator Aaron Sorkin: "I don't know about you, but frankly, I don't need any lessons on theology, destiny, public service, job creation, pay equity, or conservative ideology from a crack addict" (National Review Online, May 19, 2001). Despite this, two years later, Podhoretz became a consultant for the show.
On Iraq and the "war on terror," Podhoretz has proved controversial. In a widely quoted and much maligned article for the New York Post, Podhoretz asked whether "liberal democracies have now evolved to a point where they can no longer wage war effectively because they have achieved a level of humanitarian concern for others that dwarfs any really cold-eyed pursuit of their own national interests?" He then asked whether the United States and Britain would have won World War II if they "did not have it in them to firebomb Dresden and nuke Hiroshima and Nagasaki." Thus, he surmised regarding the Iraq War: "What if the tactical mistake we made in Iraq was that we didn't kill enough Sunnis in the early going to intimidate them ...? Wasn't the survival of Sunni men between the ages of 15 and 35 the reason there was an insurgency and the basic cause of the sectarian violence now?" (quoted in Cathy Young, "Is the West Too Civil in War?" Reason Magazine, August 8, 2006).
The outrage over the article, which some commentators argued soundly uncomfortably like a call for genocide, spurred JPod to write a piece for the National Review blog titled "No I Am Not in Favor of Genocide" (July 31, 2006). He wrote: "I think it's fair to say that we would rather our civilization die than that we commit such acts. Right now, Israel has decided to halt its war because of an airstrike that caused 60-plus civilian casualties. The fundamental question I was posing is this: What if only a civilization willing to commit them can successfully extirpate a conscienceless menace like Islamic extremist terror? This is not a rhetorical question. I don't know the answer. I don't even know if this is the right question. But we are back, it seems, at the point at which Herman Kahn wrote Thinking About the Unthinkable. Even the act of trying to think through the nature of the struggle we're facing is itself deemed criminal."
Podhoretz had some brief flings with strictly political jobs; he enjoyed a short stint in government service as speechwriter for Reagan in 1988 and for George W. Bush in 1989. He also was special assistant to Drug Czar William Bennett during 1989.
In New York Magazine, Hannah Rosin described Podhoretz as a difficult boss who has "inherited his father's literary narcissism, but without the ideological vigor" (New York, January 5, 1998). Eric Alterman writes that Podhoretz "has spent virtually his entire life supping at the table of strange right-winger foreigners seeking to buy their way into respectability by courting the American right" (Salon, November 13, 1997). According to Alterman, when he worked at the Washington Times, "John was known around the office as 'John P. Normanson' [Norman's son] because that was the way his editor introduced him to visitors." The Podhortez-Decter family tree also includes Elliott Abrams, Podhoretz's brother-in-law.
In 2006, Podhoretz wrote Can She Be Stopped? Hillary Clinton Will be President Unless..., which suggested to readers 10 ways to prevent a Clinton presidency. According to the Publishers Weekly review: "Claiming that Hillary's presidential aspirations represent 'a colossal threat to the nation's economic viability and its national security,' Podhoretz lays out a plea and a plan for conservative action." In an interview with the conservative FrontPageMag.com, Podhoretz said he saw Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) as a serious contender for the 2008 presidential election but felt his fellow right-wingers were oblivious to the danger she posed: "The book was conceived as a wake up call to the right," he said (FrontPageMag.com, June 29, 2006).
Described by Jim Lobe as a "ubiquitous booster of the hawks," Podhoretz has also written Hell of a Ride (1992), and Bush Country: How Dubya Became a Great President While Driving Liberals Insane (2004). In addition, he was a consulting editor of the now defunct imprint of HarperCollins called ReganBooks, which published his mother's autobiography, An Old Wives Tale: My Seven Decades in Love and War (2001).