By reaching out to neoconservatives Obama could "fracture the opposition’s idea machine and help turn the Republicans back into the stupid party for years to come", writes Gabriel Schoenfeld.
This isn’t as far fetched as it sounds. The first wave of neoconservatives were disillusioned liberals — Democrats who’d been left behind when the party swung to the left on social and cultural issues. Early neocons like Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Nathan Glazer focused on social and cultural issues. They worried that the family was disintegrating and that social norms were breaking down. Schoenfeld argues that Obama can tap into these themes:
Personal responsibility is one purchase point for the neocons. It was, after all, alarm about the disintegration of black families in the 1960s that helped propel rightward the liberal pillar — and neoconservative founding father — Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Four decades later the same problem afflicts the urban underclass. Mr. Obama’s photogenic First Family serves as a more potent counter to the allure — such as it is — of the ghetto lifestyle than any policy initiative ever cooked up in a neoconservative think tank.
But the incoming president — himself the son of a single mother — not only walks the walk, he talks the talk. During the campaign he boldly told an African-American audience that "We need fathers to realize that responsibility doesn’t just end at conception. . . . What makes you a man is not the ability to have a child. Any fool can have a child. . . . It’s the courage to raise a child that makes you a father."
There’s a mythology that surrounds neoconservatism, much of it cultivated by Irving Kristol. According to his account, the neoconservatives rescued the Republican Party from the hysterical anti-statism of the National Review. Left to its own devices, Buckley’s conservative movement would have kept backing losing candidates like Barry Goldwater.
According to Kristol the purpose of neoconservatism was to "convert the Republican party, and American conservatism in general, against their respective wills, into a new kind of conservative politics suitable to governing a modern democracy." This new conservative politics is forward looking rather than backward looking. And rather than treating the state as the enemy, it bends it to conservative ends.
The heirs of this tradition include Weekly Standard editor William Kristol (Irving’s son), New York Times columnist David Brooks and the authors of Grand New Party, Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam. So what would this brand of conservatism look like in practice? As Kristol and Brooks wrote in 2001:
It means welfare programs that demand personal responsibility. It means education policies that promote high standards, challenge our best talents and promote scientific and national progress. It means taking seriously questions of public morality, while recognizing the limitations of legal sanctions. For example, in lieu of a consensus to outlaw abortion, it might mean a campaign to reduce the number of abortions year by year, via adoption and in other ways.
It’s not hard to imagine the new president finding something here to agree with. According to Reuters, Obama recently dined at the home of conservative columnist George Will along with David Brooks, William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post and other prominent conservatives. At the Huffington Post, Jacob Heilbrunn suggests that this "indicates that Obama is completing the job of detaching the conservative intellectual elite from the GOP itself."
Note: If you’ve been reading Naomi Klein, this post must seem a little odd. According to Klein, the necons have a pathological hatred of the state. They invaded Iraq hoping to turn it into a "corporate utopia" governed by the doctrines of their patron saint — Milton Friedman.
Other writers paint an equally sinister picture. According to Stephen Green, neoconservatism represents: "the alignment of U.S. foreign and security policies with those of Ariel Sharon and the Israeli right wing." So you might wonder, why would Obama want to reach out to a bunch of blood-for-oil fanatics who mistake "Tel Aviv for the capital of the United States"? Obviously, that isn’t what this post is about.
For more on neoconservatism and where the label comes from see: ‘Neo-confusion‘ (for some reason my name has been removed from my old posts at Catallaxy).