Fracturing the conservative ideas machine

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).

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JC
JC(@jc)
12 years ago

…… They invaded Iraq hoping to turn it into a “corporate utopia” governed by the doctrines of their patron saint Milton Friedman.

Huh? What’s she smoking.

Mr. Friedman here shifted focus. “What’s really killed the Republican Party isn’t spending, it’s Iraq. As it happens, I was opposed to going into Iraq from the beginning. I think it was a mistake, for the simple reason that I do not believe the United States of America ought to be involved in aggression.”

http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110008690

observa
observa
12 years ago

If black fathers will cop a moral serve from a half black, half white man whose black father wandered off on him, hell why not? Eminently qualified to give them a lecture and shades of Pearson in that respect where any brown man is a cool dude but white is trash. Then if he moves the Dems to the middle it’s academic what the other mob is doing. Happens all the time when one mob gets sick of being in opposition and gets its act together better than the other mob or incumbency rot sets in.

Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton
12 years ago

As even a rather kind New Yorker profile of Klein pointed out, she has no idea about the differences between the various right-of-centre groups. I wrote about the neocons and what I then called ‘democractic globalism’ in my honours thesis 20 years ago. I argued that it was a point of tension in neocon thought rather than a defining feature.

In favour of this being a feature of neocon thought was the argument some neocons made that US foreign policy should be based on American values, which obviously have strong democratic and liberal elements.

But there were two points of tension. One was that these concerns should not cripple policy. Some neocons favoured dealing with authoritarian anti-communist regimes, since the most important foreign policy goal was to contain communism. And almost all of them had a sociological view of politics, believing that certain social institutions and personal virtues were needed to make liberal-democratic societies work (ironically, naivety on this point came to be one of the main early 21st century criticism of ‘neonconservatism’).

The ‘neocon’ element was in fact this sociological view – a group of intellectuals that had come from the left departing from the left of the 1960s and 1970s, which challenged traditional institutions and values.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
12 years ago

Andrew – You know more than I do about neoconservatism and foreign policy. My focus is fairly narrow.

I first became interested in neoconservatism when I was looking at 1960s anti-poverty activism. Michael Harrington — author of The Other America — emerged from the same milieu as Irving Kristol (both were influenced by Max Shachtman).

Harrington was a leftist. But what’s interesting is that his arguments about poverty now sound right wing. Writers like Edward Banfield took Oscar Lewis’ culture of poverty arguments and gave them a (neo)conservative twist. Today we have Lawrence Mead whose books echo the anthropological and sociological arguments of the 1950s and 60s.

An entire field of poverty research has become politicised.

Re: Klein. Are you talking about Larissa MacFarquhar’s profile? She writes:

She [Klein] tends to conflate very different right-wing groupsneoconservatives, crony capitalists, libertarians.

In his review of The Shock Doctrine Jonathan Chait argues something similar:

She pays shockingly (but, given her premises, unsurprisingly) little attention to right-wing ideas. She recognizes that neoconservatism sits at the heart of the Iraq war project, but she does not seem to know what neoconservatism is; and she makes no effort to find out.

I imagine the problem flows from her materialism. It’s not important who right wingers think they are or what they think they’re doing – it’s what they do and the interests they serve that matter.

SJ
SJ
12 years ago

This is just silly, Don. It doesn’t matter where the term “neocon” originated in the sixties or seventies.

The neocons self-identified with the 1996 PNAC “New American Century” document. They signed it, and they carried out the plan. That is, they used an attack on American soil as another Pearl Harbour, so that could overthrow Saddam and make the world safe for Israel.

It never made sense, and was always bound to fail. The Republicans have been the “stupid party” for a long time, and the neocons were one of the things that made them stupid.

I think your mistake is in thinking that a bunch of blood-thirsty racist lunatics are in some way the intellectual powerhouse of the Republican party.

jimparker
jimparker(@jimparker)
12 years ago

Yo Joe @1

Time for a lesson in logic here. Whether you agree with Naomi’s statement or not, she was not saying Milt endorsed the Iraq caper, rather that others thought his teachings could be put to work there. Bit like blaming Jesus for the Spanish Inquisition.

And of course the neocons are purveying intellectually broken idealogies. Just like communists, they tried to squeeze the real world to fit their ideas and not vice-versa.

When contemplating this kinda thinking, words like “brewery”, “pissup” and “unable to organise” come to mind.

A plague on anyone with grand visions.

JC
JC(@jc)
12 years ago

Yea, possibly nabs. However it goes against the grain a little when Milt is their “patron saint”, according to her, yet he was against the war from the start.

Even the “corporate utopia” suggestion is way out of the ball park. Milt was basically an economic libertarian and the idea of crony capitalism which she is trying to convey about his philosophies would have been anathema to him.
She hasn’t a clue.

Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton
12 years ago

Don – Yes, that profile. You do see the same highly materialistic analysis locally, but tactically it seems foolish since it means they rarely read much the right says (Norberg has said that Shock Doctrine looks like Klein just got her research assistant to search for quotes that might fit her hypothesis, rather than trying to understand the actual arguments being made) making it hard to engage in debates, and open to the criticism that they have no idea what they are talking about. Fine within the left subculture, but no way to influence others.

My work was on the first-generation neo-cons; the analysis may not be true of the second generation.

AdrienSword
AdrienSword
12 years ago

As even a rather kind New Yorker profile of Klein pointed out, she has no idea about the differences between the various right-of-centre groups.

No for some reason the appreciation on either side that the other side is made of disparate groups of people with sometimes divergent ideas is lost on them. But again Klein’s not trying to provide an accurate analysis of the intellectual streams of right-wing thought. She’s providing rallying points for left-wing activism.

Milt was basically an economic libertarian and the idea of crony capitalism which she is trying to convey about his philosophies would have been anathema to him.

And yet crony capitalism prospered when Greenspan, another libertarian, was the Fed chairman. ot his fault of course. But it merely illustrates that the alliance system will brook compromises.

The ‘redevelopment’ of Iraq has seen millions go straight into the hands of commercial, religious and political allies of Bush/Cheney to build things that haven’t been built. The checks and balances one expects were a joke, there was no requirement even to do the job and there was no bidding on the tenders. It was merely are you a right-wing born-again Christina typ? Yes? Here’s a shitload of taxpayer’s money.

And anyone who complains got the chop.

It’s all very well for libertarians to maintain their moral high ground. But when I seem ’em s[pitting chips because Obama wants to supply health care and remaining silent when a master bureaucrat and corporate hit man like Dick Cheney essentially extorts bucketloads for no good reason whatsoever, well…

AdrienSword
AdrienSword
12 years ago

Andrew – The neocons are not ‘centre’ at all. They appear to be pure ideologues who have very little understanding of actual pragmatic matters foreign or domestic. The most recent document I’ve read was the vile Norman Poderhertz’s “Open Letter to Milan Kundera”. This was written in response to Kundera’s novel The Book of Laughter and Forgetting.

The ‘letter’ is two things. A work of sycophantic toadying and a Kultural Kommissar’s dumbarsed approval stamp. The dude completely misses the point that the novel is not about politics but about the human psychological roots of such phenomena as the rewriting of history. Poderhertz in fact reminded another Czech dissident of a kultural kommissar when, upon writing aid dissident’s flat in Prague, he noticed a John Lennon poster and proceeded to lecture the guy about the counter-culture being no friend to anti-communism.

The neocons basically hated the 60s. I have a feeling Poderhertz turned neocon because he couldn’t get laid. Their lauding of Czech dissidence completed overlooked the central presence of counter-culture in the Prague spring.

Gramaphone minds are dangerous. Unfortunately they exist in just about every movement or sphere. Unfortunately others in those movements and spheres tolerate their nonsense. So therefore we’ve got people like Paul Wolfowitz heading research institutes at major universities, working at high levels in the US bureaucracy and even making it to the World Bank on the strength of being a merely articulate tape recording.

But he’s tolerated for precisely the same reasons that feminists take the appalling Andrea Dworkin seriously.

Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton
12 years ago

AS – I never said they were centrist. Podhoretz and Kristol (senior, in both cases) were both primarily polemicists, but well-read polemicists. But there were many interesting intellectuals who published in the main neocon journals such as Commentary and the Public Interest – Daniel Bell, Peter Berger, James Q. Wilson and Nathan Glazer all spring immediately to mind (though Bell is less neocon than the others).

There is no disputing that it was the ’60s left that turned a lot of them into conservatives, many of them having started out on the left (Kristol was a Trotskyist as a young man, though he drifted right before the ’60s).

And US libertarians strongly and publicly opposed the whole Iraq war from day one. This is one reason that Klein’s case is hopelessly confused – it makes no sense to criticise people for supporting what they in fact oppose. American libertarians have consistently opposed wars as one of the main historic causes of big government.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
12 years ago

Kevin Libin in Canada’s National Post:

William Kristol, son of that pioneering neo-con thinker, Irving Kristol, cannot shake the sneaking suspicion that sometime between when Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, and today, someone got mugged. Because, despite Mr. Obama’s fierce campaign attacks against Republican policies, the ecstasy from the far-left fringe (among others) at his victory, and some conservatives’ fear that they were witnessing the second coming of Jimmy Carter, today’s neo-con standard-bearer feels increasingly at ease.

“The big story is that Barack Obama, who ran as the candidate of hope and change, who was the more liberal of the two democratic finalists … has moved pretty dramatically to the centre,” says Mr. Kristol. And while he’s cautious to call it a stretch, there are certain things shaping up in Mr. Obama’s White House that might even reflect a glimmer of– would you believe? –neoconservatism.

AdrienSword
AdrienSword
12 years ago

Andrew – I never said they were centrist.

Sorry that was a rhetorical error on my part. You were referring to various groups on the centre-right. It’s difficult to place groups on the political spectrum but considering that ‘neoconservatives’ who in agency also include people like Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz (altho’ these people aren’t technically neocons they’ve carried out the agenda) are hostile to other points of view in a way that reminds one of revolutionaries.

And US libertarians strongly and publicly opposed the whole Iraq war from day one.

Yes true. Klein doesn’t take into account the opposition to Bush’s adventurism from the Right. But again I can’t blame her specifically but the entire political culture which says it’s okay to simplify and distort as long as you score points. We always complain when the other side does this and find excuses when it’s ourselves doing it. I think it’d be much more effective if we were to generally agree that there’s a line beyond which such rhetorical strategies become generally harmful and decide to take a dim view of anyone doing this particularly people we agree with.

Tel_
Tel_
12 years ago

The way I see it, the first team getting Karl Rove on the stand under oath will be the winner.

If the Republicans bite the bullet, cut the rot out of their party, and show the public that they can take it on the chin in the name of Law & Order then suddenly the Republican party will regain credibility and be in a position to be a real opposition.

On the other hand, if the Republicans want to circle the wagons, and defend their man to the last, they will not only lose, but remain hated by 75% of Americans. If it is a Democrat who gets Rove to talk, then Obama becomes the hero, cleaning up corruption, standing up for honesty and decency.

The redevelopment of Iraq has seen millions go straight into the hands of commercial, religious and political allies of Bush/Cheney to build things that havent been built. The checks and balances one expects were a joke, there was no requirement even to do the job and there was no bidding on the tenders. It was merely are you a right-wing born-again Christina typ? Yes? Heres a shitload of taxpayers money.

And anyone who complains got the chop.

The corrupt system and resultant failure to deliver results are now blindingly obvious, and as mentioned above “personal responsibility is one purchase point for the neocons” so a failure of this magnitude does require that someone be held responsible. I personally don’t think that Greenspan (or the Fed) had any connection with the management of Iraq, you really have to follow the threads back through the US military and the powerful mining/construction/contracting giants like Haliburton and Blackwater. If Obama can even get a small handful of senior scalps in hand over any of the many, many obviously dodgy issues that happened in Iraq then he will win the respect of his friends and enemies alike. Answering questions like, who ordered the torture at Abu Ghraib (certainly not the few “bad apples” who were punished for it) ?

http://www.democracynow.org/2006/5/9/chicagos_abu_ghraib_un_committee_against

Obama comes from Chicago, he probably knows what’s going on.

AdrienSword
AdrienSword
12 years ago

Tel – Don’t you mean Cheney? If anyone is resp0nsible for the Iraq clusterfuck it’s Cheney. A cursory look at his career reveals someone who thinks the government is there to provide his corporate intetrests with an income stream.

Of course I wouldn’t complain if Rove got it in the neck too. But the fact that there’s no serious move to indict these people is chilly news.

Tel_
Tel_
12 years ago

There was some news about Karl Rove being recently handed his second congressional subpoena, then claiming “absolute immunity”. Various folks are wondering whether Bush’s “executive privilege” will extend into Obama’s term of office. Obama himself will no doubt shed some light on the answer to this at some future stage, but he is in poker-face mode right now.

I don’t blame Rove for the whole deal that went on, but there’s no doubt that Rove knows a lot.