Neocons

In a Pajamas Media essay entitled Why They Hate the Neocons Roger Simon writes about being so described:

Still, I had been categorized. But it wasn’t until quite recently when I read Joshua Muravchik’s fine essay “The Past, Present and Future of Neoconservatism” that – despite actually knowing several people regarded as leaders of the movement – I got a simple, clear picture of what neoconservatism was. According to Muravchik, it was divided into two schools: one, via Irving Kristol, centering on a reexamination of the welfare state and the other, led by Norman Podhoretz, focusing on winning the Cold War and now the War on Terror through that democracy promotion.

I’d read Muravchik’s article too and it was also the first time I’d encountered such a clear division between domestic policy and foreign policy neocons. Simon sees himself as primarily from the second group. I think I was more aware of the first as I lived through the 60s and 70s. I certainly did my level best to help LBJ spend that Great Society money genuinely believing that I was helping finish the New Deal. As I gained experience I began to see that social programs didn’t always have their intended effect and that there seemed to be some built in limits to the effectiveness of the government spending money to address social problems. Although never a fan, by the time Reagan got around to saying that ‘the trouble with our Liberal friends is that they believe so much that just isn’t true’ I knew whereof he spoke. In 1992, as I drove down the Kwinana Freeway here in Perth Western Australia, I heard Bill Clinton say he wanted to ‘give folks a hand up rather than a hand out’. I was excited because I’d just heard a Democrat demonstrate that he had learned from the Reagan revolution and come back with a plausible counter proposal. I was not as impressed with Hillarycare because it showed much less evidence of having learned anything from the conservative reforms. To be fair I have similar questions about big government Republicans initiatives like Dubya’s No Child Left Behind and Prescription Drug programs.

The first time I recognized the Podhoretz foreign policy side of the equation was during the Reagan administration when I heard George Schultz say that America should promote democracy and free trade. That policy sounded like an improvement on the amoral cold war realism practiced from John Foster Dulles to Henry Kissinger. Although I understood it was sometimes necessary to support anti communist dictators when opposing Communism, I never liked America’s support of the likes of Batista in Cuba or later Pinochet in Chile. On Vietnam, I had always agreed with Senator Fulbright that we had gotten ourselves entangled in left over colonialism because we failed to recognize we were up against a strong nationalism not just opposing Communism. So putting Democracy promotion first sounded like getting the priorities right. Democracy, along with a successful private sector, appeared to be the common denominator from social democracies like Sweden to more capitalist democracies like America.

So do I see myself as a neocon? Somewhat, but not really because I don’t see my position as a kind of conservatism. Still, like many other political labels coined by a movement’s enemies, it’s not meant to be accurate but as a put down. Fundamentally, I think of myself as belonging to that broad centrist group that goes back to FDR and Harry Truman that became the anti communist wing of the Democratic party. If Churchill is seen as the great prototype of neoconservatism, I would say that I differ from him most importantly in my view of colonialism. He wanted to restore the British Empire after WWII, but Roosevelt and Truman opposed that. Where colonialism reasserted itself – as in Vietnam – it caused problems. Instead of making German and Japan colonies America made them democracies, invested in them and traded with them as equals. That policy was a tremendous win-win that the Communists never equaled and that a portion of the left still refuses to even acknowledge much less take their share of credit for. So if failing to reject a post colonial world that has quadrupled the amount of wealth in the world in the past fifty years makes one a neocon – heck I’ll bite.


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