Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 6, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

BROOKS AND THE NEOCONS....OK, let's get this out of the way: I was mistaken to ever think that David Brooks was anything other than a hack. I could swear that I've read good stuff by him in the past, but I guess not. I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

His column in the New York Times today is the latest offering in a developing conservative meme: neoconservatives, he says, don't really exist, they don't have any influence if they do exist, and "neocon" is just a codeword for "Jew" in any case. This argument is so deeply dishonest and morally offensive that it's hard to even know where to begin with it.

To start, of course neocons exist. Neoconservatism is a well-known and fairly ordinary political faction with a pedigree that goes back about 30-40 years. It's the neocons themselves who coined the term.

And yes, they have considerable influence on foreign policy. Paul Wolfowitz is the best known neocon in the adminstration, and the neocon gang at the Weekly Standard surely wouldn't bother producing their magazine if they didn't think influential people were reading it. George Bush's foreign policy is rather famously fractious, but even so it's pretty clear that neocon thought has enjoyed a renaissance since 9/11. This is hardly controversial.

And last year I got badly stomped for even suggesting that "neocon" and "Jew" might have any connection. They have nothing to do with each other, I was told in no uncertain terms.

So why would Brooks write this stuff? And why is the Wurlitzer being cranked up to pretend that "neocons" (complete with scare quotes) are little more than a figment of liberal imaginations? What's the agenda here?

I'm mystified. Neocons exist, they have a fair amount of influence in current political discourse, and it is not simply another word for "Jew." What's more, this is all out in the open, in the same way that you might say that "DLC Democrats" had some influence in the Clinton White House but are looking kind of ragged lately. Just the normal ups and downs of political factions.

It's pretty obvious that conservatives are nervous about any discussion of the neocon agenda and want to take it off the table by ridiculing it and pretending that it's just coded racism. Why? What are they afraid of?

UPDATE: Actually, it turns out that neocons didn't coin the term "neocon." Jonathan Adler, who interviewed Irving Kristol on this question for his senior essay at Yale, explains:

"Neoconservatism" was coined by Michael Harrington [in the 60s] to smear writers and social scientists, such as Kristol, Daniel Bell, James Wilson and others, who were critical of leftist orthodoxy. He sought to marginalize them within left-liberal intellectual and political circles. Some (Kristol) eventually embraced the term, while others (Bell) rejected it. Yet no neocon generated the label.

There you have it.

Kevin Drum 11:31 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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