The neoconservative way

Irving Kristol and BushBy Robert Silvey

Sam’s wonderfully comprehensive list of the Bush administration’s scandals and disasters makes one wonder where this crew got their ideas. The mind boggles. How could the Republicans be so wretched at governing? Governing was something they wanted to do, wasn’t it? It’s not easy to understand their motivating principles.

We could simply dismiss them all as corrupt thieves, of course, but that’s unfair to the idealistic if misguided neocons who flocked to Bush’s side. They had principles, didn’t they? They were not in it merely for the main chance.

Brad DeLong, the Berkeley economist whose protean blog is now titled Grasping Reality with Both Hands, may have uncovered the answer. Bush learned everything he knows about neoconservatism from Irving Kristol (the gnome in the photo) and Norman Podhoretz—though he usually learned it indirectly (another count to add to Paul Wolfowitz’s lengthy charge sheet).

In an essay on the deterioration of the Economist, DeLong describes, in his own viciously accurate words, the founding principles of American neoconservatism:

The real neoconservatives formed into a group at the end of the 1970s around four planks:

  • That the Soviet Union was winning the Cold War, which the west needed to heat up and wage it with harsher methods–nuclear weapons, aircraft carriers, and death squads rather than limp-wristed Carter-Ford focus on international economic prosperity, democratization, and human rights.
  • That Likud should be encouraged to drive Palestinians into their existing homeland of Jordan as soon as practicable.
  • That taxes should be cut, (military) spending raised, and budgets balanced–and that anyone who pointed out that this didn’t add up needed to be shouted down.


  • That African-Americans got too easy a ride in modern America, and needed to be made poorer and less powerful.

That’s the source—one might even say the fountainhead—of all the Bush administration’s policies and practices. Everything else is just corollaries and footnotes. Oh, yes, and the occasional spate of incompetence.

3 replies »

  1. I’d like to add that there’s a great oped in the NY Times today on the subject of neocons, by Robert Wright. It’s behind the subscription wall, but here’s the gist:

    On the one hand, we were going to bring democracy to Iraq. On the other hand, we were going to use Iraq as a platform for exercising military power.

  2. Robert – a question – is the Bush administration’s encouragement of mass Hispanic/Latino immigration, both legal (and mostly) illegal part of the neocon action plan for principle 4 of the neocon “big plans for America”? Or is this merely an outgrowth of Bush’s realization that Hispanics tend to be social conservatives and voted for him in large numbers in Texas as a result?

    It would be interesting to know that, methinks.

  3. Good question, Jim. I don’t know the answer, but I wouldn’t be surprised if both considerations were in play. It is certainly true that Hispanics tend to vote for Republicans more than African Americans do: the numbers in 2004 were Hispanic 53 Kerry, 44 Bush; African American 88 Kerry, 11 Bush (CNN exit polls).

    The numbers in Texas are a bit better for Bush, but the touted advantage is a myth. According to Mystery Pollster, Bush got 43 percent of the 2000 Hispanic vote in Texas; and in 2004, it was 49 percent, to 50 percent for Kerry. I don’t have 2006 results at hand, but I remember reading that the war had significantly eroded GOP support among Hispanics.