The Neocons Have Gone From GOP Thought-Leaders to Outcasts

Jonathan Chait writes: The original neoconservatives were a small faction of formerly liberal or left-wing intellectuals, disproportionately Jewish, who defected to the GOP in the 1970s. (One of them, Kristol’s father, Irving, famously quipped that a neoconservative was a liberal who had been “mugged by reality.”) Their complaints with the left centered on foreign policy, on how the Democratic Party had grown more dovish in the wake of Vietnam. Over time, they adapted themselves to the whole Republican litany, carving out a useful role defending supply-side economics, the conspiratorial ravings of Pat Robertson, and pretty much any lunacy attached to the party. Yet foreign affairs remained the distinctive field in which they largely dictated conservative doctrine. Neocons saw a black-and-white morality as the foundation of the American victory in World War II and then the Cold War; indeed, they believed it could be applied to every foreign conflict and, with the appropriate application of willpower and righteousness, result in the inevitable spread of democracy everywhere. Neoconservatives famously developed the master plan to defeat Al Qaeda via democratic regime change throughout the Middle East.

The fall of Baghdad represented the apogee of neoconservative influence within the party. In April 2003, Frum, who had previously been a speechwriter for the Bush administration, wrote a cover essay for National Review, the conservative movement’s flagship publication, excommunicating the isolationist paleoconservatives. At the time, it hardly seemed worth the effort, as the objects of Frum’s banishment consisted mostly of obscure cranks lacking any channels of influence. During the Bush era, neoconservatism was riding so high it had essentially grown synonymous with conservatism. Many liberals learned to read the neo- prefix as a kind of intensifier: A neoconservative seemed to mean an ultraconservative, the most fanatical and dangerous strain.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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