For all the recent talk about fusionism, the one blend of fusionism that’s the most practical has been largely ignored: neoconservative hawks uniting with advocates of limited government to take on entitlement spending so that America has more money to spend on national defense, which is the primary function of government. ~Philip Klein
That sound you hear is Ross and Reihan spurting their coffee on their screens in disbelief. They might say, “It’s been ignored because that’s just crazy talk!” They would say it less bluntly than that and would have more statistics, which is why they have full-time jobs doing this pundit thing and I do not.
There are at least a couple bigger problems with this idea than the electoral non-viability of such an alliance, but that is a good place to start debunking this designation of neocons and limited government types as the “most practical” fusionism. I think some combination of a peace & neutrality foreign policy, coupled with a strong defense capability and “realist” assessment of threats to national security and a pro-family, cultural conservatism and a decentralist economic populism seems to me to stand a far better chance of building a majority and advancing sane and decent policies. (It would be somewhat like the old Catholic corporatist parties or early Christian Democrats, or would be a sort of Swissified conservatism.) Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the foregoing is basically my view of things.
I am not entirely persuaded, as Ross and Reihan are, that there is not much of a constituency for limited, small government conservatism, but I acknowledge that it is a hard sell at any time. The combination of limited government with massive defense outlays and the prosecution of any number of wars would manage to combine two positions that are on their own normally political losers into one gigantic losing proposition. Add in a socially liberal plank, as a Giuliani booster might be tempted to do, and, well, you would have the platform of a sort of pro-war libertarian party, which would have to be the single most unpopular set of positions out there. Call it neolibertarservatism. I can see the talking points now: “We should have private pensions, administered with the same kind of efficiency and intelligence that brought you the Iraq war!” The stampede of people away from such an alliance would be stunning to behold. Thousands would be trampled in the headlong rush to get away from this particular fusionism.
The two bigger problems I mentioned before are these: 1) a fundamental incoherence of a limited government philosophy at home and an activist, interventionist foreign policy overseas and 2) an abiding dislike that most limited government-cons and neocons now have for one another.
The first was one reason why the Cold War guaranteed that small-government conservatism would never go anywhere, because the foreign policy part of the coalition always demanded and received precedence in all things. Ramped-up domestic spending and new social programs are the price interventionists are willing to pay (or rather, they are willing to impose those costs on the people) to keep people back home sheepish and quiet while they build the empire. It seems possible that limited government folks can hitch a ride on a neocon/big-government bandwagon and occasionally get some crumbs from the table, but the neocons don’t really believe in limited government and limited government folks, if pushed hard enough, don’t really believe that we should be running the planet or anything even close to it. Both can see the irreconcilable opposition between their conceptions of the role and size of government. As that opposition has become more and more obvious and more intense over the last ten years, I think they have really learned not to like or trust each other very much. To cite a prominent example of how impractical such an alliance would be, David Horowitz, prominent neocon, evidently hates Ron Paul, hero to small-government conservatives everywhere, and I suspect Horowitz is not alone on his side in having a low opinion of Rep. Paul. Ron Paul is a living reminder to the GOP of what they used to say they believed in, but in which most obviously do not believe now. I’m sure many small government conservatives feel at least some degree of strong dislike for pretty much all neocons, whether for their warmongering or their statism at home or both. Even if the ideas could theoretically be matched up, very few people in either camp, as far as I understand the camps, would want to have much to do with the other.
In fairness, Mr. Klein acknowledges this gap in the next sentence:
I think, unfortunately, that the time for such an alliance was the aftermath of 9/11, and it’ll be hard to bridge the gulf that has developed between the two groups in the years since.
However, the only reason why the immediate post-9/11 moment would have been conducive to such an alliance is that limited government conservatives were panicked and outraged and fell into the waiting arms of state-expanding “national security” conservatives who never encountered something that was not the government’s business. This alliance would be like a man proposing to a woman by saying, “Well, you’d better marry me, because you don’t want to be raped and murdered.” Always charming, those neocons.