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The Last Thing Republicans Need Is a “Neocon Revival”

David Brooks imagines [1] what a “neocon revival” could do for Republicans:

The conservatism that Kristol was referring to is neoconservatism. Neocons came in for a lot of criticism during the Iraq war, but neoconservatism was primarily a domestic policy movement. Conservatism was at its peak when the neocons were dominant and nearly every problem with the Republican Party today could be cured by a neocon revival.

Brooks tries to rehabilitate neocons by mostly ignoring the one thing that now distinguishes them from everyone else on the right, namely their disastrous foreign policy views. He talks about the “peak” of conservatism while failing to mention the ignominious collapse of the political fortunes of both Republicans and movement conservatism when neoconservatives exercised their greatest influence. Thanks in large part to the Iraq war debacle that neoconservatives eagerly demanded, Republicans lost a decades-old advantage on foreign policy that predated the Reagan era, and most conservatives mistakenly wasted eight years supporting a disastrous war because they followed the neoconservatives’ lead. Most neoconservatives defend that war even now, putting them bitterly at odds with the American public in a way that few others are.

Since the failures of “big government conservatism” in the last decade, there is nothing that neoconservatism has to offer today that would ameliorate any major Republican problem. Neoconservatives’ biggest blind spot and greatest obsession–support for a needlessly aggressive and overly militarized foreign policy–is itself one of those problems, and a “revival” of this would exacerbate the GOP’s woes rather than remedy them. If the GOP is to revive and reform into a competent governing party once more, a neocon revival is the last thing it needs.

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23 Comments To "The Last Thing Republicans Need Is a “Neocon Revival”"

#1 Comment By Steven J Fromm On August 3, 2013 @ 9:52 am

Could not agree more. It reminds me of the old saw “What were they thinking?” It is clear most Americans do not think this way so why would so-called representatives of the people adopt a stance that no one wants?

#2 Comment By Michael N Moore On August 3, 2013 @ 10:30 am

When I read this inexplicable column. My first thought was that Brooks bumped into Kristol while Summering in the Hamptons. The result: a quick and dirty column. Hey! It’s Summertime.

#3 Comment By Neildsmith On August 3, 2013 @ 11:09 am

I don’t even understand the point of the GOP anymore. Their governing vision is so repulsive to decent people that they have lost credibility. At best they check some of the sillier ideas proposed by progressives but they could do the same if they just joined with us to make government more efficient. Instead they cling to some bizarre combination of making the rest of the world safe and secure while wreaking havoc at home. It’s a very curious combination.

#4 Comment By David R On August 3, 2013 @ 12:30 pm

What exactly were the domestic policies that supposedly make up for the disastrous foreign policy exactly? As someone who grew up in the Clinton presidency and then the beginning of G.W.’s reign of terror I don’t remember a great domestic policy either. I remember tax cuts that squandered a surplus and added to the public debt (aside from what the two ME wars added on top of it) with little if any positive effect on the economy. I also remember the joke that was “no child left behind” which left our nation’s education system behind pretty muc every other developed country. I also remember an ill fated attempt to privatize social security and Medicare reform that made the system worse. If republicans want my vote again they need to do some serious soul searching both at home and abroad (not that I necessarily like the Dems but when choosing between two evils…).

#5 Comment By WorkingClass On August 3, 2013 @ 1:02 pm

The war mongers are only one false flag attack from revival. Don’t count them out.

#6 Comment By James Canning On August 3, 2013 @ 1:18 pm

Neocons were not and are not conservatives, and their focus was on employing American power to benefit Israel.
Hardly a “domestic US” programme.

#7 Comment By Bert On August 3, 2013 @ 2:15 pm

“Their governing vision is so repulsive to decent people that they have lost credibility.”

That’s what liberals like to think. Of course, when they say that they’re referring to social conservatism.

#8 Comment By Neildsmith On August 3, 2013 @ 2:41 pm

Hi Bert… I guess I am not so put out by the social conservatives as the ones that want endless war and think we are all oppressed by assistance to the poor, sick, and old.

Is there a difference?

#9 Comment By Rojo On August 3, 2013 @ 2:44 pm

Neoconservatism was primarily a domestic policy movement????

I think that wherever one stands on domestic or foreign policy, most can a agree that this assertion is nonsense.

#10 Comment By James B. On August 3, 2013 @ 2:50 pm

Neo-Con domestic policy is not much better. It is Wilson 1917 – big business and government consolidate power for “an emergency” or “crisis” and nationalism is enforced, with the belief that democracy has to be ‘saved’ via social and political action.

#11 Comment By peter lawler On August 3, 2013 @ 3:05 pm

Here I predicted what you guys would say:
[2]

#12 Comment By Gordon Hanson On August 3, 2013 @ 3:18 pm

Sometimes David Brooks writes a great column, sometimes he is clueless, as he is here.

#13 Comment By lester On August 3, 2013 @ 4:10 pm

It’s amazing to think that Brooks used to be hip and with it and in demand. Seriously like ten years ago he was.

#14 Comment By Ed On August 3, 2013 @ 4:38 pm

You’re talking about different things. Irving Kristol’s “neoconservatism” back in the 1970s was primarily concerned with domestic policy, and didn’t have much to do with what the term came to mean in the last decade. Kristol, in contrast to his son, wasn’t that interested in foreign or military policy.

I’m not sure it makes much sense to call for a revival of Irving Kristol’s neoconservatism now. The dynamics are so different from what they were forty years ago. The confidence of big government FDR-LBJ liberalism has been shaken. The liberal consensus of those days is gone. Conservatism — however you want to define it — doesn’t look very new or fresh and doesn’t have many inspiring new policy ideas. You also don’t have the Soviet model to joust against.

But I don’t see the US making a radical break with the idea of the welfare state. The slogans may be appealing, but where’s the polling data to support such a prescription? I don’t see us becoming much less like Europe and more like Mexico or India — if we can help it. And I can’t see us enjoying the transition much if we can’t.

Brooks and his critics aren’t so very different. They both want to dress up or romanticize their politics. For Brooks it’s “national greatness” politics. His paleo critics romanticize in other ways: the future has to be a radical repudiation of everything that’s happened since 1965 or 1933 or 1913 or 1860 or 1789. It can’t be patching and mending of what we’ve built in the meantime. It has to be some wholesale overturning of everything that’s happened since.

But there’s still a future for a more modest — or at least a less romantic and absolutist — politics. Something like the Eisenhower-Nixon-Ford politics that Irving Kristol broke ranks to support in 1972 (whether it’s espoused by Republicans or Democrats). In retrospect, even Reagan doesn’t look like as big a departure from that tradition that many thought him to be at the time.

The faith in ever bigger government left over from the Great Depression and the Second World War will have to go (if it hasn’t gone already), but it won’t be what paleos want by any means. The future isn’t going to be 1932 or 1912 or 1859.

#15 Comment By Northern Observer On August 3, 2013 @ 9:56 pm

The problem with the neo conservative domestic agenda, as elaborated by the essays of Irving Kristol, is that they have failed to do what was said they would do and often they have done the reverse. The original neo-conservative article was one done by Kristol on rent control in NYC and how the policy of rent control, a left wing idea, was getting in the way of a left wing goal, affordable housing for all, and that deregulating rent control in NYC would boost the supply and help achieve the goal of more affordable housing. This argument structure was Neo conservatism’s’ domestic argument was repeated with all the economic and social problems facing America in the 70s adn 80s and was always aimed at convincing a larger segment of the American voting public that conservative economic solutions were simple common sense, they made liberals happy by achieving liberal goals and they made conservatives happy by endorsing their worldview.
In the end it was a bit of a fairy tale, although still a politically controversial one since refuting it requires free market humility in the face of deregulation’s failure and supply side tax cuts failure (documented by the difference between the Clinton tax increase boom and the Bush tax cut bust). Deregulation of the financial industry is also a prime reason why the GOP brand is still called mud in the public mind. How more of this kind of thinking can help conservatives back in office seems doubtful. But anything is possible. Just because a policy is destructive, and known to be so does not mean that it will not be adopted with wild enthusiasm.

#16 Comment By EliteCommInc. On August 4, 2013 @ 1:06 pm

“If the GOP is to revive and reform into a competent governing party once more, a neocon revival is the last thing it needs.”

But they won’t need a revival if they back door it through a democratic policy shield. You have a fairly weal wh occupant who has betrayed nearly every principle he claimed was foundational to his service. The current administration doesn’t have to jump into military hegemony with both feet. They just have to give it legitimacy by using it in increments — not rejecting it outright.

Without a catastophric event or some highlighted incident, military policy doen’t have to medium or large scale under the guise as appropriate to the situation.

They are still quite entrenched in the woods of policy formulation and implementation.

#17 Comment By EliteCommInc. On August 4, 2013 @ 1:08 pm

“In the end it was a bit of a fairy tale, although still a politically controversial . . .”

If you mean fairy tale as to effectiveness perhaps. If you mean fairy tale as in actaul policy — the evidence would refute the existence of ‘fairy dust.”

#18 Comment By Frank Lettucebee On August 4, 2013 @ 4:58 pm

What Mr. Brooks calls a Kristolian neocon revival used to be called conservatism, period.Conservatism began with Burke and was carried into America by Presidents Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Taft, Eisenhower, and Nixon.

President Reagan was the transition president as the Republicans became transformed from a noble and justifiably proud conservative party to a rabid right wing party. The Republicans were invaded and conquered by the rangy rabid right as the post confederacy Dixiecrats left the Democrats and moved to the Republicans.

The Dixiecrats renamed themselves the Tea Party and with corporate big money is trying to contort the rest of America into an American caste system of the post-confederacy.
The Dixiecrats have taken over the Republican Party so as to refight the Civil War in a best of 2 out of 3 battle.
They have already won round 2. Unless conservatives take back their party and their country and kick out these phony conservatives (conjobservatives) America will continue to be transformed into the 1% Masta plutocrat oligarchy class and the increasingly desperate, poor, unheeded, and uncared about neglected 99%.

What I could never understand about the South is that I can understand why the Masta was in favour of the slave, landless serf, and week powerless servile desperate majority economic system. What I can’t stand is the loyalty of the oppressed and impoverished masses to the economic and social system that keeps them poor, week, helpless, and dependent on the whims of the modern Masta corporations and the super-rich plutocrat oligarch class.

As I said above, if the Republicans want to stop being a laughing stock, they have kick out the rabid right wing Dixiecrats crazies that took over the party and return the Republican party to a party of conservatives master in their own house.

If the Tea Party/Dixiecrats want to run on policies of a jihad against conservatism, capitalism, and working and middle class standard of living and the quality of life then let them do so honestly.

#19 Comment By Patrick On August 4, 2013 @ 5:52 pm

“…if the Republicans want to stop being a laughing stock, they have kick out the rabid right wing Dixiecrats…”

Ha! It’d be difficult for Republicans to win elections without southern and lower-midwestern electoral votes, I’d imagine. “Dixiecrats” were the people who got Nixon and Reagan into office, and George W. Bush was helped mightily by winning every single southern state. Twice. In fact, it’d be more accurate to say, “the better the GOP does in the south, the more likely they’ll win” looking at electoral maps of the last 40 years or so.

Seriously, that is like saying, “the Democrats need to kick out black people and union members: *then* they’d really win big.”

#20 Comment By Brendan O’Maidian On August 5, 2013 @ 10:07 am

Neocons gave us such wonderful humans (?) as W, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, and their cronies and criminal friends. Neocons gave us 9-11, needing that “Pearl Harbor” kind of event to justify the invasion of Iraq and takeover of all that good, gooey crude. Let’s not forget all the bodies that were strewn about, including our military and the “collateral” damage. NeoCute, eh?

#21 Comment By HyperIon On August 5, 2013 @ 2:07 pm

DL wrote: Brooks tries to rehabilitate neocons by mostly ignoring the one thing that now distinguishes them from everyone else on the right, namely their disastrous foreign policy views.

Yup.

So the eternal question with these guys when they pen such ridiculous tripe: Is Brook stupid or evil?

Today I think “stupid”. He does not seem to understand how silly he is being.

#22 Comment By tbraton On August 5, 2013 @ 6:13 pm

“You’re talking about different things. Irving Kristol’s “neoconservatism” back in the 1970s was primarily concerned with domestic policy, and didn’t have much to do with what the term came to mean in the last decade. Kristol, in contrast to his son, wasn’t that interested in foreign or military policy.”

Utter nonsense. The reason the neoconservatives led by Irving Kristol, who was a Trotskyite in his 20’s back in the 1930’s, left their natural home in the liberal Democratic Party was because of the Democratic Party’s McGovernite foreign policy in the 1970’s. The thing that always puzzled me is what the Republican Party under Reagan gained by granting a new home to the disaffected neocons. At least the Blue Dog Democrats brought numbers with them and still do. As Joseph Stalin asked derisively about the Pope during negotiations during WWII, “how many divisions does he have?”

#23 Comment By Patrick On August 6, 2013 @ 3:55 pm

“The thing that always puzzled me is what the Republican Party under Reagan gained by granting a new home to the disaffected neocons.”

I’ll take a stab at it: white evangelicals in the south? The entire south except for Virginia voted Carter in ’76: a fact always overlooked by people who think race was the only factor in southern politics.

I wasn’t conscious then, though, so someone with an actual memory of the ’80 election might know better: I’m just making an off-the-cuff guess.