Thursday, May 17, 2012

What and who are the neocons, really?

So I got into a little contretemps online the other day about “neocons” when someone suggested that I was one, or at least a supporter of one in saying Rep. Allen West of Florida would make an interesting choice for GOP vice president. In response I went off on a bit of a historical rant, explaining who the neocons (more accurately “Neo-Conservatives,” as they were originally known) are, and where they came from (the moniker today is usually just used as an epithet, with no historical background; kind of a substitute for “war monger”). My rant apparently served some purpose, as some people have emailed me and said “thanks, I never was clear before on exactly who or what the neocons were.” Then Skip saw it and said “run it, run it!” So, okay, here’s a heavily edited version of what I said:

Actually, my interlocutors are both part right and part wrong about neocons (although both of them are nearly always totally right on the issues they address). There was no phenomenon known as “Neocons” in the way we speak of them today prior to the early 1970′s. The first Neocons—Daniel Bell, Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, and Sen. Daniel Moynihan, to name a few—were old-line, post-WW II American “liberals” who were supportive of and active in building both the welfare state and the civil rights movement. They “kind of” supported a “mixed economy” because they believed that it generated the most money that could be skimmed off by the government to help people (Irving Kristol wrote a book named “Two Cheers for Capitalism”; not three, only two). They were all big supporters of John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier government expansion and spending, supported Lyndon Johnson’s war in Vietnam and so-called Great Society programs (“guns and butter,” as the spending on both Vietnam and welfare expansion was called), and supported Hubert Humphrey who ran against Richard Nixon in 1968. (Humphrey was in some ways the last of the great “welfare-warfare state” American liberals; I asked him at a gathering in front of several thousand students in the early 1970′s how he could justify the overspending the federal government was engaged in even then; he said there’s nothing wrong with spending when it’s for “housing and urban redevelopment and helping poor people”; the crowd roared its approval…and here we are today.) The neocons were also likely supporters even earlier of Adlai Stevenson, the supposedly brainy, great post-WW II liberal who ran as a Democrat against Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956, losing both times.

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