January 27, 2003

Was the New Times 'Neo-Cons...

Was the New Times 'Neo-Conservative'?: That's what Harold Meyerson claimed in a recent column, and what KCRW public-affairs host Warren Olney stated as fact on his radio show about four minutes ago.

Now, I don't know much about neo-conservatives, despite being called one every once in a while, but as Cathy Seipp pointed out to me on the phone tonight, isn't the term supposed to indicate one's foreign policy leanings, primarily? The New Times rarely wrote about foreign policy (thankfully, since it did so poorly), and when it did it leaned left of the Democratic Leadership Council, from what I remember.

If more than one-third of the New Times' editorial staff regularly voted Republican, I'll swim across the L.A. River, nekkid. These political labels are really starting to lose me, I must confess, but I don't think the Phoenix gang are a bunch of raging neo-cons. Feel free to correct me, anyone.

Posted by at January 27, 2003 07:40 PM

Neo-Conservatism's roots had almost nothing to do with foreign policy, if I recall my Irving Kristol correctly. I believe the neo-cons started out as liberal intellectuals who got more and more pissed off at the Dem party during the sixties, and were determined to bring the intellectualism that had defined liberalism for so long to the conservative movement. Kristol's book is super-interesting; not many people write as well as he does anymore.


Posted by: Amit Runchal at January 27, 2003 09:11 PM

Amit -- Thanks! In your memory, were they pro-Vietnam or anti-Vietnam, and/or what were they so pissed at the liberals for? Weren't they galvanized by the whole anti-communism crusade during the Reagan era? Sorry for being such a dumb-ass!

Posted by: Matt Welch at January 27, 2003 10:13 PM

My impression of neo-cons is that they were anti-communist, pro-capitalist types who didn't like the drift of the left toward socialist programs; they were hawks in the way that Kennedy was a hawk.

Think about it, but today's standards, Kennedy would be pretty darn conservative for a Democrat -- he cut taxes, spent on the military, baited the reds, waved the flag. All of the things the modern liberal is loath to do. Had Kennedy lived, he'd probably be writing for the Weekly Standard today.

Posted by: Howard Owens at January 27, 2003 10:43 PM

The neocon movement was driven by a reaction to the anti-Semitism of the left -- specifically, the left's "We don't hate Jews...we just hate Zionists (except actually, we really don't like Jews" spiel. Neocons are hawkish, like Kennedy, pro-Israel, anti-Communist, anti-Third World dictatorships, etc. The philosophy has EVERYTHING to do with foreign policy, although of course there are domestic concerns too. New Times's big strength was covering local politics...when it drifted into commenting on foreign affairs it always sounded ignorant. (And dovish, in a confused, sophomoric way.) I can't think of any reason these befuddled paleoleftists would consider New Times neo-con other than the fact that Jill Stewart was against bilingual education, for teaching kids how to actually read and do math, and made fun of corrupt, agenda-driven councilwoman Jackie Goldberg - which seems to have sent them into a tizzy. Lots of people who consider themselves liberals agree with Jill on these points.

Posted by: Cathy Seipp at January 28, 2003 10:41 AM

What the Heck is a Neocon?


Posted by: Keanu at January 28, 2003 03:04 PM

"Neocon" means lots of things to lots of people, but here's the three overlapping groups the label was most closely identified with when it emerged:

(a) Scoop Jackson Democrats, such as Jeanne Kirkpatrick, who opposed the McGovern campaign and their party's related drift towards dovishness. Fiercely pro-Israel and pro-Cold War, they pretty much all re-registered as Republicans by the end of the '80s.

(b) ex-Trotskyist New York intellectuals, such as Irving Kristol, who were dismayed both at the aforementioned drift toward dovishness and anti-Zionism and at the New Left's "barbaric" attitudes toward higher education and the old liberal establishment.

(c) formerly liberal academics, such as Peter Berger, whose research led them to reject the case for Great Society programs -- and, in some cases, for greater swabs of the welfare state.

The third group is obviously of a different nature than the first two; they got roped in because they were reconsidering their liberal or leftist sympathies at the same time as the first two and because they often ended up publishing in the same magazines (The Public Interest, Commentary, etc.). Many of their once controversial claims are now accepted by people who still consider themselves liberal; many of their articles are cited warmly by libertarians who otherwise profess to hate neoconservatism.

In addition to the third group drifting out of the definition of neoconservatism since the 1970s, a fourth group has drifted into it: second-generation neocons like Bill Kristol, who aren't "neo" in the sense that they never were liberals to begin with but are "neo" in that their beliefs are distinct in many ways from those of the pre-neocon right. Confusing matters somewhat, some libertarians and paleoconservatives have attempted to retrofit the word to describe the ex-Communists who seemed to join the Right en masse during the '50s (James Burnham, Max Eastman, etc.), turning its attention from limited government at home to an active foreign policy abroad.

As Cathy suggests, Israel is a central foreign-policy concern of the neocons, in many cases *the* central foreign-policy concern (which is why I get annoyed when critics of Israel, such as Christopher Hitchens, are shoved under the neocon label). In terms of domestic policy, I think David Frum was right to divide the neocon tribe into two groups: the "optimists," exemplified by Jack Kemp, and the "pessimists," exemplified by James Q. Wilson. For the details, borrow someone's copy of his book *Dead Right*.

This may be the longest post I've ever made to someone else's blog.

Posted by: Jesse Walker at January 28, 2003 05:31 PM

Jesse -- I owe you a tall sandwich, sir! And hey -- did I ever tell you that one time I was scheduled to appear on KPFK (the local Pacifica station, for those of you who don't know), and the host asked that I come up with some other affiliation rather than Reason magazine? (Which, at the time, was about the only publication printing my stuff.) They didn't want to alienate listeners, you know....

Posted by: Matt Welch at January 28, 2003 09:14 PM

Ha! They never asked me to hide my Reason affiliation when I went on the station, or even when they were offering my radio book as a premium. Mind if I ask you who that host was?

Posted by: Jesse Walker at January 28, 2003 09:34 PM

Ah, it wasn't the host's fault -- he was just anticipating the reaction of listeners -- so I'll keep the name quiet.... But, as it turns out, just today my affiliation with Reason was used by someone as evidence toward a possible case of my hidden right-winghood.

Was I really supposed to write for WorkingForChange.com my whole life to qualify as left-of-center?

Posted by: Matt Welch at January 28, 2003 11:39 PM

I live in Phoenix, and I can tell, the Phoenix New Times gang isn't neo-con, it's neo-yawn.

Actually, you can drop the "neo".

Posted by: Todd Fletcher at January 29, 2003 08:29 AM

I'd actually hold that against the host -- the fact that he felt the need to baby his listeners like that.

Then again, I actually work here. While that doesn't mean I agree with every article we run (I don't), it does mean it makes sense to associate me with the general worldview of the magazine. It would be a little less fair for a listener to call you up and start berating you for some Reason position you've never actually written about.

Posted by: Jesse Walker at January 29, 2003 08:29 AM

Long as I'm here, I should mention one more use of the word "neocon": it's also an insult that some libertarians use against other libertarians. If one lib say another lib is "basically a neocon," it's his way of saying the other guy is too hawkish, too corporate, too gradualist, or -- basically -- too close to the establishment.

Posted by: Jesse Walker at January 29, 2003 08:32 AM

Matt, I think at this point the term "neo-con" has become basically meaningless, tho it had some meaning during the Reagan years to identify people like Bennett, Kristol, and other sectarian converts. Now, guys like Meyerson & Chris Matthews use the term to validate their conception of conservatives as being out there on the fringe of eggheaddom. Makes it that much easier to scare people by presenting the likes of Pat Buchanan as representing real Americans. Go figure. As Johah Goldberg has written ad nauseum, the neos and traditional conservative have merged in reality, and its the Buchananites who represent the distinct, fringe element within conservative/Republican circles.

Posted by: Lloyd at January 29, 2003 02:23 PM

I don't think anyone has ever suggested that the neos are "fringe" ... if anything, they get knocked by more populist right-wingers for being too close to the establishment.

Posted by: Jesse Walker at January 29, 2003 03:45 PM

Though I doubt this was Meyerson's intention, the rhetoricians of the hard left often substitute the pithy "neocon" for the altogether more awkward phrase: "greedy, Palestinian murdering, World Bank controlling Jews". "Neocon" gets the point across well enough to the faithful, without offending delicate liberal sensibilities. It's a shame to see the euphemism gaining currency among mainstream liberal journalists like Olney and Meyerson.

Posted by: Larry Kite at January 30, 2003 12:51 PM

Thanks, I was wondering what a neocon was. Thought it might stand for "neocolonialist" so now I see its an abbreviation for neo-neocolonialist which advocates use of advanced weaponry to kill poor people and hike the price of oil at the same time.

Posted by: Sean Reed at August 25, 2003 05:22 PM
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