You need a program to keep your ‘conservatives’ straight

And in his recent column that Cindi ran in The State today, Ross Douthat provides such a program.



And that’s a handy thing, because people bandy these words about rather carelessly. For instance, nowadays some liberals call anyone on the right a “neocon,” I suppose because they’ve decided that “neocon” means “somebody I don’t like.” But it’s as intellectually unsound as Trump defenders who actually seem to think that everyone who criticizes their boy is a “liberal.”

Anyway, here’s the relevant part of the Douthat column. This material will be on the six-weeks test:

Foreign policy conservatives can be grouped into four broad categories. The first group, the genuine paleocons, are the oldest and least influential: Their lineage goes back to the antiwar conservatism of the 1930s, and to postwar Republicans who regarded our Cold War buildup as a big mistake.

John Bolton

John Bolton

The last paleocon to play a crucial role in U.S. politics was the Ohio Republican Robert Taft, who opposed NATO and became a critic of the Korean War. Pat Buchanan tried to revive paleoconservatism in the 1990s; The American Conservative magazine and the Cato Institute carry the torch in intellectual debates. But the tendency’s only politically significant heir right now is Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.

Except that even Paul, wary of the label, would probably describe himself instead as a realist, linking himself to the tradition of Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and George H. W. Bush — internationalist, stability-oriented, committed to the Pax Americana but skeptical of grand crusades, and open to working out cynical arrangements rather than pushing American power to its limit.

This cynicism explains why realists have found their chief rivals among the neoconservatives, a group best defined as liberal anti-Communists who moved right in the 1970s as the Democratic Party moved left, becoming more hawkish and unilateralist but retaining a basic view that American power should be used for moral purpose, to spread American ideals.

Thus neoconservatives despised the Nixon White House’s realpolitik; they cheered Ronald Reagan’s anti-Communism; they chafed under George H.W. Bush’s realism and backed humanitarian interventions under Democratic presidents; and most famously they regarded the Iraq War as a chance to democratize the Middle East. And then when that war went badly, they became the natural scapegoats …

… Even though some of the most disastrous Iraq decisions were made by members of the fourth conservative faction, the pure hawks, the group to which John Bolton emphatically belongs. The hawks share the neocons’ aggressiveness and the realists’ wariness of nation building; they also have a touch of paleoconservatism, embracing “America First” without its non-interventionist implications….

Here’s hoping the NYT forgives me that long quote; I think it fits within the context of Fair Use.

I just thought Douthat set out the four types fairly clearly and helpfully. He did so in a column about John Bolton headlined “A Hawk Takes Flight.” I urge you to go read the whole thing, and to subscribe to The New York Times, to keep them off my back about that long quote…

33 thoughts on “You need a program to keep your ‘conservatives’ straight

  1. Harry Harris

    I just wish sometimes that “conservatives” would be clear about what they want to conserve. It might then reveal some things their opponents and they agree on. It might also show the irrelevance of some of their positions to their goals. It would almost certainly expose the folly of the over-use of labels.

  2. Doug Ross

    When I use the term “neocon” it is specifically about those who are enamored with using America’s military as a hammer to bludgeon the rest of the world into submission to our belief system. Those who believe missiles are more important than diplomacy or (GASP!) just letting other countries address their own internal issues that have existed for centuries.

    1. David L Carlton

      In fact, this is what Douthat is *refuting.* What’s striking about the current right policy universe is the degree to which neoconservatives make up the hard core of the Never Trumpers. Think Max Boot, or Jennifer Rubin, or David Frum, or Bill Kristol. Yes, they can be tempted to think that wars can make the world better (and, really, as horrific as World War II was, it actually *did* lead to the creation of a stable, prosperous world–one that Trump seems determined to trash for no better reason than that it’s a world in which Donald Trump doesn’t always get his own way), and this caused them to aid and abet the disaster of Iraq. But they seem to have learned a thing or two from that debacle; Bolton has learned nothing.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        You’re right to say, “Yes, they can be tempted to think that wars can make the world better.” Neocons are not allergic to using that form of American power.

        But let me say it again, they believe in using ALL forms of American influence to further our nation’s highest ideals. It’s just that they (or should I say “we”) don’t exclude military force, when relevant, the way others do…

        1. Mr. Smith

          I’m throwing a “straw man” flag on this play.

          It’ just not true that most liberals or Democrats exclude military action from consideration. When it appears necessary and efficacious, they’re ready to embrace it. It’s just that they don’t believe in applying military force as liberally as you and other neo-cons do.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Give me some examples, post-Vietnam, of Democratic willingness to use force. Sure, when the tidal wave is washing over them, they’ll go along (such as in 1991, 2001 and 2003). But they’re not going to be the ones to bring it up — which is fine. We need voices of restraint. It’s just better if they’re not predictable.

            One reason the neocons, and I, were willing to vote for Hillary went beyond the simple fact that she was the only alternative to the big doofus. She was also the closest thing to a neocon in the field after Graham dropped out. If the need to use force arose, we were convinced she would act — she would not let anyone cross “red lines” that she herself drew.

            Traditionally, liberals (Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy) had been willing to use all of the nation’s strength and leverage in the service of liberal values in the world. Then, after Vietnam, people started thinking it was “liberal” to act like the isolationist conservatives of the 1930s.

            Having faith that our country, if it sets its mind to bring all its resources to bear, can accomplish worthwhile things in the world is a liberal belief, not the sort of thing conservatives go in for at all.

            It’s ironic the way things changed within my lifetime.

            Anyway, that’s how we got neocons — liberals who felt deserted by the liberal party…

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Oops, I’ve already used the same metaphor twice this morning. To Mr. Smith, I said, “when the tidal wave is washing over them.”

              In response to bud, I referred to the GOP as a party “succumbing to the tsunami of cowardice that has engulfed it.”

              Y’all are definitely not in danger today of being drowned in a high tide of creativity.

              Sorry… That’s nearly as bad as a “straw man” violation, in my book…

            2. Mr. Smith

              First of all, you do recall that a Democrat was not in the White House in 1991, 2001 or 2003. And that it’s presidents who launch wars. So there’s that.

              But as for Democratic presidents, both Clinton and Obama launched military actions. Though those actions apparently didn’t measure up to your tastes in terms of bigness.

              There’s really no point in engaging on this, though, because you’re pulling a “Doug” by asking a question you’re not really serious about having answered, since no answer would ever satisfy you. The fact that some don’t go as far as you in embracing military action means that, in your view, they “exclude” the military from a range of responses. Simply not true.

            3. bud

              There was Kosovo under Clinton and Obama put additional troops in Afghanistan and escalated drone attacks.

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        By the way, those people you name — Max Boot, or Jennifer Rubin, or David Frum, or Bill Kristol — tend to be among the closest to viewing Trump exactly the way I do. I get them, and if they knew me, they’d get me.

        I look at the simmering fury over on the left — which seems to have overwhelmed Tim Kelly’s self-control and gotten him fired — and I can’t identify with the way they, the “Resistance” types on the left, look at Trump and our current national predicament. The NeverTrumpers on the “right” see it the way I do, and express it the way I do.

        People on the left seem to think the answer to Trump is to lurch farther leftward (the way the DeMints on the right insisted after 2008 that the GOP’s problem was not being extreme enough), even to the extent of getting behind a Bernie Sanders or an Elizabeth Warren.

        No. The way to go is to try to appeal to the #NeverTrumpers, as well as the more rational Democrats. That’s the sensible way to go, if you want to win and govern the country. That’s something Hillary Clinton once understood, before she started lurching leftward, rejecting TPP and such…

        1. bud

          Brad I get a kick out of how you so easily slam Sanders and Warren who were right about the banking catastrophe, Iraq and other issues yet suffer under some delusion that Bill Kristin still has credibility after his Iraq war cheerleading.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            I view the world through a lot of different factors. For me, it’s not just about, “Where did they stand on X issue?”

            Of course, on your X issue, I was with them.

            This country desperately needs leadership that can have legitimacy across the political spectrum. We no more need a Bernie Sanders in charge than we do a Pat Buchanan…

            1. bud

              In other words it’s pretty much about style points. Besides, who in the world really thinks any president can “have legitimacy across the political spectrum”. Clinton didn’t. Obama didn’t. W did for a short time after 9-11 and see where that got us. Many of the greatest domestic accomplishments of the 60s happened without a great political consensus. LBJ had to fight for a majority to get the civil rights act passed. The one event that pretty much did have a consensus, at least at first, was Vietnam. And of course we know how that turned out.

              My view of what has happened to America that created the environment for Trump is this false equivalency narrative that seems to permeate the so-called NeverTrump movement. Which by the way is pretty small. Right now 90% of Republicans give Trump a positive approval. That has allowed the Republican party to metastasize into this monster by giving the crazy right cover. By demeaning good, decent and smart people like Sanders and Warren the kooks like Trump and others (Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell) in the GOP are given free reign to run wild. To me people like Bill Kristol are part of the problem, not the solution. A far better strategy is to call out the Republican party for what it really is and stop this nonsensical narrative that the REAL Republican party can be salvaged. The REAL Republican party is now the party of Trump. Period. The only viable alternative is the party of Sanders and Warren.

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                The Democratic Party is not the party of Sanders and Warren. Thank God. At least, not yet. There’s still a chance for that party to save itself.

                The Republican Party may be too far gone, succumbing to the tsunami of cowardice that has engulfed it since 2016….

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  The Democratic Party needs to look to people like Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania and our own James Smith — people who can get the votes of those of us in the middle. There lies the future, if the party’s to have a future. Leave the old counterculture kooks ranting into their borscht. No one but their committed comrades will listen…

                2. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Oops, I’ve already used the same metaphor twice this morning. To Mr. Smith, I said, “when the tidal wave is washing over them.”

                  In response to bud, I referred to the GOP as a party “succumbing to the tsunami of cowardice that has engulfed it.”

                  Y’all are definitely not in danger today of being drowned in a high tide of creativity.


              2. Brad Warthen Post author

                There were so many things to object to in bud’s earlier comment that I only got to one or two of them. Here’s another…

                In other words it’s pretty much about style points. Besides, who in the world really thinks any president can “have legitimacy across the political spectrum”.

                You actually think that having legitimacy beyond a narrow set of ideologues is about “style points?” If so, I don’t think you know what substance is.

                And by the way, Clinton DID have legitimacy across the spectrum, until he threw it away. He worked with the GOP to get a number of fairly sizable things done. He was a Third Way Democrat, which is what all Democrats should be. (And to the extent Hillary had legitimacy, it arose from having some of that aura still upon her.) Only, they really need to be that. Phil Noble has let on to be that kind of Dem, and now he’s running as an ideological purist. What Democrats need is the real deal, someone everybody can respect…

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  That said, Clinton’s election in 1992 was the beginning of the modern phenomenon of the yahoos in each party refusing to give a president of the opposite party a chance. Before he was even inaugurated, I saw bumper stickers that said, “Don’t Blame Me; I Voted Republican.” We were to see more of that with W., even more with with Obama. If Hillary had won, it would have been the worst yet, because nowadays the yahoos aren’t just on the fringes.

                  Trump, of course, has disturbed the pattern, because he is neither a Democrat nor a Republican — anyone in politics with a brain and a conscience is appalled to see him president…

          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            And what do you mean, “right about the banking catastrophe?” In what way they were right? Surely you’re not referring to their usual resentful, class-conscious “don’t trust businesspeople” and “the system is rigged by millionayuhs” paranoia?

            1. bud

              Brad, you really need a history lesson. Elizabeth Warren was absolutely right about the coming banking collapse back in the early 2000s. Not sure what is so hard to see about that.

        2. Harry Harris

          I’ll take the positions of even the less “rational” Democrats that are based on facts and experience over the doctrinaire designs of those who insist that cutting income taxes to the point of extreme deficits will wipe out those deficits and make everyone prosperous. Fool me once (Ronald Reagan), fool me twice (George W Bush), then promise me the same stuff (Ryan/Trump) clothed in a military and anti-immigrant wrapper.

  3. bud

    Regarded the Iraq war as a chance to democratize the Middle East????????? Really? I suppose Hitler saw his invasion of Poland as a chance to bring enlightenment to the misguided people of that backwards nation. We are never going to move forward as a country until we confront honestly the harsh truth of the Iraq war. As long as we spin this tapestry of utter nonsense we risk repeating the grotesque mistakes of that tawdry affair. This is the real danger of allowing a misguided mission to redeem the reputation of the vile administration of George W Bush. Let’s stop with the whitewashing of this miserable episode in American history. And let’s stop listening to nonsensical proclamations by blowhard bloviators like Douthat.

  4. bud

    Hmm, maybe Brad has a point about Elizabeth Warren being kind of a kook. From Wiki:

    “On September 18, 2017 Warren voted for a bill that authorized $700 billion in defense funds. This included $640 billion for the Pentagon and an additional $60 billion for military operations in countries such as Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. This bill increased military spending by $80 billion, which far surpassed the increase requested by President Trump ($54 billion). There were 8 no votes (against 89 yes votes) and three abstentions, but Warren was not one of them.”

    1. Doug Ross

      Follow the money… it’s likely a big chunk of those defense funds end up going to companies in Massachusetts. When Senators are not term limited they make most of their decisions based on how they impact their re-election.

  5. Harry Harris

    Labels make it so easy to ignore specifics; that’s one more good reason to avoid using them so much. It a so-called liberal acts or votes in an unexpected way, they might just be acting as themselves and showing depth of understanding. Sometimes I think labels are conveniences for those who don’t want to understand the details, and they’ve certainly become tools for manipulating uninformed folks. Some wear them as a badge; some use them as a bludgeon.

Comments are closed.