When Tea Partiers began declaring that they wanted to “take their country back,” liberals were quick to tell us what this really meant: Racism. Never mind all that talk about big government and the debt — what Tea Partiers really wanted, the left assured us, was to “take their country back” from a black president.
Is it true that Tea Partiers are motivated by racism? A very small minority might be. But liberals will continue to insist all of them must be — as it has always been easier for the left to marginalize conservatives through smear tactics than to confront their arguments directly.
A similar tactic has become commonplace on the right. Some conservatives denounce the mere use of the term “neoconservative” as nothing more than code for “Jewish.” But are those who criticize neoconservatives really just anti-Semites? It would be dishonest to deny that some are. But it is equally dishonest to say that all or even most are. The notion that any criticism of neoconservatism amounts to anti-Semitism is about as intellectually serious as the notion that all Tea Partiers are “racist.” Yet too many conservatives still find it necessary to sink to the same lows as the left — and for the same cowardly reasons.
To dismiss critics of neoconservatism as bigots is to say that somehow the term “neoconservatism” does not represent a specific set of ideas, subject to the same praise or scorn as any other set of ideas. And it’s a set of ideas that needs to be discussed.
The day after President Obama announced his 2010 Afghanistan troop increases, New York Post columnist and prominent second-generation neoconservative John Podhoretz outlined Obama’s essentially Bush-style foreign policy in a piece titled “Barack the Neocon”:
“Last night, President Obama did something amazing. He delivered — dare I say it? — a rather neoconservative speech, in the sense that neoconservatism has argued for aggressive American involvement in the world … he was echoing ideas developed in neoconservative journals over decades of argument about how the United States can best project its power for its own sake and for the sake of the betterment of the world …”
Podhoretz then noted the similarities between Obama’s foreign policy and Bush’s:
“And when he said that ‘we must project a vision of … the limitless possibility of our time,’ Barack Obama was offering a more secular version of George W. Bush’s assertion that liberty is not something unique to the American constitution, but is ‘God’s gift to humanity.’”
In a March editorial, The Washington Times explained Obama’s neocon approach in Libya:
“Mr. Obama’s motive [in Libya] — trying to dislodge an authoritarian regime in the name of the Libyan people — are solidly within the neoconservative framework … the fundamental belief in universal human liberty is at the root of the classic neocon foreign policy approach. When the White House talks about supporting the ‘legitimate aspirations of the Libyan people,’ the word ‘Libyan’ could be replaced with ‘Iraqi’ and we’d be right back in 2002.”
Both Podhoretz and The Washington Times correctly note that Obama’s foreign policy and Bush’s are almost identical. But this isn’t a conservative foreign policy — it’s a utopian one. It’s more in line with John Lennon’s “Imagine” than with George Washington’s farewell address. Ronald Reagan might have seen America as an exemplary “shining city on a hill,” but he did not believe the United States should rezone the entire globe to fit within our city limits.
In countless ways, the “neo” essentially negates the “conservative.” But such utopianism is exactly what Bush promoted, and in supporting their president, many Republicans convinced themselves to believe in it, too.
The problem now is that many conservatives can’t stop believing in it.
This brings us to why so many conservatives really don’t want to discuss “neoconservatism” — because so many of them, whether consciously or simply by default, have essentially become de facto neoconservatives. Their traditional instinct of limits and prudence in domestic affairs coexists with a progressive philosophy in foreign affairs — and they still stubbornly insist this glaring contradiction represents conservatism proper.
Irving Kristol, considered by many to be the “godfather” of neoconservatism, once admitted that the entire purpose of his movement was to recast the right in the neocon mold, writing in 2003: “One can say that the historical task and political purpose of neoconservatism would seem to be this: to convert the Republican party, and American conservatism in general, against their respective wills …”
Is this not exactly what happened to conservatism under Bush and still plagues much of the right today?
Thankfully, traditional conservatism is beginning to reassert itself. Columnist Peggy Noonan noticed this after the second 2012 Republican presidential debate in June:
“Sometimes parties step away from themselves, stop being what they are. The Democrats are doing it now, in their soggy interventionism in Libya. So it’s especially good to see the Republicans start to return to themselves, to their essential nature as a party, which was invented to be genially sober… optimistic but not unrealistic… and accepting that life has limits and it’s not unpatriotic to say so.”
Many on the right fear that Noonan is on to something: The Republican Party is returning to its traditionally conservative form.
There is no excuse for racism. There is also no excuse for liberals who use this serious charge against the Tea Party to avoid having a debate about the unsustainability of modern government.
Likewise, there is no excuse for anti-Semitism — just as there is no excuse for neoconservatives and their sympathizers who use this serious charge to avoid debating whether their progressive philosophy should continue to define so much of the American conservative movement.
Jack Hunter writes at the “Paulitical Ticker,” where he is the official Ron Paul 2012 campaign blogger.