February 23, 2007


Does Bush Know What Neocon Means?: That isn't a rhetorical question. (Timothy Noah, Feb. 23, 2007, Slate)

[C]ockburn continues:

Notwithstanding this episode, Bush 43 still sometimes drew on his father's wide knowledge of the world. Though he refused to read newspapers, he was aware of criticism that his administration had been excessively beholden to a particular clique, and wanted to know more about them. One day during that holiday, according to friends of the family, 43 asked his father, "What's a neocon?"

"Do you want names, or a description?" answered 41.


"Well," said the former president of the United States, "I'll give it to you in one word: Israel."

Let's set aside the question of whether it's fair to describe neocons as caring only about Israel. (My own view is that it would have been unfair, and possibly anti-Semitic, 20 years ago, but that the neocon agenda has since dwindled to such an extent that by now it's an acceptable shorthand, if slightly risqué.) Instead, let's focus on the anecdote's suggestion that as recently as two and a half years ago, the president of the United States didn't know what neocon meant.

Can this possibly be true?

Who, other than the neocons themselves and the enemies who obsess over them, cares what they think? In 2000 John McCain was the official candidate of the neocons and W whipped him. What more does he need to know?

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 23, 2007 10:23 PM

Good for him! I've never seen this word very precisely defined -- a sure sign that it's a bogeyman. I think it was the New York Times that recently said William F. Buckley was one.

I've seen this word used in reference to one or more of the following groups, occasionally by the same people:

1.) Conservative social scientists
2.) Jewish conservatives
3.) Jewish ex-leftists
4.) Individuals who have been conservatives their entire lives
5.) Democratic members of the House of Representatives
6.) Military hawks who are Jewish and support Israel
7.) What few social conservatives exist in the universities
8.) Myself (by a liberal aunt who helped run the computer system at the Brookings Institution)

Posted by: Matt Murphy at February 23, 2007 11:49 PM

It's also frequently used to refer to:

1.) Conservatives who hesitatingly believe in the free market but think it worsens certain social problems

2.) Free-market enthusiasts

Posted by: Matt Murphy at February 23, 2007 11:52 PM

Whereas the conversation reported between Bushs 41 and 43 probably never took place it would be a good question. The word is used in the blogsphere as a perjorative for Republicans. It's true meaning is nothing more than new conservative. Reagan for instance once was a Dem then became a republican. Even this is not truly descriptive as many old school Dems were conservative, just not Republican. What about Hillary who use to be in her college Republican club? Would she not be a Neo-lib? Or just an opportunist?

Posted by: manapp99 at February 24, 2007 9:05 AM

Once the Rolling Stones wrote a song about neocons, true clarity was gone for good.

I believe the word was first used to describe Irving Kristol. I think the original meaning was applied to Jews who were moving away from the Leftish nonsense of the Democratic party after 1968. And it was not primarily derived from foreign policy views, but criticism of the liberal social agenda.

Posted by: jim hamlen at February 24, 2007 9:35 AM

The best definition is those generally Jewish intellectuals who moved from Left to Right in the 60s/70s over two issues in particular -- Israel and affirmative action -- and many of their kids have followed in their footsteps.

They're a bad fit for the GOP because they're generally secular (thus Marvin Olasky's famous jibe at the Zeus-worshippers), though Bill Kristol, Francis Fukuyama and Charles Krauthammer recognized the problem after W beat McCain and started talking up things like cloning/bioengineering, which has sufficient overtones of Nazism to attract fellow neocons.

Posted by: oj at February 24, 2007 10:51 AM