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Looking for Mr. Goodbar

August 25, 2011

The behavior of our Neoconservative friends at Roger Ailes’ Fox News, the Weekly Standard, Commentary, National Review and AEI is reminiscent of the 1977 motion picture, “Looking for Mr. Goodbar.” The heroine, Diane Keating, cruises bars looking for sexual excitement much like Bill Kristol and his band of neoconservative wonks are cruising for a presidential candidate.

At first, it seemed that Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana would be the neco-conservative savior, and then the torch was passed to former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. When Pawlenty’s campaign tanked, our boys then turned to Paul Ryan who declined the honor. Now Marco Rubio is the center of Neocon attraction.

There is a common thread that runs through each of these candidates: no fear of war.

Marco Rubio appeared before a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to announce his support for the NATO invasion of Iraq, America’s third invasion of a Muslim country. What was curious was the argument that Sen. Rubio gave on that occasion. He said that the Declaration of Independence affirms that all men are endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights, and when a foreign government denies those rights and threatens its citizens with death, the United States should act to keep that from happening.

This week, MSNBC political commentator, former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell stated on “Morning Joe” that America should always act to stop genocide citing two NATO invasions: Kaddafi’s Iraq under President Obama and Kosovo under President Clinton.

That, of course, is a theme right out of a 1960s television series—“have gun, will travel.”

Sen. Rubio has lots of good points, and is an attractive face in a crowd of largely unattractive Republican officeholders. But, we should be mindful of signs that he appears to have been co-opted this early in his career by the War Faction within the Republican Party.

Beginning in the second Reagan Administration from the neoconservative enclave being creating at the American Enterprise Institute by the late Irving Kristol, neoconservatives positioned themselves to obtain political appointments from the Reagan White House. Frustrated by a Democratic Party moving quickly to the left impelled by the anti-Vietnam war movement and culminating in the nomination of Sen. George McGovern, Kristol and other neoconservatives defected to the Republican Party. A genius at manipulation, throughout the 1970s Kristol carefully placed his men in powerful positions at non-profit foundations, and in think tanks like AEI. By Reagan’s second term, his men controlled the Bradley Foundation, something called Institute of Education Affairs, and the Richardson Foundation. In the first Reagan Administration he added conquest of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Neoconservatives love power.

Unfortunately, they don’t fear it. On or before George Bush was elected president, the libido of Irving Kristol’s neoconservatives metastasized into what I call a “second growth.”

The first neoconservative “growth” was very traditional, sound on Economics and its analysis of what Kristol called a “New Class.” There was little to be uneasy about neo-conservatives during that early period of growth, except for their past affiliation with the left and their belief that the power of the state was “good.”

Those of us who did not grow up on the left wing of American life feared the coercive power of the state—“the power to tax is the power to destroy”—didn’t like Democratic welfare programs even before they proved dangerous to civic morality and were attracted to politicians like Bob Taft, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan.

Kristol’s neoconservative didn’t like Taft, thought Goldwater was a joke, and never supported Reagan when he ran for president before his election in 1980 and thus were on the fringe of things when Reagan won. If there was anything that Irving Kristol was not, he was not a “quitter.” By 1984 his maneuvering had charmed the White House “wise” guys and the second term of Ronal Reagan’s administration loaded up with neoconservatives.

Then something very bad happened that even Irving Kristol warned against.
The most significant change in America, he said, was the transition of democracy from a political philosophy to a religious belief.

It’s pretty easy—as Marco Rubio demonstrated—to cite the ringing words of first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence much like Christian’s recite the Apostle’s Creed or the Lord’s Prayer. But the hard work of understanding what really the American political tradition is lies in study of the Old Testament’s covenant of Yahweh with the Hebrew clans, the break with mythic order by the Greek philosophers, the Gospel movement, the development of Roman law and the English political tradition. That takes long study and more than the few minutes needed to absorb the religious connotations carried in the words of Thomas Jefferson.

What caused otherwise rational and very bright and educated political minds that are found in neoconservative circles to adopt an irrational American democratic religion and to advocate using the American armed forces to create a New World Order of democratic regimes?

Though the term “realism” used in international relations theory sometimes has bad connotations as “immoral” and insensitive to the plight of millions of people throughout the world whose freedoms and lives are abused by autocrats, there is a point at which a nation’s resources can be exhausted in a frenzy of imperial warfare. At that point a “realistic” foreign policy is called for.

After a decade of war and deficit spending in Iraq and Afghanistan and now an invasion of Libya, the United States is broke. Yet that democratic religion that worried the neoconservative godfather, Irving Kristol, continues to stir the minds and souls of young adults like Bill Kristol, Douglas Feith, Michael Gerson and an otherwise appealing young Senator from Florida, Marco Rubio.

Where does that kind of thinking come from? And what are its consequences?

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