category: politics

Neo-conservatives…. So what?

Now that re-entering Iraq is back in the public debate, the list of those who led us into Iraq a decade ago reemerges, and the term ‘neo-conservative’ is everywhere. Inevitably (and lamentably), the word ‘Jewish’ sometimes follows, and grumbling about Israel allegedly propped up at America’s expense. Bill Kristol, Irving Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Norman Podhoretz, John Podhoretz, Richard Perle, Judith Miller, and Douglas Feith, are a few of the names one hears. Researching who is and isn’t Jewish apparently keeps some folks up at night, so much so that you’ll find page upon page online looking to confirm if certain neoconservatives, such as Paul Bremer, are Jewish.

As a non-interventionist whose foreign policy is more aligned with Rand than Rubio, I am not much of a neo-conservative (though I formerly was). This article is not a defense of their views. It is a defense against an unfair smear, for, as I read this Huffington Post article, smirking over the chief neo-conservatives, most on the list were Jewish. I began to wonder, once again, at what point the line crosses from healthy disagreement into provoking anti-Semitism.

So let’s tackle this uncomfortable issue once and for all.

Yes, many of the chief neo-conservatives are Jewish. (And kudos to you, keyboard warrior, for putting two and two together! With names like “Wolfowitz,” those crafty Jews are really trying to hide their background!)

Many, however, are also Christian. Perhaps I missed it but George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, Liz Cheney, John Bolton … the list goes on and on… don’t exactly attend a synagogue.

Republican Jews have often felt an understandable trepidation when discussing foreign policy and, assuming they are of that foreign policy mindset, advocating interventionism in the Middle East. The unfair attack that they are more loyal to Israel than to the U.S. is never far behind.

Are Republican Jews often hawkish on foreign policy? Sure. But… so what? There are countless Jews who are of the opposing foreign policy view — in fact, some of Israel’s staunchest critics are Jewish themselves. If neo-conservative views were purely fueled by some nefarious, Jewish fifth-column tendency (and if you think so, please step away from your copy of “The Protocols” and reevaluate life), why is it so many Jews don’t share those same views? Is the ‘manipulating world affairs’ gene only carried by certain Jews? Perhaps an anti-Semite can explain this chink in their argumentative armor.

Are neo-conservatives’ foreign policy views perhaps fueled in part by their affinity and concern for Israel? Maybe — that would actually be quite normal. (If there were a Catholic nation, an ancestral homeland of such for thousands of years, I’d probably feel an affinity, too!) But again… so what? Can’t an ethnic or religious group in America feel a special bond towards a nation, without such affecting their loyalty to America? Of course. Are the two mutually exclusive and consciously so? Of course not.

As a Cuban-American, the child of exiles, the community often lobbied for the Cuban embargo. It did not mean we were putting American interests behind those of Cuba. Yet we, too, were accused of caring more for Cuba than we did for American interests. And, like Jews, we, too, were accused of wielding powerful influence on politicians. Hogwash. Attacking the messengers’ religious or ethnic identity rather than the message itself is not exposing the messenger’s ‘hidden motives’ in some gotcha moment – rather, it is exposing the weakness of your own arguments and your lack of intellectual rigor.

So, while I don’t always agree with my neo-conservative friends on the Right, it is important to stay vigilant against what is an ugly and unfair smear. Use the neo-conservative term but use it accurately. As Jonah Goldberg once wrote, “neo-conservative” is often code for “Jew.” He’s right. Don’t be that guy. Don’t be that idiot.

Neo-conservatives are simply neo-conservatives. They are not Jewish-conservatives, they are not Israel-firster-conservatives, they are not faux-conservatives, they are not treacherous conservatives. They are conservatives with a certain view on foreign policy, and they are conservatives of a variety of faiths, colors, creeds, and ethnicities.

Thus I would advise all to address the muttering about neo-conservatives’ ‘Jewishness’ with a hearty: “So what?”

Some are Jewish! “Yeah, so what?”

Some care about Israel in addition to caring about America! “Yeah, so what?”

Andy Warhol once famously wrote:

“Sometimes people let the same problem make them miserable for years when they could just say, ‘So what.’ I don’t know how I made it through all the years before I learned how to do that trick. It took a long time for me to learn it, but once you do, you never forget.”

Yes, neo-conservatives are sometimes Jewish.

(Kick it on the turntables, Andy! Say it with me, all!)

So [expletive] what?”



One thought on “Neo-conservatives…. So what?

  1. Great article, thanks. You write that “They are conservatives with a certain view on foreign policy, and they are conservatives of a variety of faiths, colors, creeds, and ethnicities.”

    I’d like to just clarify what neo-conservatives consider themselves. Irving Kristol calls them “liberals mugged by reality.”

    The neo-conservatives started as leftists in the 60’s. As Norman Podhoretz explained, a group of leftists and radicals were troubled by what they perceived as leftist antisemitism. Most of these people were indeed Jewish. This antisemitism made no sense to them – liberals are supposed to be open-minded people, and yet so many of them seem to hate Jews and Israel. Podhoretz and co. saw other problems, too, with the leftist agenda – it was increasingly becoming anti-American and anti-democratic, in some cases pro-Soviet. As they wrote about these problems, the reactions by their liberal intellectual friends became so heated and hostile, that they began to question whether the intellectual left were truly liberal and open-minded at all.

    Over time, Podhoretz and co concluded that the right wing – conservatives – were actually more liberal and open-minded than the so-called liberal progressives. And so neo-conservatism was born.

    Neo-conservatism can be characterized by this inherent liberalism – desire for open and honest intellectual debate, Most neo-cons believe that democracy is the best form of government, and that America should do its utmost to foster democracy all over the world. They are pro-Israel not just because so many neo-cons are Jewish, but because Israel’s existence and prosperity proves how well a thriving democracy serves its citizens.

    Most of the second generation of neo-cons (some of whom you name above) were raised on the intellectual writings of Podhoretz, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Father Richard John Neuhaus, Charles Murray, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Elliott Abrams, and other ex-liberals who made the intellectual journey to neo-conservatism. They are indeed much like traditional conservatives (or, as Norman Podhoretz would put it, “paleo-conservatives”). However neoconservative perspectives are usually more emphatic on classical liberalism – ideas that all people should be treated equally, American exceptionalism, the right of all people to live under democracy, and fiercely honest and intellectual debate.

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