02 January 2009

Neocon Resolutions?

The new American Conservative has arrived in my mailbox, carrying a cover story speculating on the prospects of neoconservatives in the Obama years. Jacob Heilbrunn observes that "the neocons show few signs of going away," but warns that "it would probably be ... mistaken to deny that something has changed." A number of prominent neocons have recanted their foreign policy, in part at least, and Heilbrunn sees this as a sign of a schism within the movement. The dispute, he asserts, is over whether to remain loyal to the Republican party.

Heilbrunn recognizes that many neocons came from the Democratic party. They are the "Scoop Jackson" Democrats, named for the late hawkish Senator from Washington state. That element now supposedly looks to Secretary of State-designate Clinton as their hope for influence in the Obama administration. They recall that the former First Lady is a big supporter of globalization and "humanitarian intervention" along the lines of Clinton-era actions in old Yugoslavia. These erstwhile Democrats gave up on their old party during the Carter years, but some were impressed by the Clintons and see the Mrs. as a likely ally.

The other group apparently intend to be die-hard Republicans. They're infatuated with Governor Palin (as, it must be noted, is American Conservative founder Pat Buchanan), whom they perceive, in Heilbrunn's paraphrase, as "someone of unalloyed virtue who incarnates the Victorian values." By contrast, those neocons leaning toward the Democrats see Palin as "a recipe for electoral disaster" and have presumably concluded that electoral trends in general favor the Democracy.

I'd expect most neocons to declare their loyalty to Obama and Clinton eventually. My hunch is that they're more ideological than partisan, and that they trust their ability to influence anyone in power. While neocons may have tried to shape partisan divisions along foreign-policy lines during the W. years, it didn't take. Domestic policy differences probably aren't as important to them, even though the earliest neocons were liberals "mugged by reality" in the form of failed "Great Society" programs. Neocons espouse "freedom" as a universal principle, but their notion of freedom is probably broad enough to encompass both Republican and Democratic definitions of the term. To the extent that they care about economics, they're probably committed to globalization, and that idea crosses party lines. After all, those who support globalization most vehemently are often called "neoliberals," not neoconservatives. But my final analysis is probably pretty simple. Neocons strike me as self-appointed advisers to the powerful rather than politicians scrambling for votes themselves. It's probably a "slam dunk" to assume that they'll gravitate toward whoever has the power, which now means Democrats. The real question of interest is whether they'll cohere around Clinton in some sort of opposition to Obama, or whether they'll focus their strongest efforts on turning Obama himself. I have a bad feeling that that wouldn't be as hard as some people might think.

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