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The Neoconservative Persuasion: What it was, and what it is.
The Weekly Standard ^ | August 25, 2003 | Irving Kristol

Posted on 08/14/2003 9:38:27 PM PDT by quidnunc

"[President Bush is] an engaging person, but I think for some reason he's been captured by the neoconservatives around him." – Howard Dean, U.S. News & World Report, August 11, 2003

What exactly is neoconservatism? Journalists, and now even presidential candidates, speak with an enviable confidence on who or what is "neoconservative," and seem to assume the meaning is fully revealed in the name. Those of us who are designated as "neocons" are amused, flattered, or dismissive, depending on the context. It is reasonable to wonder: Is there any "there" there?

Even I, frequently referred to as the "godfather" of all those neocons, have had my moments of wonderment. A few years ago I said (and, alas, wrote) that neoconservatism had had its own distinctive qualities in its early years, but by now had been absorbed into the mainstream of American conservatism. I was wrong, and the reason I was wrong is that, ever since its origin among disillusioned liberal intellectuals in the 1970s, what we call neoconservatism has been one of those intellectual undercurrents that surface only intermittently. It is not a "movement," as the conspiratorial critics would have it. Neoconservatism is what the late historian of Jacksonian America, Marvin Meyers, called a "persuasion," one that manifests itself over time, but erratically, and one whose meaning we clearly glimpse only in retrospect.

Viewed in this way, 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, into a new kind of conservative politics suitable to governing a modern democracy. That this new conservative politics is distinctly American is beyond doubt. There is nothing like neoconservatism in Europe, and most European conservatives are highly skeptical of its legitimacy. The fact that conservatism in the United States is so much healthier than in Europe, so much more politically effective, surely has something to do with the existence of neoconservatism. But Europeans, who think it absurd to look to the United States for lessons in political innovation, resolutely refuse to consider this possibility.

Neoconservatism is the first variant of American conservatism in the past century that is in the "American grain." It is hopeful, not lugubrious; forward-looking, not nostalgic; and its general tone is cheerful, not grim or dyspeptic. Its 20th-century heroes tend to be TR, FDR, and Ronald Reagan. Such Republican and conservative worthies as Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower, and Barry Goldwater are politely overlooked. Of course, those worthies are in no way overlooked by a large, probably the largest, segment of the Republican party, with the result that most Republican politicians know nothing and could not care less about neoconservatism. Nevertheless, they cannot be blind to the fact that neoconservative policies, reaching out beyond the traditional political and financial base, have helped make the very idea of political conservatism more acceptable to a majority of American voters. Nor has it passed official notice that it is the neoconservative public policies, not the traditional Republican ones, that result in popular Republican presidencies.

One of these policies, most visible and controversial, is cutting tax rates in order to stimulate steady economic growth. This policy was not invented by neocons, and it was not the particularities of tax cuts that interested them, but rather the steady focus on economic growth. Neocons are familiar with intellectual history and aware that it is only in the last two centuries that democracy has become a respectable option among political thinkers. In earlier times, democracy meant an inherently turbulent political regime, with the "have-nots" and the "haves" engaged in a perpetual and utterly destructive class struggle. It was only the prospect of economic growth in which everyone prospered, if not equally or simultaneously, that gave modern democracies their legitimacy and durability.

-snip-

(Excerpt) Read more at weeklystandard.com ...


TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Extended News
KEYWORDS: irvingkristol; liberalagenda; neocon; neocons; neoconservative
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Suddenly, after two decades during which "imperial decline" and "imperial overstretch" were the academic and journalistic watchwords, the United States emerged as uniquely powerful. The "magic" of compound interest over half a century had its effect on our military budget, as did the cumulative scientific and technological research of our armed forces. With power come responsibilities, whether sought or not, whether welcome or not. And it is a fact that if you have the kind of power we now have, either you will find opportunities to use it, or the world will discover them for you.

The older, traditional elements in the Republican party have difficulty coming to terms with this new reality in foreign affairs, just as they cannot reconcile economic conservatism with social and cultural conservatism. But by one of those accidents historians ponder, our current president and his administration turn out to be quite at home in this new political environment, although it is clear they did not anticipate this role any more than their party as a whole did. As a result, neoconservatism began enjoying a second life, at a time when its obituaries were still being published.

Of course, I expect the paleocons to have their usual conniptions over this article.

1 posted on 08/14/2003 9:38:28 PM PDT by quidnunc
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To: quidnunc
bump
2 posted on 08/14/2003 9:43:45 PM PDT by Tredge
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To: quidnunc
PS: The first mope who equates neoconservatives with Trotskyites loses.
3 posted on 08/14/2003 9:48:00 PM PDT by quidnunc (Omnis Gaul delenda est)
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To: quidnunc
Little William must have slipped the old man some viagara cuz it seems he has "got it up"! ;)
4 posted on 08/14/2003 9:51:29 PM PDT by Brian S
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To: quidnunc
It is not a "movement," as the conspiratorial critics would have it. Neoconservatism is what the late historian of Jacksonian America, Marvin Meyers, called a "persuasion," one that manifests itself over time, but erratically, and one whose meaning we clearly glimpse only in retrospect.

Hmmmmm.... Kristol makes it sound like some kind of transgendered "alternative lifestyle".

5 posted on 08/14/2003 9:53:47 PM PDT by Willie Green (Go Pat Go!!!)
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To: quidnunc
LOL!

At least this neocon, RINO, bushbot agrees with you on all counts.(but alas, we are a silent majority)

6 posted on 08/14/2003 9:56:20 PM PDT by Cold Heat (Nothing in my home is French!)
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To: quidnunc; Burkeman1; sheltonmac; JohnGalt
Viewed in this way, 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, into a new kind of conservative politics suitable to governing a modern democracy.

How is anything in the neocon playbook conservative? More government, interfering in world situations that have nothing to do with the safety of this nation, spending on the level that would make FDR and LBJ balk?

Neoconservatism is the first variant of American conservatism in the past century that is in the "American grain." It is hopeful, not lugubrious; forward-looking, not nostalgic; and its general tone is cheerful, not grim or dyspeptic. Its 20th-century heroes tend to be TR, FDR, and Ronald Reagan.

Forgot one. Wilson. Without him we may have never had a neoconservative movement. At least not one involving foreign policy. Or else it would have been quickly relegated to the trashpile where it belongs

AND THEN, of course, there is foreign policy, the area of American politics where neoconservatism has recently been the focus of media attention. This is surprising since there is no set of neoconservative beliefs concerning foreign policy, only a set of attitudes derived from historical experience.

That has to be the most ridiculous thing I've read today. No set of beliefs? From 'liberating the masses' to 'spreading democracy' I'm beginning to wonder when they'll have time to defend this nation of states.

(The favorite neoconservative text on foreign affairs, thanks to professors Leo Strauss of Chicago and Donald Kagan of Yale, is Thucydides on the Peloponnesian War.)

Well at least he admits it

These attitudes can be summarized in the following "theses" (as a Marxist would say): First, patriotism is a natural and healthy sentiment and should be encouraged by both private and public institutions. Precisely because we are a nation of immigrants, this is a powerful American sentiment. Second, world government is a terrible idea since it can lead to world tyranny. International institutions that point to an ultimate world government should be regarded with the deepest suspicion.

Well unless it's under the 'right' leadership, eh Irving?

Of course, the United States must be prudent in how it exercises its power. But we cannot safely avoid the responsibilities of global leadership or the costs that are associated with its exercise. America has a vital role in maintaining peace and security in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.
PNAC Statement of Principles
7 posted on 08/14/2003 10:03:58 PM PDT by billbears (Deo Vindice)
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To: quidnunc
What if ol' Irv is quoted as saying it? Does that count? Or can we not use their own words against them?
8 posted on 08/14/2003 10:05:54 PM PDT by billbears (Deo Vindice)
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To: Amelia
I think this column provides a pretty good description of what folks are calling neoconservatism, for whatever that may be worth. ;-)
9 posted on 08/14/2003 10:08:12 PM PDT by Scenic Sounds (All roads lead to reality. That's why I smile.)
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To: quidnunc
Superb piece. Kristol pere gets it exactly right about Necons, because it is what I have been posting all along. Neocons are often secular, but rarely anti-religious, not anti government per se, just want an accountable government, believe in a moral and ideological component in foreign policy to attend raw realpolitik, are profoundly bullish on American, etc, etc. I just wished Kristol had addressed the education system dysfunction component of it.
10 posted on 08/14/2003 10:09:19 PM PDT by Torie
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To: quidnunc
Oh please shut up Irv. We all were happy being called conservatives. But that wasn't good enough for you. You had to set yourself apart, be somebody special and coin a stupid word: "neocon." You could not be one of those people

Get lost Irv, your time has passed. You did more damage than good.

11 posted on 08/14/2003 10:11:27 PM PDT by DPB101
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To: DPB101
You seemed to have missed that there are different strains of "conservative" thought. Where have you been?
12 posted on 08/14/2003 10:13:25 PM PDT by Torie
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To: quidnunc
"I guess we'll have to go all the way to Washington Weather Central, with Walter Cronkite. Walter, what's the weather like?"
"I just want to begin by saying to Roosevelt E. Roosevelt, what it is, what it shall be, what it was."
13 posted on 08/14/2003 10:13:44 PM PDT by RichInOC ("Thank you, Bob, can we play anything for you?" "ANYTHING...JUST PLAY IT LOUD, OKAY?")
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To: Cathryn Crawford
Read this while I'm reading the other thing. I think it's a pretty good piece. ;-)
14 posted on 08/14/2003 10:18:06 PM PDT by Scenic Sounds (All roads lead to reality. That's why I smile.)
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To: billbears
I think that I can boil all the 10 dollar words down to a single sentence or two.

I believe that neocons (despise the term), are simply more socially liberal in their approach and believe that government does indeed and should play a larger roll(as it does)

We do not necessarily think that the roll should be further expanded, but accept the responsibility that government has now and are willing to improve it as a means to retain and achieve power.

To sum it up, we are realistic and see little to be gained by returning to a path already traveled.

15 posted on 08/14/2003 10:18:33 PM PDT by Cold Heat (Nothing in my home is French!)
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To: billbears
How is anything in the neocon playbook conservative? More government, interfering in world situations that have nothing to do with the safety of this nation, spending on the level that would make FDR and LBJ balk?

How are "more government" or "spending" part of the neo-conservative playbook?

interfering in world situations that have nothing to do with the safety of this nationSo you prefer to wait until the mushroom cloud appears?

What is the fetish with Leo Strauss???

16 posted on 08/14/2003 10:22:49 PM PDT by pierrem15
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To: quidnunc
It seems to me that a 'neo-conservative' should mean nothing more that a conservative who used to be something else. So I suppose I'm one, even if Irving Kristol is not my cup of tea.

I was plenty left-wing at one time, but never anything really non-standard such as a Trotskyite. I was more of a Mario Cuomo worshipper until I got disillusioned after the Dukakis debacle.

17 posted on 08/14/2003 10:28:35 PM PDT by Salman (Mickey Akbar)
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To: Torie
You seemed to have missed that there are different strains of "conservative" thought. Where have you been?

Inside the movement. Unlike you.

The media, the DNC, every left wing freak under the sun has adopted a new name for conservatives: "Neocon"

Evil, evil necons.

This was done because "conservative" is a positive in political discourse while "liberal" is not.

"Neocon" has lost its original meaning. Surely you, astute member of the political class which you are, have noticed that.

Over 95% of Republicans agree with those "neocons" the left claims have snookered the party. So about everyone who votes Republican is now a "neocon" Or those evil "neocons" are now the Republican party.

You want another word for liberal Republicans? OK by me. Pick another. "Neocon" is done.

18 posted on 08/14/2003 10:31:24 PM PDT by DPB101
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To: pierrem15
Leo was a very secular man who thought religion was useful in the public square. He was a believer in a robust government (without which man would return to the jungle, where life was at once brutish and short), but cyncial that it was so subject to corruption, and thus sought palliatives, which while he was cryptic, in the end he thought would fail. His favorite philosopher, or if not his favorite, was way up there, was Machiavelli, whom he profoundly understood, in a way that entirely escapes the popular impression. But Leo was ultimately more pessimistic than Neo's are today, and considerably more conflicted and ambivalent. Events have turned out better than Leo anticipated. Maybe we have been lucky.
19 posted on 08/14/2003 10:33:09 PM PDT by Torie
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To: wirestripper
Translation: What's in place stays, no need to even think about repealing the socialist programs of the New Deal, Fair Deal, Great Society, etc. Political realists like us accept that there's no chance, so we'll use our power and influence to make the government work better, even if it has to get bigger as a result.

(Of course, just 20 years ago the adherents to realpolitik were saying the Soviet Union would never fall, China would never adopt capitalism and free trade was no more than an economist's dream. Aren't we fortunate that not everyone believed it!)

20 posted on 08/14/2003 10:33:57 PM PDT by logician2u
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To: quidnunc
good article
21 posted on 08/14/2003 10:34:29 PM PDT by Johnbalaya
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To: DPB101
I can't make heads nor tails of your post. Sorry.
22 posted on 08/14/2003 10:34:45 PM PDT by Torie
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To: Torie
You don't know every anti-Israel, left wing freak in the world is claiming "neocons" (Jews) are behind George Bush?

Come on...

23 posted on 08/14/2003 10:40:14 PM PDT by DPB101
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To: billbears
From 'liberating the masses' to 'spreading democracy' I'm beginning to wonder when they'll have time to defend this nation of states.

The idea is that you won't need to defend yourself against liberated, democratic nations.

24 posted on 08/14/2003 10:40:15 PM PDT by KayEyeDoubleDee (const tag& thisTagWontChange)
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To: DPB101
Is there any need for us to parse freak thought? I'm a WASP by the way.
25 posted on 08/14/2003 10:42:09 PM PDT by Torie
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To: KayEyeDoubleDee
The idea is that you won't need to defend yourself against liberated, democratic nations.

Oh, I get it.

Democratic nations don't start wars, huh?

26 posted on 08/14/2003 10:42:09 PM PDT by logician2u
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To: Torie
I know. I have most of his books (and those of his students) on my shelves and had two professors who were his students.

What I meant was, Why is his name brought up frequently as though he was some kind of Dr. Strangelove?

27 posted on 08/14/2003 10:47:46 PM PDT by pierrem15
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To: logician2u
Not too much since WWI.
28 posted on 08/14/2003 10:49:49 PM PDT by pierrem15
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To: logician2u
In general no, they don't. Tin pot dictators and totalitarians do.

29 posted on 08/14/2003 10:50:45 PM PDT by KayEyeDoubleDee (const tag& thisTagWontChange)
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To: quidnunc
What is a Ghengis-con?
30 posted on 08/14/2003 10:51:19 PM PDT by woofie
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To: Torie
No...no need to "parse freak". But there is a need to accept reality. The left has taken the word "neocon" and turned it into "Imperialist Republican Jew who wants to run the world"

The fact of the matter is the Jews in the GOP are a very small minority. What Wolfowitz wants only gets done because 95% of Republicans agree with him.

31 posted on 08/14/2003 10:53:25 PM PDT by DPB101
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To: pierrem15
By the way, Thucydides on the Peloponnesian War is very, very readable (perhaps on of the most readable texts of the ancients), and reads like it was written yesterday. It is timeless. Self destructive civil war due to a failure of the public square and failed diplomacy, hubris, courage, ideolism, alliances, the failure of alliances, the momentum of war such that it becomes an end in itself, such that all perspective is lost, it is all there. Pick it up.
32 posted on 08/14/2003 10:53:26 PM PDT by Torie
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To: pierrem15
Cropsey was your professor too?
33 posted on 08/14/2003 10:56:34 PM PDT by Torie
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To: quidnunc
This leads to the issue of the role of the state. Neocons do not like the concentration of services in the welfare state and are happy to study alternative ways of delivering these services. But they are impatient with the Hayekian notion that we are on "the road to serfdom."

This is what I find most interesting about the paleocon/neocon divide. And I'm not entirely satisfied with Kristol's explanation. It seems to me that neocons do not see the state as necessarily in conflict with the people while paleocons see government as inherently in conflict with the citizenry.

34 posted on 08/14/2003 10:56:41 PM PDT by MattAMiller
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To: Torie
His descriptions of how family members murdered one another and how citizens sealed one another in temples in the civil war in Corcyra is blood curdling. The "Melian Dialogue" and the descriptions of the plight of the Athenian prisoners in Syracuse are also quite moving.

I always found his phenomenon of stasis to be an interesting one, since the word means the state of standing still, but he uses it to describe the state of a city in civil war: i.e., when all the normal "movement" of a city's political life has come to a stop because of the implacable opposition of factions within.

35 posted on 08/14/2003 11:00:50 PM PDT by pierrem15
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To: Torie
No. Lawrence "Logos Larry" Berns and Richard Kennington.
36 posted on 08/14/2003 11:02:35 PM PDT by pierrem15
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To: DPB101
Over 95% of Republicans agree with those "neocons" the left claims have snookered the party.

But you disagree with Papa Kristol. HE says that much of the GOP disagrees with neocon ideas, and that he and his compatriots did in fact snooker the party.

37 posted on 08/15/2003 12:19:47 AM PDT by mrustow (no tag)
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To: logician2u
The idea is that you won't need to defend yourself against liberated, democratic nations.

Oh, I get it.

Democratic nations don't start wars, huh?

ROTFL. Good thing I take my irony supplement several times a day.

38 posted on 08/15/2003 12:22:13 AM PDT by mrustow (no tag)
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To: quidnunc
That is why we feel it necessary to defend Israel today, when its survival is threatened. No complicated geopolitical calculations of national interest are necessary.

Kristol-what a liar.

Behind all this is a fact: the incredible military superiority of the United States vis-à-vis the nations of the rest of the world, in any imaginable combination. This superiority was planned by no one

Yeah, whatever. He's full of crap, but he's a good salesman. He makes you feel happy and at home in the latest perfection of abstract America.
39 posted on 08/15/2003 12:43:30 AM PDT by Belial
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To: pierrem15
I know. I have most of his books (and those of his students) on my shelves and had two professors who were his students.

What I meant was, Why is his name brought up frequently as though he was some kind of Dr. Strangelove?

During the 1980s, I saw lefties do this, in the case of Alan Bloom. They cited the influence of Strauss as a knock on Bloom, but it was clear they had never read Strauss.

Personally, though I think Strauss was a very good scholar, and I think that his criticisms of historicism in Natural Rights and History apply exactly to multiculturalism (most of whose adherents probably never even HEARD of historicism), I can't help believing that much of his influence in America derives from his having spoken with a German accent, and exuded that Lehrstuhlinhaber air of authority that many American academics, who suffer from the same feelings of cultural inferiority vis-a-vis the Gerries that the Gerries themselves feel toward the French, love to kowtow to. (How's that for a Teutonic sentence?! It took years of German grammar lessons to build that hulk!) As a German speaker, my only concern with German accents is aesthetic. And that Germanic air of authority crap cuts no ice with me, whatsoever. The best German teachers I knew didn't need to put on that show.

If there is one phrase that told me that Strauss was not a great philosopher, it was "Platonic-Aristotelian" worldview. To me, it makes all the sense of "Judaeo-Christian." No one who takes Plato seriously, would ever meld the first two, anymore than anyone who took Judaism seriously would meld the second pair.

40 posted on 08/15/2003 12:50:18 AM PDT by mrustow (no tag)
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To: mrustow
Or who took Christianity serious. Very good points there Mrustow.
41 posted on 08/15/2003 12:59:58 AM PDT by DPB101
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To: wirestripper

In the real world, people who fit the Neo-Conservative mold are a very small minority in the GOP, its just those with the neo-conservative view point have the most influence on radio talk show and other "conservative media". But ask rank and file Republicans outside the gated communities, while they may not be isolationist on military policy, their views on immigration and globalisim in general are far closer to the paleo-conservative view point then the neo-conservative view point. Just look on the threads on the economy and immigration here at FR.

Also, many people that might be called paleo-conservatives are in reality Democrats who are conservative if not reactionary on social issues and have since left the party. Other "paleos" while anti globalist have a very minimalist view on govrenmnet, almost Libertarian in nature.
42 posted on 08/15/2003 1:19:34 AM PDT by JNB
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To: DPB101
What Wolfowitz wants only gets done because 95% of Republicans agree with him.

That's twice, to this point, that you've thrown that 95% number out. Where do you get that? Blackbird.

43 posted on 08/15/2003 1:30:45 AM PDT by BlackbirdSST
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To: mrustow
Good thing I take my irony supplement several times a day.

Where is the irony. You aren't saying that we started the war in Iraq, are you?

If you have a problem with the idea that civil, liberated, "democratic" nations are less of a threat then those that aren't, then we live on different planets.

44 posted on 08/15/2003 1:37:40 AM PDT by KayEyeDoubleDee (const tag& thisTagWontChange)
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To: billbears
The word, 'neocon' is becoming popular among Bush critics because it sounds sinister, like 'neo-nazi'. I'm not 100% 'go Bush go'. But this is just some desperate name calling by Ron Paul types. Of course, we need the Ron Paul types, who forever assume the worst, just as Thomas Jefferson played an important role with the Founding Fathers. But we also need the Hamiltons and Washingtons, who got things done.
45 posted on 08/15/2003 1:49:15 AM PDT by Arthur Wildfire! March (Nazi, liberal, what's the difference? Liberals are worse.)
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To: quidnunc
Irving Kristol is really brilliant. He had me convinced there was a future for conservatism. Without his literary contributions, I doubt there would be an FR, much less than an ascendant Republican Party today. I count myself in this school of thought. For me the "neo" prefix no longer matters; virtually everything about this particular persuasion in our time has by definition become conservatism.
46 posted on 08/15/2003 1:58:20 AM PDT by goldstategop (In Memory Of A Dearly Beloved Friend Who Lives On In My Heart Forever)
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To: MattAMiller
No we don't. We accept the fact the elderly and poor need to be provided for. Its a political reality. We seek less intrusive ways of helping those who can't look after themselves. In order words, we seek to confine the welfare state to appropriate and ordered limits. This also follows a recognition that any talk of abolishing the welfare state is a political pipe dream; its never going to happen. Our conservatism is pragmatic, flexible, and politically adaptable. Which leaves our friends and opponents equally confounded.
47 posted on 08/15/2003 2:05:25 AM PDT by goldstategop (In Memory Of A Dearly Beloved Friend Who Lives On In My Heart Forever)
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To: mrustow
Hardly. Back in the day when we disillusioned liberals started criticizing the excess of LBJ's Great Society, some in National Review thought we were onto something. And since they discovered we had so much in common we accepted their invitation to join them and as they say, the rest is history.
48 posted on 08/15/2003 2:08:57 AM PDT by goldstategop (In Memory Of A Dearly Beloved Friend Who Lives On In My Heart Forever)
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To: DPB101
"You want another word for liberal Republicans?"

Easy, a 'democrat'
49 posted on 08/15/2003 2:11:23 AM PDT by Monty22
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To: quidnunc
Probably.

I don't agree with his points though. He tries to take credit for the neocons embedding in Republicanism a love for economic growth. That is nonsense- that has been a major aspect of the Republican party from the day it was created (and it was a major defining characteristic of the Whig party which preceded it). I would go so far as to say that what Kristol describes as 'neoconservative' is just Whiggery with a smattering of 'social safety net' policies.

50 posted on 08/15/2003 4:29:14 AM PDT by William McKinley (Who will go this week-- Carter? Nixon? Presidential Survivor http://williammckinley.blogspot.com)
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