Not One of Us - The Fall of Neoconservatism

Some months prior to Rand Paul’s primary victory in Kentucky, a familiar pair of politicians came together in support of his opponent Trey Grayson. Late endorsements by the President of 9/11, Rudy Guiliani and Dick Cheney were trotted out in an attempt to make a dent in a double digit lead that Dr. Paul had held for some months. Cesar Conda also got into the act, writing an article for the National Review the day of Cheney’s endorsement announcement. He also convened an emergency conference call and sent out a panicky email to neoconservative pundits.

These efforts had no effect whatsoever. Rand Paul not only won the primary against Grayson, but crushed his Democrat opponent in the general election.

That the effort failed is a matter of record. However, you may or may not have noticed how little this failure, achieved with the help of the two most prominent elected neoconservatives of the last decade not named Bush, has been analyzed,  much less discussed..

One of the more interesting facts about Conda’s email  was its list of recipients. A desperate cry for help, the list of neoconservative writers was a who’s who list of PNAC advisors.

Politico reported:

“On foreign policy, [global war on terror], Gitmo, Afghanistan, Rand Paul is NOT one of us,” Cesar Conda wrote in an e-mail to figures such as Liz Cheney, William Kristol, Robert Kagan, Dan Senor and Marc Thiessen.

With an attached memo on Paul’s noninterventionist positions, Conda concluded: “It is our hope that you can help us get the word out about Rand Paul’s troubling and dangerous views on foreign policy.”  [emphasis added]

With panic and fear that was almost palpable, Conda reached out to the group that has so often shaped Republican foreign policy for the past fifteen years. This list of recipients and others were part of the Newt Gingrich “revolution” of 1994, swept into power and promising change in Washington. If only the promises of the politicians of that season were so vague, we might today think of them as great successes.

They most certainly brought us change. We went from the occasional foreign adventure to the permanent, up to and including Hitler’s favorite, the “pre-emptive” war. The bulk of  the justification for this escalation in policy came from the very group of “Opinion Leaders” Conda was addressing.

Back in 1997 when PNAC had just formed and Kristol had been Chief Editor at the Weekly Standard for some time, PNAC served much like a neoconservative version of Facebook. Various PNAC members would address “Opinion Leaders” through memorandums and give them ideas about which they were suggested to opine in their own columns. Memo’s from PNAC may have best been described as marching orders since the number of neoconservatives with jobs in major news organizations had reached saturation and PNAC was not bashful about tapping them when it mattered.

This network of media influential spoke as one with PNAC being its head. By keeping the memos short and to the point, and directed to a willing network of pundits, the illusion was created that a national consensus on America’s “crumbling” defense had been independently reached. Pre-emptive policies and “decisive” action was soon the norm on any given newspaper editorial or T.V. info-tainment program and those independent thinkers who didn’t agree were soon awash with a chorus of critics, or sycophants depending upon the situation.

The point here is not to give a history lesson on the neoconservative movement since there are far better historians than I, but to note how influential in both major policy direction and political gains the neoconservatives had become. And to also note that we are finally witnessing the decline of the neoconservative movement.

The 2008 Presidential election may have been the last hurrah of the neoconservatives. The field in 2008 was replete with politicians parroting the neoconservative lines from the previous decade (save one) including top neoconservative leaders at the helms of their campaigns or holding top advisory positions. Conda for instance, was Mitt Romney’s economic policy advisor during his 2008 Presidential bid.

This aforementioned example of neoconservative angst is proof that even the neoconservatives themselves are starting to recognize that their ideas and influence are in decline.

The strength of the neoconservative  movement was its ability to create the illusion that its philosophy - if it can be called that - was mainstream, rather than extremist; but that’s all it ever was, an illusion. Politicians bought in and were happy to repeat the baseless assertions of Kristol, et al. as long as it looked like they could get away with this. However, politicians, like their cousins the prostitutes, are fickle.

Even after electoral losses in 2006, a good number of politicians in safe districts continued to parrot the neocon party line. That started waning in earnest in 2009 after Bush’s killing of free market principles in order to “save the market” and the subsequent Obama administration’s insistence on escalating government’s slavish devotion to paying off criminal bankers.

Conda’s line “he is NOT one of us”, was probably the most truthful and insightful thing the man has been caught recording and not just because it represents his panic-stricken realization.

Very few fall into the category of Conda and his ideological compatriots. I am not sure any of the neoconservative elite are anything like Rand Paul or any of us poor plebes out here hoping that the political class starts listening to our concerns.

It would be a mistake to dismiss their accomplishments but it would also be a mistake to imagine these accomplishments as the result of frugal, free-market ideologues who scrimped and saved to build an empire. William Kristol, for instance, didn’t build the Weekly Standard by working and saving. He convinced media mogul Rupert Murdock to dump a wad of dough into the endeavor for the express purpose of creating this illusion of independent consensus on foreign policy matters.

Now that the illusion is coming apart, and the non-interventionist view is starting to rise to the forefront, I would just suggest that you stop viewing 2012’s outcome as a mirror of 2008’s and thus remain firmly seated on your couch in a fit of apathy.

The past four years has seen a great deal of progress, not the least of which is the realization by the mainstream that neoconservatives are about the worst predictors of events we’ve ever seen apart from Keynesian economics prize winners.

This is one occasion where it is a good idea to go on the offensive rather than take a wait and see attitude. The momentum shift is palpable and the outlook for proponents of liberty is probably better now than at any time in the past 50 years.

And while we can look to Washington and echo Cesar Conda’s sentiments that most of the 535 “representitives” represent not one of us, there are at least two of us there now who do. How long before we make it a majority?

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