The Corner

The “Neocon” Problem

Okay. Here’s just one of the basic problems with all of this. If Neocons love big-government, why does Pat Buchanan — perhaps the only self-described “paleocon” average Americans have ever heard of — want to expand the welfare state? As Ramesh Ponnuru pointed out in a brilliant take-down of Buchanan, the man’s biggest complaint with Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” is that it’s a rip-off of Buchanan’s “conservatism of the heart.” Meanwhile I know literally dozens of allegedly well-known “neocons” who very much want to shrink the welfare state.

Meanwhile, the Buchanan crowd says National Review is a “neocon” magazine because it supported the war, while the mainstream press routinely says NR is “paleo” and the Weekly Standard is “neo” even though our respective positions on foreign policy are nearly identical — albeit from the vantage point of, say, a New York Times or Slate reporter. If being a neocon means being hawkish, then NR was always more neocon than the neocons because we were the ones championing rollback, not containment. And, oh yeah, why did Buchanan want to send the Sixth Fleet to defend Dubrovnik in 1991, if the Paleos are against foreign adventures. And why did über-neo Charles Krauthammer oppose getting mired in the Balkans?

As for this notion, popularized by Irving Kristol — who I greatly admire — that neoconservatism is “optimistic” conservatism, I’m afraid I have to say poppycock. Some of the cheeriest people I know are un-prefixed conservatives and some of the dourest folks I’ve ever met are neocons. And, besides, “optimistic” is not a definition it’s an adjective.