Suzanne Fields

Politics is all about polarities. Republican vs. Democrat, conservative vs. liberal, right vs. left, hard thinking vs. soft thinking. The labels are pervasive, but the ground frequently shifts, requiring a new prefix to freshen up the label.

The word neocon, for example (short for neoconservative), was born of such a shifting of the ground. Coined in the 1970s, the label stuck to Democrats who had watched the Scoop Jackson anti-Communist wing of the Democratic party evaporate before their very eyes. They saw the War on Poverty become a losing battle. On the domestic front, they observed the death of morality as it had been defined for thousands of years in the Judeo-Christian tradition. These Democrats finally concluded that liberalism, as they had known it, was dead.

Irving Kristol, father of the neocons, defined his band of brothers and sisters as "liberals mugged by reality." That reality was the "evil empire" as defined by Ronald Reagan, the leader they championed. The reality extended to a concern for crime and education and what came to be called "family values." A subdivision of the neocons, the "cultural conservatives," were wryly defined as liberals with daughters in junior high.

Jews were prominently identified with the neocons, largely because Norman Podhoretz, editor of Commentary magazine, made the magazine a sounding board for neocon criticism. But Jeanne Kirkpatrick, a Baptist, and William Bennett, a Roman Catholic, were prominent neocon voices from the beginning. So were other Christians. "What are we," they might ask, "chopped liver?"

The Jewish neocons understood what the majority of Jews who vote Democratic didn't - that Jews and Evangelical Christians held many things in common, among them an admiration and affection for Israel.

Such definitions and ideological attitudes are amply documented in the political history of the second half of the 20th century, but the neocon label resurfaces today as many journalists and pundits identify the neocons as a new generation driving the foreign policy of George W. Bush.

It's a label that doesn't quite fit, since those credited with influence are hardly "neo" anything. For the most part, the label is attributed to second-generation conservatives. Some are sons of the Scoop Jackson Democrats whose fathers have the last name of Podhoretz and Kristol, but the label as accurately understood has a much more inclusive intellectual base, including, for example, Vice President Dick Cheney; his wife, Lynne; Condoleezza Rice; Don Rumsfeld; and Paul Wolfowitz, the hugely influential deputy defense secretary.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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