The rotten fruits of the era of neoconservative dominance


Almost exactly seven years ago, just after the 2008 election when Barack Obama surprised the nation and the word by becoming president, I wrote a series of posts that looked at the possible future of the Republican party. I felt that the party was at a watershed moment with a loss hastened by the selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate. I said then that there were four groups vying for control of the Republican party.

The struggle for the future of the Republican party has four groups vying for dominance.

One group consists of the old-style conservatives, people who want smaller government and fiscal restraint, balanced budgets, rule of law, respect for personal liberties, and a non-interventionist foreign policy.

The second group is the rank-and-file social values base for whom guns, gays, abortion, stem-cell research, flag, the Bible, and immigration are the main concerns. Many of these people belong to the lower and middle economic classes.

The third group is the Christianist leadership, people like Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and John Hagee, who claim to speak for the social values base but, as I argued in the previous post in this series, whose overriding allegiance is to a low-tax ideology (especially for the rich) and who vehemently oppose any government programs that provide assistance to the poor.

The fourth group is the neoconservatives. The neoconservatives are the wild card in American politics, wreaking havoc wherever they go. Their interests lie less in domestic policies and more in creating a muscular foreign policy. They dream of America exercising hegemony over the world, using its might to destroy its enemies. They are firmly convinced that America is a force for good in the world and should not be shy about using its military, political, and economic muscle to dominate it.

What actually happened is something that I had not anticipated. The dominant force that has emerged in the Republican party is a new bloc that has sliced through the first three groups and brought together segments from each of them, united by the sense that they have been exploited and used by the leaders of the party and of the three groups. This new coalition is looking for someone untainted by association with the old guard. Donald Trump fits the bill.

This realignment has left the neoconservatives largely out in the cold. The high point for the neoconservatives were the eight years of Bush-Cheney administration because their people were placed in key positions and they pursued the neoconservative agenda with gusto, leaving a trail of chaos in the Middle East. They initially welcomed Palin (arch-neoconservative Bill Kristol was one of her biggest boosters) thinking that she was largely a novice with populist appeal whom they could manipulate to their liking.

What they did not realize that she tapped into a new and more dangerous vein of populism and unleashed an uprising among the rank-and-file party base consisting of a subset of the white population who had diverse agendas but were unified in the belief that the ‘system’ was rigged against them, were angry about it, and determined to take ‘their’ country back from those they perceived as undeserving, the so-called moochers and looters. and assorted enemies both domestic and foreign. One can draw a straight line from Palin then to Trump now.

The neoconservatives clearly feel that they have lost control. It has been interesting to see their aghast reaction to recent developments and try to explain what happened. David Frum is the latest to do so in a long article in the Atlantic titled The Great Republican Revolt where he says that a class war has broken out within the Republican party between the big money donors and the rank and file. Frum was a speechwriter for George W. Bush and he and his wife Danielle Crittenden are pillars of the neoconservative establishment.

Here is what Frum has to say about the mood of the voters who are roiling the Republican primary waters.

The angriest and most pessimistic people in America aren’t the hipster protesters who flitted in and out of Occupy Wall Street. They aren’t the hashtavists of #BlackLivesMatter. They aren’t the remnants of the American labor movement or the savvy young dreamers who confront politicians with their American accents and un-American legal status.

The angriest and most pessimistic people in America are the people we used to call Middle Americans. Middle-class and middle-aged; not rich and not poor; people who are irked when asked to press 1 for English, and who wonder how white male became an accusation rather than a description.

White Middle Americans express heavy mistrust of every institution in American society: not only government, but corporations, unions, even the political party they typically vote for—the Republican Party of Romney, Ryan, and McConnell, which they despise as a sad crew of weaklings and sellouts. They are pissed off. And when Donald Trump came along, they were the people who told the pollsters, “That’s my guy.”

They aren’t necessarily superconservative. They often don’t think in ideological terms at all. But they do strongly feel that life in this country used to be better for people like them—and they want that older country back.

While Frum points to various ways in which the Republican party can try to regain control of the situation, he sounds half-hearted, as if he realizes that the situation is too far gone, the train has well and truly left the station with other people at the controls, and the Republican party and its leaders can only hang on and hope for the best.

What Frum and other neoconservatives choose to ignore is that they helped create this situation. Trump would not be the factor he is if they had not steered the party even further away from traditional conservative pragmatism into reckless quests for world hegemony that ended up impoverishing the country and causing the pervasive sense of weakness and decline that enabled Trump to claim that the country is dying and needs a messianic figure to save it. And of course, he is just the man for the job.

Comments

  1. says

    The neo-convicts courted the extremists, and now they are surprised the extremists took over the republican party. They were also the ones who denotated the Iraqi legal, social and military system, and were surprised that the extremists took over there as well. Insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results.

    Staunch (read: Fred Birch-type) republicans will repeatedly say, “The democrats were the KKK’s party!” as if nothing ever changed, as if systematic racism weren’t their own core value today. Now their party is permanently changing into an unelectable one, and they want to pretend it’s not their own fault. They made soiled their own bed, but they don’t want to lie in it. And they don’t want to clean it either, they expect someone else to do it for them.

  2. raven says

    The middle class has been shrinking since 1970. It’s putting huge stresses on the USA and it is starting to show.

    Two demographics are dying younger for the first time in a century. Older white rural females and middle aged low education white males. When the bodies start piling up, you know something is wrong.

    The white struggling middle class is very angry. However, they have no idea just why this happened. There is a vague sense that the party of the oligarches, the GOP sold them down the river. Which they cheerfully did. They still vote for them anyway.

  3. says

    The systematic dismantling of the middle class by the Republicans’ money base while successfully putting the blame on others certainly isn’t helping. The drive to become richer and richer at the expense of jobs and wages for the masses is going to result in a revolution of one kind or another and now it’s starting to happen. The problem is that their own propaganda is making it happen is the worst way possible. Add to this the Republicans refusal to work in any way with the Democrats (and yes, it is the Republicans – first term Obama tried his best to find compromise) and you get horrifying stories like this…

    http://www.vox.com/polyarchy/2015/12/18/9360663/is-democracy-in-trouble

    More and more Americans want the Pentagon to take over? If that isn’t terrifying, then I don’t know what is.

    And of course wealthy Americans are becoming increasingly authoritarian. Letting the plebs vote could mean results that would leave them slightly less wealthy. Look at the horror stories in Canada where we’ve got an NDP government in Alberta and the Liberals have taken over federally!

  4. raven says

    The drive to become richer and richer at the expense of jobs and wages for the masses is going to result in a revolution of one kind or another and now it’s starting to happen.

    Someday the peasants will likely storm the castle with their torches and pitchforks. They are certainly angry enough. Right now they are in scapegoat phase. It’s all the fault of the Blacks, Mexicans, Honduran children, Moslems, atheists, gays, Ebola, Jews.

    But when this will happen is not clear. I suspect it has to get a lot worse and won’t be in my lifetime.

  5. raven says

    Middle class no longer dominates in the U.S. – Dec. 9, 2015
    money.cnn.com/2015/12/09/news/economy/middle-class/
    CNNMoney
    Dec 9, 2015 – The once-strong middle class no longer dominates America. … Looking at it another way, the upper class now controls 49% of the nation’s …

    We aren’t just pulling out the old strawpeople of class warfare and oligarchies here. I’m sure most have seen the latest report above. The US middle class is no longer the largest group in the USA.

    There has been a class war going on in the USA for about forever. The middle class is losing. The oligarchies have powerful friends including the current US Supreme court.

  6. Robert,+not+Bob says

    I don’t believe your old essay’s first group ever existed. “Small government” has always-and I mean always-been code for “kill social services”, and understood as such. Oh, ordinary people might use the phrase as a tribal marker, but that makes it part of your second group.

  7. says

    There is a vague sense that the party of the oligarches, the GOP sold them down the river.

    Both parties are parties of oligarches. They know that, too, which further fuels their resentment.

  8. says

    More and more Americans want the Pentagon to take over? If that isn’t terrifying, then I don’t know what is.

    If it weren’t for the fact that absolutely nobody expects that the pentagon would make the trains run on time, I’d be really worried. I have to admit I was happy when the rest of the establishment had a dirt-airing session to crush General Petraeus’ political hopes! Especially given the overall competence in the pentagon — those guys are keystone kops who kill by dropping bags of money on people.

  9. Mano Singham says

    Robert, +not+Bob,

    Actually, there really was such a group. They are usually referred to as paleo-conservatives but they have become an endangered species in the party.

  10. Pierce R. Butler says

    The neoconservatives are the wild card in American politics, wreaking havoc wherever they go. … They dream of America exercising hegemony over the world, using its might to destroy its enemies. They are firmly convinced that America is a force for good in the world and should not be shy about using its military, political, and economic muscle to dominate it.

    Don’t weep for the neocons – they may not have persuaded the teabaggers and the trump-chumps, but they did recruit to their agenda a fellow named Barack Obama.

  11. lorn says

    As it was, I happen to be reading an article online with the TV on. Ted Cruz came on the TV and once again demonstrated why I think he is malignant , oily, parasitic. I was thinking that he is just convincing and polished enough in argument appearance to convince the unwary to let their guard down so he can inject his poison. I think of how much damage he could do to the nation. We could be set back decades.

    And then I read about “cruzi” … and how it:
    “causes a chronic infection of the heart, nervous system and digestive system. It is a major cause of morbidity in 30% of infected individuals, causing progressive and widespread systemic damage through inflammation, cell death, and fibrosis throughout vital organs. Besides being agonizing, fatal, and difficult to treat, it is also incredibly costly for both individuals and governments. ”

    For a moment the two sources merged and I had to look to the top of the web page to confirm that it was what I thought it was … Discover magazine, not a political commentary.

    It seems strange, a mark of the times, that the second in line for the Republican nomination is a man who can be described using the same language as a debilitating and potentially deadly pathogen. They even share a name, in a manner, Trypanosoma cruzi. I won’t speculate as to who should feel insulted

    Quotes from:
    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/bodyhorrors/2014/07/29/cry-of-wolf-texas-dogs-chagas-sentinel/

    Good article.

  12. says

    I was going to leave a similar comment as Robert, +not+Bob. I don’t think the first group was as big as it may have appeared. (I won’t go so far as to say it never existed.) I think it’s more that members of Group 2, realizing the social issues don’t sell well, tried to gain support using the more appealing issues of Group 1. Hence, the Tea Party. Perhaps there were people already using this strategy prior to the Tea Party. I’ll say that I really only started paying close attention to politics in 2008 when you posted that earlier piece, so I’m not sure what things looked like then.
    Or another possibility is that Group 2 wasn’t really losing ground on the social issues too heavily in 2008 and had had a Republican president in office for 8 years. Losing power may have led them to start revealing who they really were…after their stint of hiding behind the Tea Party, of course.

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