Obama the Neoconservative?

Yesterday, Gabriel Schoenfeld asked whether President Barack Obama will bring the neoconservatives back to the Democratic Party?  It might seem a preposterous question, given that during the campaign the Right labeled Obama as both the most left-wing member of the Senate and as a closet socialist. But, Schoenfeld argues, the themes he has laid out—personal responsibility, the need to support strong homes with fathers active in parenting, a liberal immigration program that welcomes rather than rejects immigrants for their contribution to America—-are themes first brought forth by the original neo-cons when they were still Democrats, back in the 70s during the era of Scoop Jackson and Daniel P. Moynihan.


These issues are very personal for Obama.  He was abandoned by his African father,  and later by his mother- a woman of the 60s who left him with her parents when she was intermittently away on anthropological exploits.  Obama’s search for an identity as an African-American man has led him to value and to create for himself a stable nuclear family.  He now appears to be on a crusade to do what people like Moynihan and Bill Cosby were unable to do: rescue the black family.

And in the area of foreign policy, where neo-cons in our own age have been most influential, Obama has echoed many of their concerns, and has adopted his own variant of a hawkish foreign policy. He has emphasized the need to win in Afghanistan, not to allow Iran to go nuclear, and has supported Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas terrorists. Yet, Obama left many of the specifics out; what would he do differently about Iran, North Korea, wiretapping of phones to monitor terrorist chat, etc? Would he, in fact, really do much that was different from the Bush administration?

This question disturbed a left-leaning journalist, TNR’s John B. Judis and probably many others.  Calling his speech  “a disappointing hodge-podge,” Judis writes that it was too abstract and was neither  “original nor compelling.”  Judis did not like his call to get rid of “worn-out dogmas,” fearing, it seems, that Obama was just not talking about those of the right. Judis was also disturbed when Obama said that “Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred.”  Judis writes: “This strikes me as either boilerplate or an exaggeration of the danger posed by al Qaeda. It is reminiscent of George W. Bush and his catch-all war on terror. Obama and the country clearly face grave problems overseas; but they can’t be reduced to a ‘far-reaching network.'” Really?? And reminiscent of Bush? This, as we know, is about the nastiest smear a liberal could make against Obama.


When Obama said that “we must put away childish things” he was not just talking about our domestic over indulgence.  Obama told radical Islamists that those “who blame their society’s ills on the West-know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” This is a message that the leaders of Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas will not be happy to hear.

And Obama went on to say:

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles…we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort….We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

These are indeed strong words.

So again, TNR editor Marty Peretz is right. Obama is at once taking away many of the talking points of the Republican opposition, while at the same time “upsetting many of Obama’s liberal enthusiasts.” And Schoenfeld too makes the point that if Obama succeeds in gaining conservative allies, he could fracture their movement, co-opt some of their best minds, and “help turn the Republicans back into the stupid party for years to come.”  But we must await Obama’s actions.  For now they are just words.


For now, I wish our new President well in his effort to unite our nation. I hope he intends to move in the direction his words suggest that he will.


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