Untimely Observations



Richard Spencer is right when he says that he couldn't think of any significant issue that the Alternative Right and the established conservative movement would hold in common. What he might have added is that he couldn't think of any significant issue over which the conservative movement and the GOP would disagree; or any major issue on which the Alternative Right and the GOP would agree. There is equal truth in all of these statements.

The conservative movement and the GOP have virtually merged, a situation that is underscored by the likelihood that the designated successor to Edwin Feulner as head of the Heritage Foundation will be the wife of Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. Beltway conservative foundations work for Republican administrations almost exclusively, and they do so when the GOP is in power or else when it is trying to take over the presidency and/or Congress.

But it would be wrong to think of the conservative movement as a mere adjunct of the GOP. The reality is more complex. Many of the signature positions of the GOP over the last several decades have come from conservative foundations and conservative advocate groups. A global democratic and nation-building foreign policy, a strong attachment to the Israeli Right, and a frenzied form of minority outreach have all developed as signature positions within the conservative establishment, before they were taken up by Republicans. These things have been transmitted through policy advisors, speech writers, and other personnel to Republican officeholders and party officials. It is not surprising that an establishment conservative David Frum wrote speeches for George W. Bush, outlining the morality and goals of his foreign policy. Or that another movement conservative John Bolton, associated with AEI, went on to become Bush's flamboyant UN Ambassador.

What may be less clear is what specifically is "conservative" about the policies in question. The answer: they correspond to the thinking of the neoconservatives, who have taken over conservative foundations and journals. Exactly how the neoconservatives, who came from the left, managed to do this has been the subject of numerous studies. The most important fact to note here is that those who imposed their will were entirely successful. They were able to remold a generally pliant movement, which had run out of real leaders and "conservative" ideas. But that eroded movement had lots of professional conservatives who needed jobs and direction; and the neoconservatives were able to supply both.

One puzzling aspect of what might be considered a generally friendly takeover is the bullying way in which the neoconservatives went after the already marginalized forces on the right. Although this opposition could have mostly been bought off with random acts of kindness or by occasional flattery, the neoconservatives, as witnessed by their treatment of Mel Bradford, were determined to crush what remained of opposition to their rule. They not only smeared the hapless Bradford when they decided to oppose him at the NEH, partly in order to put that agency under the control of one of their vassals. They also worked to keep this Southern literary scholar out of a post as Librarian of Congress, a compensatory post that Bradford sought after being turned down at NEH. They also made sure through their snide attacks, put into the national press, that his name would become synonymous with Southern bigotry.

There were lots of similar cases. And as someone who suffered in one of them, I spent years thinking about what seemed gratuitous nastiness. Why couldn't the neocons have left small pockets of reactionaries untouched in the movement they were taking over? Another leftist, Lenin, paid non-Marxist Hegelians to teach in universities after the Bolsheviks took over Russia. And a victorious Christianity waited almost two hundred years after it had become the imperial religion to shut down the pagan Academy in Athens.

Obviously the neocons were more serious about achieving democratic centralism overnight -- including unanimity of thought. They have also persisted in their exclusionary practices down to the present, as shown by the continued exclusion of Old Right thinkers and journalists from anything they oversee. As late as a year ago, when a neoconservative Mackubin Owen succeeded the paleoconservative James Kurth as editor-in-chief of the foreign policy journal Orbis, anyone identified with the Old Right was unceremoniously purged from the editorial board. I and several other contributors saw commissioned articles of ours bumped, because they failed to reflect the new ideological line.

Among the explanations that are typically given for such uncharitable behavior is that the neoconservatives are tout simple leftist ideologues. Having famously come from the Left, they still carry its baggage, and view the real Right as profoundly distasteful. Neocons continue to accept liberals as debating partners because they are culturally comfortable with those they grew up among and still regard as friends. What caused them or their parents to break from the Left were its insufficient support for Israel and the Left's more extreme positions on feminism and gay rights. Nonetheless, obvious family resemblances between them and the rest of the Left have remained noticeable down to the present.

Another, perhaps more compelling explanation for the neoconservatives' brutal treatment of rightwing dissenters, however, may have been their long-term goals. Occupying the conservative movement was only a means toward a more ambitious end, which was controlling the Republican Party. The neoconservatives began moving into the GOP during the Nixon-McGovern presidential race in 1972, and by 1976 they were vocal supporters of the Republican centrist Ford over a figure they then regarded as a far rightist, Ronald Reagan.

But by 1980 neoconservatives were rallying to Reagan and signing affirmations of support for the GOP nominee that were then being distributed by the pro-neoconservative Heritage Foundation. The neoconservatives knew they would be able to snatch the mind of the California Republican then vying for the presidency. Of course they were right. In the next eight years they managed to gain commanding positions in several executive departments. They also succeeded in extracting from the United States Information Agency, Department of Education and the National Endowment of the Humanities inexhaustible funds and favors for their friends.

During this period they, not incidentally, took over the infrastructure of the conservative movement, which they would use to increase their political presence and power.

Although Bush I kept the neoconservatives on a tight leash, a situation that forced them to work through his verbally challenged vice president Dan Quayle, the neoconservative-controlled foundations, and particularly Heritage and ARI, remained significant as Republican policy advisors. By 1992, however, some prominent neoconservatives, such as Ben Wattenberg, became attached to Clinton, as pro-Israel advisors, and Heritage was brought partly on board when it enthusiastically endorsed two Jewish liberals, Ruth Bader-Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, for appointment to the Supreme Court.

The neoconservatives have usually divided their forces sufficiently in presidential elections to assure leverage, no matter which side wins. But their wheelhouse remains the GOP, and all foundations they control have remained unswervingly loyal to the party. They have also hesitated to deviate from the neoconservative party line, a fact that Vincent Chiarello brings out in his recent essay for VDARE about CPAC and immigration reform. Despite the overwhelming support for immigration restrictions among CPAC conference attendees, the leadership, which is tightly overseen by neoconservative power-brokers, has adamantly refused to touch the subject. Indeed, the organizers scheduled neoconservtive employee and immigration expansionist, Linda Chavez, to speak on the need to amnesty illegals, lest the GOP "alienate" the Hispanic population.

Needless to say, the Bush II presidency carried the neoconservatives to the height of national power. Here they had a president who repeated, parrot-like, their rhetoric about global democracy and who launched a war of choice against Iraq that the neoconservatives had been advocating for years. They also managed to fill numerous foreign-policy positions with their cadre and were the most prominent ideological force at top levels of government between 2001 and 2008. But they also loudly objected to the administration when things began going south. Some of the neoconservatives even made conciliatory gestures toward Obama, when he was still our first serious black presidential contender.

By 2008, however, the neoconservatives were bound at the hip to what they had taken over, the verbally inept, polyester GOP. Through FOX News and a string of Republican-neoconservative newspapers and journals, starting with the Wall Street Journal, the neoconservative persuasion has become the brains of the Republican Party. Whether it is in its presidential candidates or in its congressional leaders, the party has become the mouthpiece of standard neoconservative beliefs. Nation building, global democracy, a "compassionate" but not overly large federal welfare state, being indulgent of illegals, a tight alliance to the Israeli Right, devotion to England as the forerunner of our democracy, and talk about atoning for America's racist past are all positions that neoconservatives have been preaching or urging on the GOP for years. They are also the things that the GOP continues to highlight as a national party, when it is not mechanically denouncing Obama's fiscal blunders.

Arguably, control over one of the two national parties is what the neocons have been after, since they got to refashion and re-staff the conservative movement. Whatever their other, primitive reasons for smashing their marginalized opposition on the right, their behavior was strategically expedient. It was intended to achieve total control over a movement that the neoconservatives were trying to move leftward, in quest of a far bigger prize. What they were really after was the Republican Party.

By then the party had ceased to be "conservative" in any real sense, and it was a vehicle that a well-financed, journalistically active, mildly left-of-center faction could use to run presidential administrations. The neoconservatives would package whatever they bestowed on the GOP as a "conservative" policy. And since anyone on the right who disagreed with them would be excluded from the publicized political conversation, the only "conservatives" who would receive public attention would be those whom the neoconservatives approved of. Such public figures would also be identified as Republicans. They would bear the mark of the national party on which the neoconservatives were able to confer their own version of what Bush I described as "the vision thing." All the parts of the plan would eventually fall into place.