Monday, January 30, 2012

The essential contradiction of neoconservatism

The essential contradiction at the heart of contemporary American neo-conservatism, phrased as a takedown of Bill Kristol:
Abroad, Kristol's U.S. government can do no wrong. At home, it can do no right, or more precisely, it should do no right. In his 1994 and 2009 memos counseling his fellow Republicans on Clinton-care and Obama-care, respectively, Kristol cautioned GOP legislators not to let the Democrats create universal health care, lest it win them the support of a grateful nation. [NB: here's a link to the 1994 memo.] That government is best, Kristol believes, that governs least at home and transforms nations abroad. 
Kristol's neo-con incoherence remains a major tendency in American conservatism, no matter the total discrediting of its case for the Iraq War. Championing radical anti-statism at home, and such anti-statist demagogues as Sarah Palin, while radically overestimating our government's capacity for nation-building abroad, Kristol has produced a body of thought that is an intellectual nullity -- an intellectual nullity, moreover, that is the centerpiece of what passes for Republican and right-wing thinking.
Hammering on this contradiction is a core wedge issue: if you don't think the government can be effective in a wealthy, stable country that we know intimately -- like, say, the United States -- how on earth can you believe that the US government has any hope of being effective in a benighted, godforsaken place like Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, or Somalia?