As he does nearly every day, Max Boot, the Washington Post’s in-house neocon columnist, wrote some words today. As has been the case quite a few times before, none of his latest words, even when strung together into a coherent sentence, were particularly good. For this very reason, several of those sentences were noteworthy. So let’s (OK, let me) look at just what that beautiful, smooth organ in Boot’s skull considers a “neoconservative.”
According to Merriam-Webster, a neoconservative is a person who cites dictionary definitions in their writing. It’s also, simply put, someone in American politics who’s conservative on economic issues, hews to the middle or even center-left on social issues, and also really, really likes to Do War. That last one is a big requirement, so don’t forget it—war equals a strong, responsible nation.
Boot opened his column with a critique of Rep. Ro Khanna’s recent op-ed in the Post, with Boot writing that Khanna’s position—that neocons were responsible for the Iraq War—is little more than an oft-repeated “canard” that plagues the American discourse. He then proceeded to take the reader through what a real neoconservative looks like by rewriting the top-summary of the neoconservatism Wikipedia page.
Boot started by citing a group of 1970s characters he classified as the True Neocons. (Initially, the term was embodied by folks who were a little more skeptical of the Soviet Union than some of their Democratic counterparts.) Boot then argued neocons simply were not in power at the time the Iraq War was being decided on (a fact that is demonstratively untrue) by citing Bush administration officials widely credited as architects of the Iraq War:
The “neocons” — second-tier officials such as Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, and vice-presidential chief of staff Scooter Libby — were not the decision-makers. The decision to invade was made by President George W. Bush in consultation with Vice President Dick Cheney, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Secretary of State Colin Powell. None of them would ever label themselves a “neocon.”
Note the last sentence—Boot frames his argument in a way that hangs the burden of proof that one is a neoconservative, or acts in a neoconservative fashion, on the stipulation that they publicly identify themselves as such, which, plainly, is so fucking dumb that I’m going to show you him doubling down on this line of thinking just because it’s so unbelievably shallow.
Moreover, a bipartisan majority of both houses approved the use of military force. Are Democratic then-Sens. Joe Biden, John Kerry, Charles E. Schumer, Harry Reid, Tom Daschle, Hillary Clinton and Dianne Feinstein neocons?
To state the obvious: Yes! All of those people are absolutely neocons, at least in some way.
The idea that Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden don’t at the very least actively display numerous neoconservative tendencies is an outright rejection of what Americans have watched play out in the political realm since the national Democratic Party imploded in the 70s. Democrats can be neocons; Republicans can be neolibs. Neos of some sort or the other are probably around you, right this very second, and no, not the good kind!
Boot instead tries to convince readers that they are mislabeling politicians when, in fact, the label of neocon fits better than most for his motley crew of centrist Democrats, far better than “liberal” ever has. The people he chose to list are the people directly responsible for legislating the mass incarceration of minority citizens into existence; the folks known for cutting their teeth on the War on Drugs; the ones who fucked over middle-class kids taking out college loans; the assholes who were happy to vilify the welfare system; the elderly power-brokers who stared down a group of kids and poo-poo’d the urgency climate change; the imperialists who voted for war and then some more war and then continued to be recalcitrant drone-loving war hawks throughout the opening decades of the 21st Century.
The concept that political identity is wholly defined as being a list of beliefs a person writes down in their diary or says aloud during a campaign ad, and not by the actions conducted by said person, is one that has needed to die for at least the past half-century of American politics. But, again, Boot’s column is not engaging in a discussion about what a neocon actually is in 2019. It’s a deceptive and even laudatory tactic, but Boot is purposefully choosing to frame his argument around how politicians frame themselves. And that’s a major problem if you happen to be employed to write down your opinions for one of the major news outlets in a nation and not for the political operatives themselves.
If anything, the fact that this batshit lazy argument permeated the top three-fourths of his column offered a bit of relief with how it would end. Then this sentence appeared and I ascended to heaven:
I am by no means suggesting that everyone who uses the neocon label is doing so as an anti-Semitic smear, but
[Insert Italian-chef-kissing-fingers-meme here.]