Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Did I ‘Define Neoconservatism Down’?

Rich Lowry has a provocative and well-argued post about my claim in both the New York Post this morning and on CONTENTIONS that the president last night delivered a “neoconservative” speech. “I’ve never known a neo-con to brag about how rapidly he’s drawn down U.S. troops in an ongoing conflict, unnecessarily putting at risk hard-won gains on the ground,” Rich points out, going on to say that “Obama went on to use the troops and their sacrifice as a reason that we should unite around his effort to spend us into the ground here at home. Unless you’re grading on a very sharp curve, this is shabby stuff.”

I was grading on a curve. I think that’s what you do when you respond to presidential addresses. What’s interesting about them is what’s new in them; that was always understood when I was writing speeches in the White House 22 years ago. Even in Oval Office addresses, half of what is said is there because it’s intended to suggest continuities with previous statements and offer reassurance to already existing constituencies. Thus, it’s entirely to be expected and entirely without interest that he said it is time to turn the page in Iraq so we can focus on problems at home — and spend the money we spent in Iraq on domestic programs.

It’s when speeches change things up, go in unexpected directions, that they make news and are interesting. In that respect, the neocon-like rhetoric used by Obama was entirely new, especially for him, and therefore very interesting. For Obama to claim, as he did, that our perseverance in Iraq offers us hope that we can turn around our domestic woes was a startling thing. He probably didn’t mean it, and in many ways he’s the polar opposite of a neocon. But he said it. What’s more telling, he said it because he thought it would be of value to him to say it.

And by saying it, he was indicating something even more interesting — again, without knowing it. And that is this: the core “neoconservative” position is that America is a force for good in the world and that when America acts, it benefits both the world and its own national soul. The fact that Obama has moved toward this view rhetorically indicates the degree to which it reflects a common and long-standing American consensus toward which even Obama, the first post-American president, finds himself moving by default.



Join the discussion…

Are you a subscriber? Log in to comment »

Not a subscriber? Join the discussion today, subscribe to Commentary »





Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.