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The Ornery Observer
December 18, 2008

Obama Finds Favor with Neoconservatives
by Paul Gottfried

While the European and American media are celebrating with equal fervor the election of Obama, no other group seems as jubilant as the American “conservative movement” (please note the quotations!).

For several weeks, such self-identified conservative personalities as Max Boot, Peggy Noonan, Mona Charen, David Brooks, Charles Krauthammer, and Richard Perle have been praising the president-elect as someone whose victory has been a plus for all of us. They have rejoiced that Obama’s election has shattered racial barriers. More recently, they have extolled his choice of Bob Gates as defense secretary, General James Jones as national security adviser, and even Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.

Such picks apparently reveal a hopeful continuity with Bush’s administration, and they suggest that Obama is not about to bring home all the troops in the next few weeks from Iraq. The New York Times conservative David Brooks assures us that “he’s off to a start that justifies the hype.” David’s friend, Max Boot, at The Wall Street Journal, claims to be “gobsmacked by his appointments.”

There have also been commentaries by the anti-PC gadfly David Horowitz on the Frontpage website, warning Republicans not to criticize Obama and the Democrats for the sub-prime rate mortgage loans for those who cannot otherwise afford to buy houses. Horowitz insists that critics are exhibiting post-electoral bitterness, as when they ask whether Obama was born on American territory and is constitutionally qualified to be president.

Those who think this rallying to Obama on the part of “movement conservatives” has resulted simply from the fact that he won last month should look a bit deeper. Even before the election was over, “conservative” personalities were rushing into the Democratic camp. Foreign policy expert Ken Adelman, historian Ann Applebaum, and several apparent renegades from National Review were the most prominent jumpers. Others from the same group, like David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter and an early propagandist for the war in Iraq, happily justified the abandonment of McCain when the GOP candidate began to falter. Most of these Obamaites happen to be neoconservatives, a group that swings with the wind on domestic issues while pushing a belligerent form of American internationalism.

Bush and McCain adopted their rhetoric without qualifications, even to the extent of alienating some core voters. However, the neoconservatives, who control most “conservative” PR assets with generous financial assistance from Australian press magnate Rupert Murdoch, have no particular regard for the useful idiots who carry their spears. Frum, in particular, has attacked the Religious Right for losing the election for the GOP. It is of course no secret that the evangelicals provide the neoconservatives with their most reliable foot-soldiers. Like the neoconservatives, the evangelicals have usually allied themselves with the Israeli far right, while at home pushing a global democratic foreign policy. Both positions that have become neoconservative trademarks.

This reaching out to the president-elect on the part of the neoconservatives has entered a second stage. On December 6, a commentary appeared in Murdoch’s New York Post (not to be confused with Murdoch’s FOX News or his Weekly Standard) by former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, exhorting the newly elected president to stand tall for world democracy. Sharansky, who received a Medal of Freedom from the outgoing president for his global democratic crusade, is anything but an uncomplicated idealist. He combines a warlike commitment to spreading democratic values, including getting the United States to employ military force on behalf of his ideals, with a very hard line in dealing with the “non-democratic” Palestinian population.

In Israel, Sharansky has been a darling of the ultranationalist right, and he has expressed the desire to expel Palestinians from East Jerusalem. Sharansky’s concern about “democratic dissidents” has always been highly selective. Even if that were not the case, who or what gives him the right to speak for dissidents everywhere in addressing the incoming president? If Bush made the dubious decision to celebrate his oratory and to add it to his speeches, why should Sharansky expect the same honor, and even more, from Obama?

Yet, like his neoconservative sponsors, Sharansky complains that the previous administration did not give him enough. Sharansky writes that the president’s efforts to support democracy “were not widely supported within his own administration.” But now there is hope with the new president, “who shows no signs that he would not support robust dialogue with democratic dissidents throughout the world. On the contrary, his speeches, books, and campaigns, as well as a meeting I had with him on that topic in 2007, suggest Obama sees real change coming.”

Perhaps this change for Sharansky and his friends on FOX News and at the New York Post includes the opportunity to launch new wars of choice for democratic ends. The present war that they worked so hard to push, and the one in Iran that they would like to start, are the sorts of adventures the incoming administration could use to provide employment for neoconservatives. With a little luck, Sharansky may soon be back at the White House.

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The Ornery Observer is copyright © 2008 by by Paul Gottfried and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation.  All rights reserved. A version of this column appeared in the Lancaster (Pennsylvania) Newspapers in October 2008. All rights reserved.

Paul Gottfried, Ph.D., is the Raffensperger professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania.
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