Will Obama Bring Home the Neocons? | Wall Street Journal

“Neoconservative” and “neocon” have become terms of abuse, denoting right-wing extremism. But the original neoconservatives began mostly as left-leaning intellectuals who only deserted the Democratic Party after it fell under the influence of the counterculture during the Vietnam War. With Barack Obama about to become president, is there any chance neoconservatives will finally return to the roost?

A month or two ago, the question would have seemed preposterous. Mr. Obama, after all, was the most left-wing member of the U.S. Senate — not to mention a former pal of Weatherman Bill Ayers and other extremists. Yet in his presidential campaign, Mr. Obama picked up a number of high-profile conservative endorsements, among them the late William F. Buckley’s son, Christopher, columnist Kathleen Parker, and Reagan foreign-policy hand Kenneth Adelman. If Mr. Obama governs as smartly as he has campaigned — and the signs suggest he will — he stands to make further inroads.

Personal responsibility is one purchase point for the neocons. It was, after all, alarm about the disintegration of black families in the 1960s that helped propel rightward the liberal pillar — and neoconservative founding father — Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Four decades later the same problem afflicts the urban underclass. Mr. Obama’s photogenic First Family serves as a more potent counter to the allure — such as it is — of the ghetto lifestyle than any policy initiative ever cooked up in a neoconservative think tank.

But the incoming president — himself the son of a single mother — not only walks the walk, he talks the talk. During the campaign he boldly told an African-American audience that “We need fathers to realize that responsibility doesn’t just end at conception. . . . What makes you a man is not the ability to have a child. Any fool can have a child. . . . It’s the courage to raise a child that makes you a father.”

Whatever the origins of such thinking, by stressing personal accountability and giving breathtakingly short shrift to the race-men who have built their careers on victimhood — the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are two such falling stars — Mr. Obama has already begun rewriting American life according to the neoconservative handbook.

On judicial appointments and the role of the courts, Mr. Obama and the neoconservatives will no doubt remain continents apart. But on immigration, where the neoconservatives have never abandoned their traditional liberal sympathies for the newcomer, there is another basis for affinity.

Now that seething hostility toward immigrants and the heartless work-place roundups of illegal aliens carried out by the Bush administration have brought the GOP low, neoconservative intellectuals will find little common ground with those Republicans who helped drive away Hispanic voters and marched their party off the electoral cliff. If Mr. Obama pushes for immigration reform that balances humaneness with respect for the rule of law, he will almost certainly draw in some neoconservatives.

Even on foreign policy, Mr. Obama has an opportunity to build a coalition with hawks. Ironically, the surge in Iraq — which Mr. Obama irresponsibly opposed — may allow for a safe American withdrawal on something approximating the timetable he has called for. His emphasis on winning in Afghanistan and cleaning out the al Qaeda redoubt in Pakistan is common sense. His pledge not to permit Iran to acquire nuclear weapons differs not a whit from President Bush’s policy.

And with regard to the Gaza conflict, it is also welcome to recall that, touring the embattled Israeli town of Sderot during the campaign, Mr. Obama stated — in words that neoconservatives are now quoting aloud — that “if missiles were falling where my two daughters sleep, I would do everything in order to stop that.”

It is too early to say which way Mr. Obama will really swing in foreign affairs. But if it is toward resolve in the war against Islamic terrorism — with an occasional humanitarian intervention thrown in — he may well garner waves of support from quarters that were avidly tearing him down right up until Nov. 4.

Of course, nothing is automatic in politics. Each of these policy arenas will be the subject of bloody brawls, especially within the Democratic Party, where all sorts of left-wing skeletons have been shaking themselves alive in pursuit of positions of influence. But to judge by his initial appointments, Mr. Obama recognizes that trying to govern this inherently conservative country to the tune of the “progressive” wing of the party is only a means for seeing his hopes for change dashed and denied.

On the other hand, if he extends an olive branch to the neoconservatives — as he has done with the social conservatives by inviting the pastor Rick Warren, a supporter of California’s gay-marriage ban, to deliver his inaugural invocation, or by breaking bread with leading conservative intellectuals last week — he might pick up some surprising allies. He might also fracture the opposition’s idea machine and help turn the Republicans back into the stupid party for years to come.

Mr. Schoenfeld is a resident scholar at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J.

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