When First Lady Hillary Clinton referred to the “vast right-wing conspiracy” in 1998, she wasn’t kidding. The public, guided by the mainstream media, pooh-poohed her statement as defensive paranoia but it turns out she was referring to a tightly-networked group of foreign policy wonks called the Neoconservatives.
Fortunately, Craig Unger in his book, The Fall of the House of Bush, has provided both the cast and playbook of this Right Wing power elite as he tells the story about how an “unholy” alliance between George W. Bush, the Neoconservatives and the Christian Fundamentalists came together to formulate the most cockamamie Middle East foreign policy our country has ever seen.
While some of the book is old news, it bears repeating again and again until the American public understands who these people are and what they have wrought. Unger’s twist to the story, however, is in the behind-the-scenes machinations of their power-making.
Today’s Neoconservatives were originally New Left intellectuals who came out of the antiwar movement and sixties counterculture as angry individuals who either felt rebuffed socially or professionally and/or were attracted to the hawkish anti-communist dogma of Democratic Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson.
They imitated the Left’s Brookings Institution by creating their own think tanks and lobbying groups, developing a fundraising apparatus and recruiting “scholars” and “experts” all for the purpose of promoting a new Neoconservative ideology that would “overturn the present power structure of the country,” as Paul Weyrich, founder of the Heritage Foundation, asserted.
The list of Neocons reads like a Post Office bulletin board for all the damage they have done. Most have even become household names including: William Kristol, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Robert Bork, Francis Fukuyama, Norman Podhoretz, Ben Wattenberg, Mayrav Wurmser, James Woolsey, Kenneth Adelman, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Donald Rumsfeld, John Bolton, Lynne Cheney, David Frum, Reuel Marc Gerecht, Newt Gingrich, Frederick Kagan, Irving Kristol, Michael Ledeen, Joshua Muravchick, Charles Murray, Michael Novak, Norman Ornstein, Danielle Pletka, Gary Schmitt, Fred Thompson, David Wurmser, Douglas Feith, John Yoo.
Besides the Heritage Foundation, the Neocons also work for other groups like the American Enterprise Institute, Hudson Institute, Freedom House, Cato Institute, Manhattan Institute, Hoover Institution, Accuracy in Media, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Project for the New American Century.
These organizations are financed with the help of right-wing billionaires like Rupert Murdoch, Sun Myung Moon and Richard Mellon Scaife (who funded a series of investigations attacking President Clinton’s presidency).
In order to shape public opinion, the Neocons have relied on a barrage of media inputs through right-wing news outlets like the New York Post, Fox News, the Washington Times, the American Spectator, and the Weekly Standard.
However, they have also achieved a legitimate platform for their views by writing op-ed pieces and serving as opposing viewpoints in media interviews in the “liberal press” (i.e., network news, New York Times and Washington Post).
In 2000 the Neocons finally hit the jackpot. They found a presidential candidate who would adopt their platform of creating a new American empire that would assert U.S. domination in the Middle East in order to control energy resources (like oil and gas), open up corporate-friendly markets, set up strategic military bases and protect Israel.
GEORGE W. BUSH
Before George W. Bush entered the national stage, he gave up drinking, found the Lord and became more serious about politics. He greatly contributed to his father’s presidential campaigns by appealing to the same Fundamentalist Christians who would later help him in his own presidential bid. However, he first had to prove that he deserved to be the favored son. He did that in 1994 by winning the governorship of Texas by a wide margin while his brother, Jeb, won the Florida governorship by a slim margin.
According to Unger, the tense father-son relationship all came down to Bush’s inability to live up the reputation and accomplishments of his father, as illustrated in the opening chapter titled “Oedipus Tex.” Such family dramas are common, however, this one is being played out on the world stage.
No surprise to his critics, Bush deliberately does the opposite of what his political realist father would do. He also consistently refused the guidance of his father’s advisers, like the foreign policy-wise and ultra-trustworthy Brent Scowcroft or family friend, James Baker, who helped Bush in the 2000 Florida re-count and tried to bail him out the disastrous Iraq War in 2006.
Bush did, however, accept Colin Powell, as Secretary of State but that was only to trot out his good name for the 2000 and 2004 elections. He rarely consulted Powell and then dumped him in 2005 even after Powell sold his soul for his president in his February 2003 United Nations speech that helped sell a war against Iraq. Unger devotes a whole, heart-wrenching chapter to this tragedy that undid one of the most credible, admired men in the USA.
The Bush administration has its own system of checks and balances where its Neocon members oversee the work of the realists of the first Bush administration. The ranks of the administration are also filled with Neocon mentors and mentees. For example, White House interns don’t come from the Ivy League colleges anymore but rather from evangelical colleges that are full of homeschooled fundamentalists. Lawyers for the Justice Department hail from Pat Robertson’s Regent University Law School. And then there’s Tim LaHaye, author of the apocalyptic “Left Behind” series of novels. He and his Council for National Policy have regular access to the Oval Office.
The sixties also deeply affected the Fundamentalist Christians, who saw modern humanist culture as the scourge on the nation. The Supreme Court’s ruling on school prayer and desegregation especially provoked them, however, it was the legalization of abortion in 1973 that finally galvanized them to action.
Although the public perceived the Fundamentalists as clueless rubes and fools, Jerry Falwell saw them as an opportunity for power and influence. Only half of the Fundamentalists voted but one third of Americans considered themselves “born again.” Fifty percent believed in biblical inerrancy and 80 percent saw Jesus as divine. Meanwhile, radio and TV evangelists had garnered a built-in audience of 130 million.
Disappointed with “born again” President Jimmy Carter, Falwell in 1978 began talking about “unborn babies” who were murdered through abortion. He also gathered 20-25 top political operatives at his church in Lynchburg, Va., and rallied them to become involved in the political process as a way of bringing back traditional moral values. They helped with Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign.
Conservative activist Morton Blackwell, executive director of the College Republican National Committee, also joined with Falwell. He brought with him some talented and aggressive young men including Lee Atwater, Karl Rove, Ralph Reed, Grover Norquist and Jack Abramoff.
The Fundamentalist Christians talk about the Founding Fathers and their ideals but it is important to realize that they are referring to religious Puritans like Cotton Mather who encouraged the Salem witch trials and not the deistic modernist men of the Enlightenment like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison and Thomas Paine.
Unger contends that from the beginning, America been caught in the dilemma between fundamentalism and modernism. Today, as a result, America is in deep trouble both domestically and internationally because of this “unholy” alliance, which will undoubtedly outlast Bush, at least for a little while.
Americans who detest what this alliance is doing must recognize the characters, their institutions and their tactics and challenge them. They must also support those who are fighting for our Constitution like the ACLU, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and the American Freedom Campaign, which is urging the restoration of the checks and balances system of government and reversing the executive branch’s abuses of power.