When "Neocon" Lost its Meaning

The Washington Post has an odd but interesting profile today of three officials in the Department of Transportation -- Tyler Duvall, D.J. Gribbin, and Mary Peters -- who believe in, and are actively working toward, the use of market forces in improving the nation's transportation system.

When Democrats took control of Congress and stripped most earmarks from last year's federal budget, Peters took $850 million that would have been shipped to hundreds of municipalities and poured it into Urban Partnerships, a pilot program awarded to five cities on the condition that they test congestion pricing. [...]

[T]he goal is not just to combat congestion but to upend the traditional way transportation projects are funded in this country. They believe that tolls paid by motorists, not tax dollars, should be used to construct and maintain roads.

They and other political appointees have spent the latter part of President Bush's two terms laboring behind the scenes to shrink the federal role in road-building and public transportation. They have also sought to turn highways into commodities that can be sold or leased to private firms and used by motorists for a price. In Duvall and Gribbin's view, unleashing the private sector and introducing market forces could lead to innovation and more choices for the public, much as the breakup of AT&T transformed telecommunications.

So how are they viewed by transit advocates and Democrats?

"Tyler Duvall is a little pointy-headed neocon with grand ideas about the future of transportation, and they all involve tolling," [House Transportation and Infrastructure highways and transit subcommittee chairman Peter] DeFazio said. "He's bright, young, energetic -- just totally wrong, and has a bizarre, neocon view of transportation."

reason on congestion pricing here; on toll roads there.

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  • ||

    Actually, that's what "neoconserative" originally meant. When it was first used, it applied to people like Daniel Patrick Moynihan, whose ideas about domestic policy revolved around using the insights of the right to fashion policies that advance the left's goals.

    It's only since the Bush administration that the term has come to refer primarily to foreign policy.

  • Taktix®||

    When Democrats took control of Congress and stripped most earmarks from last year's federal budget, Peters took $850 million...

    Wasn't the whole point of eliminating earmarks to stop spending that money? If, by eliminating earmarks, they mean "name it something else yet spend it," then, yeah, good job "eliminating earmarks."

    I swear we're living in fucking Nineteen Eighty-Four.

  • ||

    So it just means "doodoohead" now?

    "Tyler Duvall is a little pointy-headed doodoohead."

  • Taktix®||

    Damn, never splooged a tag like that...

  • Matt Welch||

    Joe -- I don't think Irving Kristol's primary focus was on abolishing the Civil Aeronautics Board, or in fact reducing the size of government in any meaningful way. I'm pretty sure Commentary was never really the place to get the latest on toll roads and congestion pricing.

  • ||

    Actually, that's what "neoconserative" originally meant. When it was first used, it applied to people like Daniel Patrick Moynihan, whose ideas about domestic policy revolved around using the insights of the right to fashion policies that advance the left's goals.

    I don't agree. The genesis of "neo-conservative" lies more in the acceptance of the role of the state to advance "conservative" goals.

    FWIW - Here's Irving Kristol's essay The Neoconservative Persuasion.

  • Episiarch||

    I thought it meant "anyone to the right of me on a given subject".

  • ||

    Great. Add it to the list of Godwinified terms, along with fascist, Nazi, communist, socialist, anarcho-syndicalist, and cosmotarian.

  • Zubon||

    Taktix: no, that is what earmark reduction means, which is why many people (like Ron Paul) are not too worried about them. An earmark requires that $X be spent on Project Y. Sans earmark, that money goes into the general pool from which we bureaucrats decide how to spend it. It becomes a little surreal when we have Republicans arguing that more money needs to be under the direct control of federal bureaucrats rather than democratically elected officials, but then we see what great projects get picked as earmarks.

    Eliminating earmarks does not reduce the federal budget in any way. That's a separate issue. I know, that is a quite disappointing revelation for most people.

  • gumby||

    I suggest "neocon" be used as the new version of "cool". As in, "That's like, totally, neocon!"

  • ||

    Matt Welch,

    Joe -- I don't think Irving Kristol's primary focus was on abolishing the Civil Aeronautics Board, or in fact reducing the size of government in any meaningful way. And, of course, reducing the size of government is the only insight the right has ever provided, right? Lord knows, the two examples I provided about welfare - workfare and marriage counseling - didn't come from the right.

    You've lived through seven years of Bush/Cheney, and you still think "the right" is interested in reducing government? That's so cute.

  • ||

    Tell you what, Matt, why don't you go back to Jeanne Kirkpatrick's book "The New Conservativism" - the first treatment of the subject to receive wide attention - and see what she has to say.

  • ||

    MP,

    That article is from 2003. By 2003, the term's meaning had changed.

  • ||

    From wikipedia:

    Neoconservative policies

    Irving Kristol, the "god-father" and one of the founders of neoconservatism, stated five basic policies of neoconservatism that distinguish it from other "movements" or "persuasions"[8]. These policies, he claimed, "result in popular Republican presidencies":

    Taxes and Federal Budget: "Cutting tax rates in order to stimulate steady economic growth. This policy was not invented by neocons, and it was not the particularities of tax cuts that interested them, but rather the steady focus on economic growth." In Kristol's view, neocons are and should be less concerned about balancing fiscal budgets than traditional conservatives: "One sometimes must shoulder budgetary deficits as the cost (temporary, one hopes) of pursuing economic growth."[8]

    Size of Government: Kristol distinguishes between Neoconservatives and the call of traditional conservatives for smaller government. "Neocons do not feel ... alarm or anxiety about the growth of the state in the past century, seeing it as natural, indeed inevitable."[8]

  • Matt Welch||

    And, of course, reducing the size of government is the only insight the right has ever provided, right?

    Not at all. But privatization was the actual policy content of what I was quoting, and you said "that's what 'neoconserative' originally meant," when in fact it meant no such thing.

    You've lived through seven years of Bush/Cheney, and you still think "the right" is interested in reducing government? That's so cute.

    You've lived through five years of me writing for reason, and you still think I think any such thing? That's so ... not cute.


  • Matt Welch||

    Joe -- Thank you for illustrating the difference between neoconservatism and libertarianism.

  • ||

    But privatization was the actual policy content of what I was quoting, and you said "that's what 'neoconserative' originally meant," when in fact it meant no such thing

    As a matter of fact, it did. Privatization of public services is a perfect example of domestic-side neoconservatism, and one of the first set of policies they called for. It utilizes the (supposed) efficiencies brought about by market-based competition for public contracts in order to improve the state's ability to provide services in a cost-effective manner.

    Congestion pricing, yet another subject of the piece, fits this definition, too. It is yet another example of using market-based phenomena to achieve the sorts of public goods - in this case, infrastructure funding and traffic control - that are more typically equated with big-government liberalism.

    When we turn to foreign policy, we see this same patter. The defining characteristic of neoconservative foreign policy, which differentiates it from the realist conservatism that preceded it, is its focus on democratization over stability, a view traditionally eschewed by the right and embraced by the left. But rather than trying to achieve it through international bodies, treaties, foreign aid, power-to-the-people, and buying the world a Coke, the neoconservatives tried to bring it about through imperialist wars of aggression against hostile states, the capture of their territory, the destruction of their armed forces, and the occupation of their countries - a set of policies more commonly adopted by the right than the liberals.

  • Ava||

    "Neocon" lost its meaning when the European press used it in reference to Pope Benedict when he was elected in 2005.

    Because, yeah, he's such a war monger...

    His theories of social justice occasionally anger me but then I remind myself that he wants the Church to handle these things and I'm not libertarian in matters of faith. At least he's not a Jesuit who wants to use the means of the state to further the ends of the Church.

  • Matt Welch||

    When we turn to foreign policy, we see this same patter.

    Congestion pricing is the new imperialism? WTF?

    Privatization of public services is a perfect example of domestic-side neoconservatism

    When is the last time you heard a prominent neo-con talking about the virtues of domestic privatization? When was it ever a priority in the Kristol or Podhoretz families?

  • ||

    My understanding--and it's not based on a particular text--is that the neocons were originally a bunch of hardcore leftists who became conservative converts in the '60s and '70s, and who retained their previous overall view of the role of government but ask it to serve "conservative" purposes.

    Since 9/11, the term seems to be a pejorative synonym for "hawk."

    Either way, I think DeFazio is being a bit silly with his use of the term, and he's not someone I usually associate with harsh, netroots-style vitriol.

  • ||

    Congestion pricing is the new imperialism? WTF? Nope, I'm not going to explain it a third time. Either respond to the answer I've already written, one way or another, or retire from the field.

    When is the last time you heard a prominent neo-con talking about the virtues of domestic privatization?

    Every time a member of the Bush administration or their apologists in National Review or The Weekly Standard discuss how much more efficient it is to use KBR to feed soldiers and build bases than the uniformed military.

  • ||

    Seriously, there are over 100,000 military contractors in Iraq, and the idea that privatization and neoconservatism are related is some sort of novel observation?

  • ||

    The term "privatization" is a loaded one. To me as a libertarian, it means "government gets entirely out of the business of dealing with XYZ". To the neocon/big-government conservative, it means "government contracts out XYZ to buddies and hangers-on." Pretty substantial difference, there.

  • Matt Welch||

    Nope, I'm not going to explain it a third time.

    One would have sufficed, really.

    Either respond to the answer I've already written, one way or another, or retire from the field.

    Didn't you use to be less autocratic? ... At any rate, the single supposed commonality you've pointed out is the use of no-bid contractors in Iraq. Which really doesn't have much at all to do with either congestion pricing or introducing private finance to the highway system.

    There's a reason libertarians and neocons don't get along very well, joe. It's because they fundamentally disagree about the use of government.

  • Paul||

    In Kristol's view, neocons are and should be less concerned about balancing fiscal budgets than traditional conservatives: "One sometimes must shoulder budgetary deficits as the cost (temporary, one hopes) of pursuing economic growth."[8]



    Keynesian economics to the core. FDR, that fucking neocon.

  • ||

    "Neocon" is the new "liberal".

  • ||

    Taktix: What Zubon said. The amount stays the same, but it is no longer directed by people who know what needs fixing in their districts (and what palms need greasin').

    I doubt that piling $850 million into expensive and potentially patronage-rife pipedream boondoggles in just five cities is really better than spreading that money around in smaller chunks around the country.

    Especially when the corrupt Bush administration is picking where to spend the money. I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up going through a brand-new congestion pricing consultancy set up by Neil Bush.

    An alternative to earmarks that also takes it out of the hand of Federal bureaucrats would be a system that allocates the spending evenly between states, or cities & counties. But an even distribution would tend to lead to situations like the anti-terror spending allocations that gave small towns ridiculous amounts of money and shortchanged actual likely targets. It wouldn't be as bad, in that small and rural areas are likely to have infrastructure that needs fixing even if they aren't terror bait. But you'd likely end up with high-traffic, complex-infrastructure areas getting shorted and mid-Wyoming building unneeded pedestrian overpasses over interstates.

  • ||

    Libertarian angle: When the Feds have put tolls on all the roads, then they can more easily track you if you use EasyPass-type things.

    Or even if you don't - toll plazas would be convenient places to put license-plate cameras. Even if you pay cash they could snap the picture of your plates, OCR them, and they know where you are.

    It's for the children - it'd really help during an Amber alert.

  • ||

    Really, doesn't the gas tax accomplish the same thing without all the nasty surveillance potential?

  • ||

    ChrisO,

    Many of the original neoconservatives were converts from the left, but there were leftists who moved right and became plain old conservatives, too. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, for example, certainly wasn't a hard leftist, but his welfare study was a founding document of neoconservative thought. The movement is defined more by a philosophical orientation than by the people in that movement or their intellectual pedigree.

  • ||

    Retire from the field? Did you really type that? Really?

  • ||

    MATT WELCH

    IT'S ALL THERE, BLACK AND WHITE, CLEAR AS CRYSTAL. YOU LOSE! GOOD DAY SIR!

  • Rhywun||

    So how are they viewed by transit advocates and Democrats?

    I'm not sure where you meant to go with this, but the transit advocates I've heard *support* the congestion pricing plan here in NYC, and most of the (liberal) elected officials support it, while everyone else, left or right, is against it.

  • ||

    "Tyler Duvall is a little pointy-headed neocon with grand ideas about the future of transportation, and they all involve tolling," DeFazio said. "He's bright, young, energetic -- just totally wrong, and has a bizarre, neocon view of transportation."

    DeFazio just wants to use "neocon" to unfairly and nonsensically cast Duvall's transportation advocacies in the light of the failed neocon foreign policy agenda.

  • ||

    I think, in the style guide of the modern progressive, "neoconservative" means simply "person whose politics I hate". Sure seems to be the use being implemented there.

  • some guy||

    The word was always an intellectual shortcut for lazy, label-slinging blog-dwellers.
    Good riddance. (Is it really gone, then? Huzzah!)

  • PC||

    Well what Neocon means to me is a "FDR loving" Straussian. I don't see how they could ever be divorced from foreign policy as some have suggested. Now all Neocons are for the most part Straussians or a product of Straussians whether they know it or not, but not all Straussians are Neoconservatives. Of course Straussian is more of a label to describe an old mindset, that can be traced from Athens to Jerusalem to Rome to Italy to Germany and so on. In today's manifestation guns and butter rule the day.

  • Paul||

    PC,

    FDR was the original neocon.

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