I love reading Commentary, the nation's premier neoconservative magazine. Every issue is chock full of gloom-and-doom prophecies and humorless Cold Warriorism—the perfect antidote to another sun-drenched California day.
But neocons cease to be amusing when they leave their ivory towers and start wielding political power. Voluntary exiles from the real America (rarely is one sighted outside the New York-Washington-Boston axis), these intellectual heirs to FDR are determined to use your tax dollars to fund the further adventures of Uncle Sam, the bloody-nosed world policeman.
Thankfully, the American people have too much sense to actually elect neoconservatives to public office. Which is why the eggheads lust so for government appointments. And why they've become such tenacious defenders of a neocon-controlled, federally funded foundation that's making George Washington turn backflips in his grave—the National Endowment for Democracy.
The NED is one of those government programs dedicated to noble ends in theory (in this case, "exporting democracy") but waste and nefariousness in practice. Created in 1983, the NED disburses $18 million annually to private American groups—primarily the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce—for the purpose of promoting the development of free institutions abroad. In two short years, the foundation has compiled a shameful record of foreign meddling. Which, unfortunately, is exactly what it's supposed to do.
The deal is this: the NED, under the direction of neocon polemicist and former Jeane Kirkpatrick aide Carl Gershman, showers government alms upon deserving private charities. Like, say, the AFL-CIO's Free Trade Union Institute. (The union received 75 percent of Ned's total appropriations in 1985.) The democracy-loving unionists, in turn, pass the loot on to anticommunist trade unions, newspapers, and other paragons of neocon virtue around the globe. Recipients of NED lucre range from the military-backed candidate for president in Panama to right-wing unions and student groups in France. (Yes, your government, ever on the lookout for grand new projects, has spent over $1 million trying to "export democracy" to France. No word yet on the operation's success.)
To be fair, the NED and its middlemen have assisted worthy causes—Poland's Solidarity and the plucky Nicaraguan opposition paper La Prensa, for instance. But however much we admire (and support with private donations) the Solidaritys of this world, is it really a legitimate function of the US government to tax you and me to finance foreign politicians or unions of any stripe? Precisely which clause in our profaned and defiled Constitution empowers Carl Gershman & Co. to act out their grad-school power-politics fantasies with the blessing and support of our federal government?
The NED has further entangled this country in the affairs of Chile, China, Nicaragua, Argentina, Guatemala, Grenada, and the Philippines, among others. More grants and schemes are being cooked up as I write and you read. Where all this interference will end, God only knows.
Conservatives, usually so vigilant in sniffing out government waste, have been disappointingly silent when it comes to the NED. (Columnist James J. Kilpatrick and Congressman Hank Brown of Colorado are happy exceptions.) Perhaps, as 1940s renegade intellectual Lawrence Dennis saw it, there is "nothing you can't put over on American conservatives if you spice it with war and anti-red" talk.
But I hope our friends on the right remember that the NED is a tool of the regnant administration. They shouldn't start bawling their eyes out when Gary Hartpence or Saint Cuomo moves into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and appoints some Harvard-educated lefty hack to head the NED and dole out dollars to the Michael Manleys and Nelson Mandelas of the world.
The National Endowment for Democracy, which uses tax monies to subsidize politicos in far-off lands, violates every principle upon which this nation was founded. President Benjamin Harrison once opined that "we have no commission from God to police the world." The old drunk was right. This is America, not some wretched European Empire. Let's keep our noses out of foreign disputes and make bully-boy intellectuals find productive or at least harmless work, like writing articles for Commentary.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "The Neocons' Newest Con".