Sunday, February 25, 2007

A great question

There is an interesting article over at Slate titled "Does the president know what the word Neocon means?" I'll let Timothy Noah set the scene:
But then Cockburn continues:

Notwithstanding this episode, Bush 43 still sometimes drew on his father's wide knowledge of the world. Though he refused to read newspapers, he was aware of criticism that his administration had been excessively beholden to a particular clique, and wanted to know more about them. One day during that holiday, according to friends of the family, 43 asked his father, "What's a neocon?"

"Do you want names, or a description?" answered 41.


"Well," said the former president of the United States, "I'll give it to you in one word: Israel."

Let's set aside the question of whether it's fair to describe neocons as caring only about Israel. (My own view is that it would have been unfair, and possibly anti-Semitic, 20 years ago, but that the neocon agenda has since dwindled to such an extent that by now it's an acceptable shorthand, if slightly risqué.) Instead, let's focus on the anecdote's suggestion that as recently as two and a half years ago, the president of the United States didn't know what neocon meant.

Can this possibly be true?

Noah goes on to give Bush a half hearted benefit of the doubt, noting that the President's question may have involved more involved than just a request for a definition.

It's possible that Bush fils was not asking Bush père to define a term whose meaning was unfamiliar to him, but rather inviting a ruminative conversation about the category's proper parameters. If Irving Kristol were to ask me, "What's a neocon?", he wouldn't be demonstrating ignorance of the term's meaning. He'd be initiating a lively give-and-take about the movement's nature and evolution.

People who think highly of their own intelligence, particularly those on the left, have "misunderestimated" this President's intellectual capacity since day one. Noah goes onto do just that in this article by backing off of the statement above. I'm inclined to think that this explanation by Noah is correct. I've asked myself that question every time I've heard "neocon" for the past five years. It is a reasonable question to ask because "neocon" has been hijacked by the left and shorn of any of its original meaning. Today, it is little more than a pejorative term used by the left to try to dirty anyone on the right who supports the war in Iraq, and it works because since the dawn of the Neo-Nazis, anything with "Neo" in front of it tends to frighten people. In a sense, the left has claimed the term neocon as it's own and the meaning of the word shifts according to the political needs of the person using it. Given that, I too ask, what's a neocon?

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