Joe Sobran and the Neo-Cons
Jude Wanniski
October 5, 2000


Memo: To: Joe Sobran, syndicated columnist
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: The neo-con contribution

[I wrote this memo to Sobran early yesterday morning after spotting it on Lew Rockwell’s website. I’ve been a fan of Sobran for years and we have exchanged notes occasionally. This time I thought I could take issue with him, mildly, as he took a mild poke at neo-conservatives for messing up the conservative purity of the Republican Party. He was prompted to do so after reading a New York Times article by Sam Tanenhaus, "When Left Turns Right, It Leaves the Middle Muddled." Tanenhaus, by the way, is not a NYT reporter, but a biographer, whose best work is a recent bio of Whittaker Chambers that I highly recommend. Here is my note to Sobran, which begins with a reference to Irving Kristol, who kicked off the neo-con movement back in the 1960's and who I continue to revere as the godfather, the Don Corleone, of the movement.]

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You should have at least credited Kristol & Co. for backing supply-side economics, which returned the GOP to power via Reagan, another former Democrat who had had enough of liberal theology. I consider myself just such a neo-con, switching parties in '78 to vote for Jeff Bell [the GOP candidate for U.S. Senate from NJ], bringing my entire family into the GOP. When I met Gingrich in 1979, I told him the electorate will not entrust the GOP with the White House and Congress until it knew that when it attained power it would not destroy the safety net. (I coined the phrase "social safety net" and wrote it into Kemp's 1979 book, An American Renaissance.) My objective was, and remains, a world of peace and prosperity built around private decisions. It cannot happen in great leaps, though. All change takes place on the margin.

The first neo-con was not Kristol, but Whittaker Chambers, I believe. Chambers tried to teach GOP intellectuals to win by half-loaves instead of always asking for it all. Alas, as soon as Gingrich got the Congress back in 1994, he stopped taking my phone calls, put reduction of capital gains taxation to the bottom of his list, and ruled out dynamic scoring, the heart of the supply-side economic program. In that sense, I continue to view the GOP as the Stupid Party, because it always insists on returning to its mindless conservative roots. I watched Bush Tuesday night and he was helpless in fending off the class warfare attacks by Gore -- because his economic team is totally composed of Old Guard conservative Keynesians. There is no Laffer Curve, no dynamic growth argumentation, no real solutions to the problems of the SSI and Medicare systems.

Have you ever taken an interest in economics? I do appreciate your skills as a columnist and as a commentator, but I do not recall you ever grappling with the underpinnings of economic policymaking. The divide in the GOP has been the economic conservatives versus the cultural conservatives. From that standpoint, your commentary on the neo-cons is narrow and not really helpful, except that you do state your case clearly. Know what I mean?