When the term first emerged in the 1970s, "the neoconservatives" referred to three overlapping groups:
(a) Scoop Jackson Democrats, such as Jeanne Kirkpatrick, who opposed the McGovern campaign and their party's related drift towards dovishness. Fiercely pro-Israel and pro–Cold War, they pretty much all re-registered as Republicans by the end of the '80s.
(b) ex-Trotskyist New York intellectuals, such as Irving Kristol, who were dismayed both at the aforementioned drift toward dovishness and at the New Left's "barbaric" attitudes toward Israel, higher education, and the old liberal establishment.
(c) formerly liberal academics, such as Peter Berger, whose research led them to reject the case for Great Society programs -- and, in some cases, the case for even larger swabs of the welfare state.
The third group is obviously somewhat different from the first two. It got roped in because its members were reconsidering their liberal or leftist sympathies at the same time as the others and because they often ended up publishing in the same magazines (The Public Interest, Commentary, etc.). Many of their then-controversial claims are now accepted by people who still consider themselves liberal; many of their articles are cited warmly by libertarians who otherwise profess to hate neocons.
If the third group has grown less essential to the definition of neoconservatism, then a fourth group has picked up the slack: second-generation neocons like Bill Kristol, who aren't "neo" in the sense of being former liberals but are "neo" in that their beliefs are in many ways distinct from those of the pre-neocon Right. Confusing matters somewhat, some libertarians and paleoconservatives have attempted to retrofit the word to describe the ex-Communists who seemed to join the Right en masse during the late '40s and the '50s (James Burnham, Max Eastman, etc.), helping turn its attention from limited government at home to an active foreign policy abroad.
Israel is a central foreign-policy concern of the neocons, in many cases the central foreign-policy concern (which is why I get annoyed when critics of Israel, such as Christopher Hitchens, are shoved under the neocon label). In terms of domestic policy, I think David Frum was right to divide the neocon tribe into two groups: the "optimists," exemplified by Jack Kemp, and the "pessimists," exemplified by James Q. Wilson. For the details, read his book Dead Right.
Finally: "neocon" is also an insult that some libertarians like to hurl at other libertarians. If one lib says another lib is "basically a neocon," it's his way of saying the other guy is too hawkish, too corporate, too gradualist, or altogether too close to the establishment.
Everybody got that? Good; there'll be a quiz on Friday.
The game itself had its moments but was mostly a boring blowout. The entertainment, too, was a mixed bag. One minute we hear Celine Dion (who isn't even American, dammit) singing a predictably schlocky rendition of "God Bless America"; in the next, on the other hand, we have the Dixie Chicks harmonizing very nicely on "The Star-Spangled Banner." At halftime, an engaging performance by Shania Twain's cleavage was unfortunately marred by the presence of Shania Twain's music. (If this woman is a country singer, how come those songs sounded like Loverboy?) No Doubt was much more listenable, and Sting had the good sense to ignore his solo catalog and sing an early Police song.
As for my Reason column, I wound up writing about "The Myth of Media Deregulation." The piece contains absolutely no references to the Super Bowl.
FROM FRODO TO HOICHI: Turns out I like The Two Towers better than The Fellowship of the Ring. (I'm referring to the movies, of course, not the books.) Like its predecessor, it is uneven, overlong, and filled with high-fantasy speechifying of a sort I lost patience with before I'd even hit my teens; but, on the plus side, there are fewer shots of Elijah Wood's wide-eyed stare, much less sub-vaudeville slapstick from Merry and Pippin, and (praise the Lord!) absolutely no New Age yodeling from Enya. Meanwhile, the large-scale battle scenes are shot with far more art and care than the equivalent portions of most other Hollywood spectacles. And while there is less of Christopher Lee's enjoyably campy performance as Saruman to relish, Andy Serkis more than picks up the slack as Gollum.
Bias alert: I'm not usually impressed by "epic" films. My favorite exception is the "Hoichi the Earless" sequence in Kwaidan, a mostly brilliant quartet of Japanese ghost stories. "Hoichi" begins with the legend of a samurai battle, relating it in a way that actually feels like one of those epic medieval poems -- and bears no resemblance to a Hollywood epic at all. I recommend it highly.
Actually, I recommend almost all of Kwaidan. Its first sequence is mediocre and skippable, but the other three actually fulfill the promise offered and broken by so many movie trailers: "Unlike anything you've ever seen before."
I'm against war with Iraq, but I have to admit that the line is funny. Of course, it also constitutes "moral equivalency," which I thought was supposed to be a no-no in those ideological parts. I suppose it's all a matter of whose ox is being gored.
For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about: Pete Townshend has been arrested for viewing child pornography online. He has confessed to the deed but not to the presumed intent: He was researching the sexual exploitation of children, he says, not participating in it. As a longtime Who fan, I hope he's telling the truth -- hope his explanations for his behavior sound so defensive and so curiously repetitious because he's upset anyone would accuse him of pedophilia, not because he's desperately trying to weasel out of a tight spot. It's true that Townshend has been speaking out against kiddie porn for a while now, a fact which supports his version of events. Of course, it's also true that, a couple decades ago, he was simultaneously an anti-drug crusader and a junkie.
Even if he was looking at the stuff as a disgusted investigator and not as a lusty boy-lover, that doesn't mean he'll be spared a jail term. I don't know what the law is in England, but here in America journalists have been imprisoned for doing exactly what Townshend claims he was doing.
Meanwhile, the whole Who catalog suddenly seems a bit ... dirty. You can make your own foul jokes about the phrases "before I get old" and "the kids are alright." Me, I feel grimy enough for titling this item "Preteen Wasteland."
The reissue of the year: two of Doug Sahm's finest albums, one of them never before available on CD. The songs range from honky-tonk to jump blues to psychedelia to jazz -- if a musical style has ever drifted through Texas, Sahm can (a) play it brilliantly and (b) combine it casually with everything else.
Sublime folk-rock from a punk pioneer. (Before she went solo, Houston was in the Avengers.) For years I only had a pirated tape of this out-of-print album; now, thanks to the Internet, you and I can acquire the CD directly from the artist. Best track: "Putting Me in the Ground."
Cash's most recent studio album was a mixed bag -- but with this brilliant live set from 1969 hitting stores at the same time, who could complain? Bloggers caught between hawkish and dovish sympathies will especially enjoy the singer's declaration, re: Vietnam, that he's "a dove with claws."