Our Country's Tough Guys and Their Moms and Dads

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by my
post from yesterday
about Bill Kristol and Fred Kagan, I want
to raise an issue which I think receives far less attention than
its significance warrants. Among the country’s most influential
neoconservatives, one finds extremely pervasive nepotism. Beyond
that, a conspicuously high percentage of them have had their careers
created, shaped and fueled by their parents. They have been dependent
upon the accomplishments of their parents, especially their fathers,
whose political views they end up reciting almost without deviation.
Just look at the intertwined axis that spawned the two leading
“surge” advocates, Kristol and Kagan:

Bill Kristol’s
parents are Irving Kristol, the so-called
“godfather of neoconservatism,” and Gertrude Himmelfarb, whose
defining political act was an homage
at the AEI to the virtues of Victorian morality. Bill
followed in his parents’ footsteps almost completely – the
same career, the same political circles, the same exact political
beliefs as his mother and father, and had his career shaped by
them from the start.

Fred Kagan
did exactly the same thing as Bill Kristol – copied the career
and mindset of his father. Just like Kristol’s father, the Washington
Post labelled
Kagan’s dad, Donald, “a beloved father figure of the ascendant
neoconservative movement.” Fred Kagan even went so far as to co-author
a 2000 book
with his dad entitled While America Sleeps: Self-Delusion,
Military Weakness and the Threat to Peace Today, a book which
– pre 9/11 – advocated many of the very same militaristic
policies which today are “justified” by the 9/11 attacks. Fred
Kagan’s brother, Robert, is exactly the same as Fred and Bill
Kristol. Along with Kristol, Robert co-founded the Project for
the New American Century which, of course, spent the years prior
to the 9/11 attacks urging
regime change
in Iraq, among other things.

This sprawling
nepotism web goes on and on even as one descends to the lower
levels of the neoconservative ranks of importance and influence.
Jonah Goldberg’s career was created
and shaped
by his mother, Lucianne, whose political beliefs
he copies. He came to be known by attaching himself to his mom
as she milked her role in the Lewinsky scandal (at the time, Jonah,
29, was “vice president” of his mom’s company). John Podhoretz
is a poor man’s version of his dad, Norman, and his mom, Midge
Decter, two of the most
neoconservative figures around. White House neoconservative
(and Iran-Contra convict) Elliot
married one of Decter’s daughters (from her first marriage),
and one of his first key jobs in the neoconservative movement
was when he was chosen by Norm Podhoretz, Decter’s husband, to
write for Commentary (Abrams was also a major contributor to (Bill)
Kristol and (Robert) Kagan’s PNAC).

In one sense,
this is all just a strain of a general and I think rather damaging
aristocratizing of our political process. Last month, Digby wrote
about this in the context of the Bush family,
the catalyst for which was Digby’s observation that a Bush family
photo includes our current President, his brother the Governor
of one of our largest states, their father the former President
who, in turn, is the son of a former Senator. And that clan continuously
uses its political power to propagate itself, exploiting its vast
power network to strengthen the careers and wealth of its family
members and continuously breeding
new heirs
to the throne.

It is true
that neoconservatives and Republicans do not have a monopoly on
the political exploitation of family connections. The Kennedys
still pervade the political system at all elected levels, and
the political careers of Jesse Jackson Jr., Andrew Cuomo, Bob
Casey, Al Gore, and Harold Ford, Jr. – to name just a few
– clearly benefited from the political accomplishments of
their fathers. And Hillary Clinton’s status as a leading presidential
candidate is derivative, first and foremost, of the fact that
she is married to a former President.

But the
neoconservative attachment to and dependence upon their parents
goes beyond mere exploitation of one’s parents or other relatives
for political career gain. So many leading neoconservatives end
up following in their parents’ footsteps – remaining attached
to them and becoming carbon copies of them – to an extent
that is quite unusual and clearly significant. To have the top
level of an entire highly influential political movement be so
dependent upon their parents for their careers and worldview seems,
at the very least, to be worth some commentary.

from one’s parents is just a basic rite of passage of becoming
an adult. In that regard, rebellion against one’s parents is –
to invoke an emerging clich – a feature, not a bug, of adolescence.
Repudiating control by one’s parents and finding one’s own way
in life is a critical part of becoming a fully-formed adult, and
so is an effort to have one’s accomplishments exist independently
of ones’ mommy and daddy. Someone who decides to choose the exact
same careers as their parents, fueled by their parents’ friends
and accomplishments, and who ends up reciting virtually the exact
views of their parents, is someone who seems to be reliant on
their parents in the extreme.

for its own sake – against one’s parents or anything else
– is adolescent in nature and, if it doesn’t balance out,
is just as mindless as those who remain slavishly attached to
their parents. And all of these dynamics exist as generalities
with all sorts of exceptions. But in general, choosing to live
in the shadows of one’s parents – where everything copies
their path and is shaped and molded by them – would seem
to create very stunted and coddled personalities.

Many, perhaps
most, of the leading neoconservatives don’t seem to have arrived
at their political worldview through much or any intellectual
struggle or independence, nor do they seem to have had to make
their own way in building their careers. Quite the opposite –
they seem to have been bred into their lives, and they just marched,
like good little boys, along with their parents’ views and plans
for them. And they not only willingly accepted, but seem to have
eagerly sought, all sorts of help from their parents in building
their careers, all in exchange for fully embracing their parents’
views almost without deviation.

It’s rather
ironic (and almost certainly not coincidental) that neoconservatives
love, more than anything else, to strut around spewing tough-guy
Churchill warrior rhetoric and to sermonize on the virtues of
self-reliance – and are characterized in their political
views by a total lack of empathy for the plight of others –
even though they have chosen extremely coddled, privileged lives
feeding off the accomplishments and directives of their mothers
and fathers. And quite significantly, the political Leader they
found to represent their belief system, to personify their contrived
warrior pose, and to implement their radical agenda – George
W. Bush – is the most extreme version of that coddled and
father-dependent personality one can find.

The embrace
by the President of the “surge” plan of Kagan and Kristol –
father-controlled figures all – is really nothing more noble
or elevated than a petulant refusal to accept the consequences
of their failure and responsibility for their actions. It’s a
foot-stomping exercise, whereby they feel entitled to satisfaction
and personal vindication, and that personal desire trumps everything
– hence, their eagerness to ignore the damage they have wrought
by inventing new war theories and fantasies to continue their
wars that don’t affect them in any way, for which only other people
pay a price. It’s the behavior of people who have developed an
extreme sense of personal entitlement by virtue of allowing, even
urging, their fathers and mothers to shape their lives far beyond
what is normal or healthy.

I realize
that there are some people who have an aversion to raising issues
of this sort on the ground that it constitutes some sort of unknowable
pop psychology and that one ought to confine oneself only to the
substance of the “issues.” I don’t agree with that view at all.

It is glaringly
apparent that the twisted and bloodthirsty tenets of neoconservatism
which are dominating our country – this insatiable craving
for slaughter that is as endless as it is pointless, and an equally
insatiable desire to expand the government power of their Leaders
– are not rooted in some rotted, coherent geopolitical doctrine
as much as they are rooted in rotted
personality disorders
. All of that is sociopathic and authoritarian
and those are phenomena far more psychological than political.

that reason, the Bush Movement at its core – the true, hard-core,
reality-denying, warmongering, dead-ender True Believers –
is much more of a psychological
than it is a political movement, and to ignore the
former makes it impossible to understand or meaningfully discuss
the latter. There is no reason to ignore the impulses and personality
types of the people who for the last six years have governed,
and continued to govern, our country, nor is there any reason
to pretend that this all stems from sterile and elevated good
faith political disputes when it doesn’t.

23, 2007

Greenwald [send him mail]
is the author of How
Would a Patriot Act?
See his blog Unclaimed
, where this first appeared.

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