excerpted from the book
a history of wealth and power
in a democracy
by Steve Fraser and Gary Gerstle
Harvard University Press, 2005,
For three-quarters of the twentieth century, from the Spanish-American
War to the end of the Vietnam War, the foreign policy of the United
States was decisively influenced by a comparatively small group
of men who belonged to what has been loosely but usefully called
the American foreign policy Establishment.
There were five major acts in the history of the foreign policy
Establishment. Its origins in the First World War introduced its
cast of characters, its institutions, and its ethos. (Its prehistory,
indeed, lay in the Theodore Roosevelt circle, and particularly
in the character and ideas of Elihu Root, who combined a successful
corporate law practice in New York with devotion to the honor
and greatness of the United States as well as to the ideals of
arbitration and cooperation in international affairs.) The second
was its success in the so-called Great Debate over American involvement
in World War ii-successful at least in the sense that Pearl Harbor
made the U.S. belligerency that the Establishment advocated inevitable.
The third, and perhaps most identified with the core of the Establishment,
was leadership in the organization of the nation at war with the
Axis, and especially in the development of and the decision to
use the atomic bomb. Fourth was the Establishment's advocacy of
a middle course of containment in the Cold War. And the fifth
act was the fatal extension of Cold War containment and counterinsurgency
force to the developing world and especially to Vietnam.
At the end of the Gilded Age, an American upper class had emerged,
headquartered in the Northeast, especially in New York and Boston,
but national in influence. Its base was in industrial wealth and
in the financial sector, but its members took pains to distinguish
themselves from mere business spokesmen. They were usually products
of elite boarding schools, colleges, and professional schools,
especially law schools, and in practice of a very small number
of schools, colleges, and graduate schools. Over and over again
in the biographies of the men (and they were almost all men) who
directed American foreign policy from the 1900 to the 1960s the
same few names recur.
Among the boarding schools, it was Phillips
Andover (Stimson's school); Groton (Acheson's and Harriman's,
and indeed Franklin Roosevelt's); St. Paul's in Concord, New Hampshire,
where the diplomat and Soviet expert Charles E. Bohlen was educated
and so was the CIA official Cord Meyer; and the Hill School, near
Philadelphia, alma mater of Robert Lovett and (much later) of
George H. W. Bush's secretary of state, James Baker.
Among universities it was not even the
whole of the Ivy League but preeminently Harvard, Yale, and Princeton;
among graduate schools it was Harvard Law, Yale Law, sometimes
Columbia, and only occasionally great middle western universities
like Michigan and Wisconsin.
Indeed, it is startling to discover how
many of the key figures in managing America's foreign relations
were not just undergraduates at Yale but members of a single secret
senior society there, Skull and Bones. This bizarre institution
still maintains a gloomy "tomb" on the Yale campus where
the great and the good come to mingle with ambitious undergraduates
in an atmosphere of moral uplift and Victorian jocularity amid
mementos of a sinister nineteenth-century cult of Native American
skulls. Stimson, Lovett, Harriman, Acheson, Harvey Bundy and his
two sons, McGeorge and William, for example, were all "Bonesmen,"
not to mention George Herbert Walker Bush and his father, Senator
Prescott Bush. So were several of the key figures in the early
years of the CIA.
... except in time of war, not many Americans between 1917 and
1968 were interested in foreign affairs, and fewer still were
expert in that highly specialized field.
... Because many of them worked as international
bankers and lawyers, the Establishment products of elite eastern
education were an exception. They shared political assumptions,
among them a history, a policy, an aspiration, an instinct, a
technique, and a dogma. They were also defined by a class, a culture,
a dynasty, and a style. But more important is what they did. For
better or for worse, their contribution to the creation of the
American superpower was immense.
Vietnam divided them and stripped them
of their aura of invincibility. Since then, other elites with
different agendas, especially neoconservatives more interested
in the Middle East than in western Europe, have replaced them.
But the Establishment's influence lives on. Its members made it
possible for America to win two world wars and the Cold War. In
the process they transformed the United States from a largely
pacifist state into a national security state...
The prevailing culture in the foreign
policy Establishment was that of New England boarding schools
and Ivy League universities, of the older established Protestant
denominations (especially Episcopalian and Presbyterian), of Wall
Street and Boston's State Street law firms, and of the clubs their
partners frequented. It was capitalist but liberal, patriotic
but internationalist, Anglophile though critical of England, masculine
but not macho, cultivated but not usually intellectual, loyal
to schools, colleges, clubs, family, and nation, deeply committed
to an ideal of public service and to an ethos of individual stoicism...
The dynasty began with Henry Lewis Stimson
and even further back with Stimson's law partner and mentor, Elihu
Root. Its direct line ran through Stimson's aide and protégé,
Harvey Bundy, to the latter's sons, William Putnam Bundy, son-in-law
of Dean Acheson, and his younger brother McGeorge. But the American
foreign policy Establishment was broader than a single family.
It welcomed all, or almost all, who shared its ideals, its purposes,
and its style.
... The Establishment was not a cultural
circle or another name for the old ruling class. It was a foreign
policy Establishment, and its agenda was from first to last concerned
with the place of the United States in the world.
... The Establishment's policy, from start
to finish, was to oppose isolationism and to work, within the
limits of its own sense of morality, to maximize American power
and influence in the world. That did not mean simply that the
United States should be involved in the world, should be-as the
phrase went-"interventionist." It also meant that the
United States should remain primarily oriented toward Europe,
as opposed to Latin America or Asia, the natural fields of action
for the elites of the South and the West. For all the occasional
recruits from the Middle West and Texas (George Kennan° or
Will Clayton") this was essentially an eastern Establishment;
its worldview was that of New York and Washington, Boston and
Its aspiration was not modest: it was
to the moral and political leadership of the world, no less. Specifically,
it aspired to supersede the British Empire in its double role
of protecting a certain Western liberal, capitalist world order,
and at the same time of preaching Western values to what Rudyard
Kipling called "lesser breeds without the law."
... The instinct was for the political
and ideological center. It was repelled by raw business self-interest,
and uninterested in radical agendas of social change. To take
an obvious example, the typical Establishment figure found racism
distasteful, but placed the need for action toward racial equality
low on his list of priorities. The Establishment stood for a liberal
capitalism. Establishment members had no objection in the world
to capitalism; many of them, after all, had inherited more or
less substantial capital, and most of them worked, as bankers
or lawyers, at the heart of the capitalist system, often literally
on Wall Street.
At the same time, capitalism, its members
believed, ought to protect "the widow and the fatherless."
As Theodore Roosevelt put it in 1912, "This country will
not be a permanently good place for any of us to live in unless
we make it a reasonably good place for all of us to live in."
Not a revolutionary or a radical creed, to be sure, but one that
separated the typical Establishment member from more ruthless
capitalists in the robber baron tradition.
Key members of the Establishment - Root,
Stimson, the elder Bundy, and later john J. McCloy, John Foster
and Allen Dulles, and McGeorge Bundy, for example-were all Republicans,
and an internationalist Republican was necessarily a man of the
center, defined in opposition to the isolationist right as well
as to Democratic liberals. Only after the New Deal did substantial
numbers of the Establishment become Democrats. Even then, the
center was the place where consensus could be sought and maintained.
The foreign policy Establishment and the postwar intelligence
community have so far usually been studied as entirely separate
phenomena. In reality, they were the same kind of people, and
often (in the persons, for example, of Allen Dulles or William
Bundy) the same people. Between the end of World War II and the
Kennedy administration, American interactions with the outside
world, especially the higher echelons of foreign policy, diplomacy,
and intelligence, were dominated by men from three or four eastern
... The essence of that consensus was
a vast deal whereby conservatives more or less grudgingly accepted
the outlines of a social democratic New Deal, while all but the
most radical liberals embraced a sternly anticommunist foreign
policy. This was the position of the foreign policy Establishment.
The Great Debate about isolationism was over.
In the belief that the United States had
to save the world from a new, Soviet totalitarian tyranny, Dean
Acheson stood at Armageddon and persuaded Senator Arthur Vandenberg
and the Republicans he represented that the United States must
be responsible for containing communist expansion.
John F. Kennedy's inaugural address, concerned almost exclusively
with the "long twilight struggle" against communism,
was written by Theodore Sorensen, a graduate of the University
of Nebraska. But it expressed with perfect pitch the beliefs of
the Harvard, Yale, and Princeton graduates who had been junior
officers in the war against Axis domination, and stood ready to
fight a second round against the tyrannous empires of Stalin and
It was not long, however, before that
consensus, and the foreign policy Establishment which had reached
the apogee of its power under it, began to dissolve. Multiple
causes were at work, within and outside the American upper class.
The first unmistakably visible crack was the Bay of Pigs. The
fiasco utterly discredited Richard Bissell, Yale graduate and
economics professor. He and Allen Dulles took the blame. But it
also led to soul-searching and finger-pointing inside the intelligence
and foreign policy community.
In the next few years the civil rights
movement and the Kennedy assassination shook the national morale.
As the 1960s went on, there was a general questioning of authority
of every kind, from the bosom of the family to the White House.
Fathers, teachers, professors, priests, officers, executives,
and politicians were all asked, often rudely, to justify themselves
and their authority. That was one Sixties, the Left Sixties, so
to speak; at the same time the Sixties of the Right, taking off
from the campaign to choose Barry Goldwater for the Republican
presidential nomination in 1964, now began to challenge the liberal
consensus from the opposite direction. Both inevitably shook the
disproportionate power of the Establishment over foreign policy.
Both were offered an opportunity by the strategic blunder and
tactical incompetence of Vietnam.
By the time Richard Nixon was inaugurated
in 1969, a liberal era was ending and a conservative hegemony
From combating communism in Europe, the U.S. government, with(
the CIA as point man, found itself committed to trying to understand
and to influence the politics of literally dozens of faraway countries
of which it knew little, to paraphrase the hapless Neville Chamberlain's
description of Czechoslovakia in 1938: Angola, Guatemala, Indonesia,
In the process, Washington, and the Establishment,
had enough successes to believe it had learned how to counter
subversion. From its origins as the successor of General William
"Wild Bill" Donovan's OSS, the CIA was only partly an
intelligence agency. The more glamorous part of its work was that
of the Deputy Directorship of Plans (DDP). That was the cover
name for "covert action," which could mean "counter-insurgency"-fighting
up-country against rebellions of the kind described-or political
coups backed by more or less overt small-scale warfare. The Soviet
Union had upped the ante by encouraging wars of national independence
to deny the West markets and raw materials. The United States,
by responding almost everywhere, globalized the Cold War.
It was the prolonged agony of Vietnam that divided and discredited
the foreign policy Establishment and, by robbing it of its reputation
for wisdom, destroyed its influence.
... The narrative that most clearly charts
the part played by Vietnam in the growing division and eventual
discrediting of the Establishment is that of the "Wise Men,"
the group of elder statesmen outside government to whom Lyndon
Johnson turned for advice. As the sheer size and difficulty of
the task that would be involved in defeating the Viet Cong rebels
and their supporters in North Vietnam became plain, the Establishment
mind gradually changed. Patriots the Establishment men certainly
were, and disinclined to shrink from conflict. Certainly most
of them felt instinctively, as McCloy did, that once the honor
of the United States was at stake, it must be maintained. Defeat
was unthinkable. But they were also practical men, many of them
lawyers. They would not shrink from a day in court if there were
any chance of winning. But if the case was hopeless, they knew
that they might have to settle out of court.
Lyndon Johnson was aware of his relative
inexperience in foreign affairs. He was impressed, perhaps overimpressed,
by the Establishment's reputation for expertise and wisdom. He
wanted to recruit its prestige. In July 1965 a group of about
twenty distinguished elder statesmen that included Dean Acheson,
Robert Lovett, and John J. McCloy was invited for briefings on
Vietnam at the State Department. The next day a smaller group
of them met the president and enthusiastically endorsed plans
for escalation in Southeast Asia. Acheson told the president he
had "no choice but to press on." This was the policy
Acheson had counseled in the early days of the Cold War: stand
up to the communists.
On January 30, 1968, came the Tet offensive . The Viet Cong rose
all over the country, even penetrating the perimeter of the American
embassy in Saigon. Later historians, especially those of a conservative
tendency, interpreted it as a defeat for the Viet Cong and Hanoi.
At the time, it was certainly a political defeat for the Johnson
administration. On February 27 at a meeting on Vietnam at the
State Department, [Robert] McNamara, once the partisan of perseverance,
lost control. "They've dropped more bombs than in all of
Europe in World War II and it hasn't done a fucking thing,"
he shouted, and then broke down sobbing.
The same day the usually cool Dean Acheson
also lost his temper with the president of the United States.
He felt he was being given the runaround. He stalked out of the
White House, and when Mac Bundy's successor, Walt Rostow, called
to ask him to come back, the old gentleman answered, Tell the
President he can take Vietnam and stick it up his ass."
On March 25 came the climactic meeting
with the Wise Men. Bundy summarized their view for the president:
"We can no longer do the job we set out to do in the time
we have left, and we must begin to take steps to disengage."
General Wheeler explained that the Pentagon was not intent on
a "classic military victory." "Then what in the
name of God are five hundred thousand men out there doing,"
Acheson burst out, "chasing girls?"
Less than a week later, Lyndon Johnson
tacked on to a televised speech in which he announced a halt to
the bombing of North Vietnam a statement that he would not seek
The Wise Men of the foreign policy Establishment
had changed their position. They had won again, but it was a Pyrrhic
victory. Walt Rostow died in the last political ditch. "I
thought to myself," he reflected, "that what began in
the spring of 1940 when Henry Stimson came to Washington ended
tonight. The American Establishment is dead."
In the 1980s and 1990s a new generation took over from the highminded
amateurs of the Establishment. No longer was foreign policy necessarily
the business of the only elite that was interested. Foundations,
think tanks, and graduate schools trained a new class of foreign
policy professionals. In many respects they were far better prepared
to handle America's growing international responsibilities than
the men from Groton and Yale, Harvard Law and Wall Street.
... As early as the Kennedy administration,
there had been signs that the American right was reviving. The
liberal consensus was ending. The year 1962, for example, brought
no fewer than three book-length denunciations of the Council on
Foreign Relations." After the Nixon victory in the 1968 election,
attacks on the foreign policy Establishment in general and the
Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission in
particular multiplied. But now they were joined by attacks, some
equally fierce, but most of them ambivalent, from the liberal
and radical left.
Between the 1960s and 2000, New Deal liberalism in the United
States was overthrown by the conservative movement. Having captured
the Republican Party, conservatives created first a Republican
presidential majority and then a Republican majority in Congress.
The toppling of Rooseveltian liberalism by Reaganite conservatism
resulted from more than a clash of ideas about society. The process
involved the displacement of one set of elites by another, with
a different group of economic, ethnic, and regional constituencies.
The New Deal coalition included many industrial
state mayors and political machine bosses, along with a number
of southern and western politicians. Notwithstanding this, the
mid-century liberal establishment, which included liberal Republicans
as well as Democrats, overlapped to a large degree with the patrician
northeastern establishment and the public service mandarinate
of the Ivy League and the major nonprofit foundations-the same
elites which had been influential in the earlier Progressive Era.
Consequently, appeals to white working-class resentment of the
East Coast elite, pioneered in national politics by George Wallace,
became the stock-in-trade of Republican conservatives, who combined
an anti-intellectual "culture war" with the agenda of
corporations and wealthy individuals who wanted to roll back the
regulatory and social welfare achievements of the New Deal. Although
the Bush family was an estranged northeastern elite dynasty, most
of the leaders of the Republican right were from the South and
the West, some of them former segregationist Democrats who became
Republicans during the civil rights era. As the states of the
former Confederacy became the base of Republican conservatism,
southern conservatives used their successful political synthesis
of folksy populism, laissez-faire economics, militarism, and religious
fundamentalism to appeal to working-class whites in other parts
of the country, such as Catholic "white ethnics" in
the Midwest, who resented the old northeastern elite, intellectuals,
and racial and sexual minorities. At the elite level, the southern
conservatives found allies among some Wall Street financiers and
corporate CEOs as well as among the "neoconservatives,"
who were ex-liberal and ex-radical intellectuals and policy experts.
By the twenty-first century, a coalition
of southern whites and northern white Catholics dominated by southern
and western politicians controlled American politics. The pattern
was familiar to students of American history; it represented a
reprise of the pattern of American politics from 1800 to 1860,
when a Jeffersonian elite leading a coalition of southerners and
Catholic immigrants in the North controlled Washington, D.C.,
most of the time. As the new millennium began, the northeastern
establishment and the Ivy League had lost power in the United
States to a right-wing southern and western counter-establishment
allied at the grass-roots level with Protestant evangelicals and
fundamentalists and at the elite level with a small but influential
faction of neoconservative intellectuals and political operatives.
The rise of the southern right came as a surprise during the civil
rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960s, it appeared that the
south would be integrated into the American mainstream. Instead,
in the final third of the twentieth century, America was integrated
into the southern mainstream. The rise to primacy in the federal
government of politicians from the states of the former Confederacy
was only one manifestation of a long-term trend: the southernization
of the United States.
Despite the success of southern Democrats in limiting the scope
a radicalism of the New Deal, the United States was dominated
by New Deal liberalism from the 19305 to the 1970s. Republican
presidents like Eisenhower and Nixon had to accommodate themselves
to the prevailing liberal consensus. Under President Lyndon Johnson,
New Deal ideals received their final expression with the enactment
of Medicare and Medicaid, the last major social insurance programs
established in the United States.
The New Deal era ended, however, in the
1960s, and a new era of conservative political dominance began,
producing a Republican majority in the presidency and Congress
by the turn of the twenty-first century.
Finding it difficult to muster congressional support for the repeal
of popular federal programs, the administrations of both Ronald
Reagan and George W. Bush instead pursued a strategy of "starving
the beast" by cutting taxes and preventing the growth of
spending or the creation of new government programs - at the expense,
in both presidencies, of ballooning federal deficits.
The period from the 1970s until the early
twenty-first century, then, can best be understood not in terms
of the establishment of a new American "republic" but
in terms of the capture and modification of the Third Republic
of the United States by conservatives hostile to the political
values of its New Deal liberal founders. Rather than abolish the
foundations of Franklin Roosevelt's America, the resurgent right
in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries adopted
a strategy of working within the system that mid-century liberals
had established while gradually undermining programs and institutions
of which they disapproved.
The New Deal coalition of the 1930s to the 1960s had united segregationists
and civil rights reformers in a single alliance based on the use
of federal power to redistribute income among classes and regions.
The civil rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960s destroyed the
New Deal coalition and replaced it with a new political realignment
based on race.
Racial demagogy was not limited to the right. Instead of trying
to win back the white working class, the Democratic Party after
the 1970s Put its hopes in a "rainbow coalition" strategy
that sought to build a new Democratic majority on the basis of
blacks, Latinos, and the liberal minority within the white population.
Mainstream liberal supporters of the civil rights revolution,
such as President Lyndon Johnson and Vice President Hubert Humphrey,
for reasons of politics as well as principle, had favored race-neutral
law and opposed "benign" racial discrimination on behalf
of racial minorities. Bayard Rustin, a leading black liberal,
argued that racial preference policies would destroy the liberal
coalition between the white working class and black Americans.
(Large-scale Latino and Asian immigration had only begun in the
1960s.) The fears of the color-blind liberals came true when the
Democratic Party as a whole, in pursuing the "rainbow coalition"
strategy, rejected race-neutral reform in favor of racial discrimination
against white Americans.
By the mid-1970s, the Democrats added
Latinos to blacks as a group eligible for racial preferences.
The "compensatory justice" argument for affirmative
action for black Americans would not work for Latinos, most of
whom came to the United States following the liberalization of
U.S. immigration laws in the 1960s. The rationale for racial quotas
was changed from compensation for past injustice to the promotion
of "diversity." Corporations and universities, fearful
of protests by black and Latino activists, adopted quotas in the
private as well as the public sector, and under their influence
the Supreme Court, albeit by narrow majorities, has upheld a number
of racial quota schemes.
Democratic politicians and activists tended
to respond to criticisms of racial preferences by denouncing critics
as racists. Although he challenged the left wing of the Democrats
on economics and foreign policy as president, Bill Clinton avoided
challenging the racial preference policies which had become Democratic
orthodoxy. During the 1992 presidential campaign, he had denounced
a black pop star named Sister Souljah for her comment that blacks
ought to kill white people rather than one another. As president,
however, he avoided any challenge to left-wing orthodoxy about
racial preferences and multiculturalism. He said that racial preferences
should be "mended, not ended," and engaged in televised
debates about race in America.
Racial preferences were not the only example
of identity politics on the left. The left wing of American liberalism
also favored multiculturalism, bilingualism, and amnesties for
illegal aliens. Diatribes by leftist scholars and activists against
white Americans and Western civilization played into the hands
of demagogic conservative Republicans seeking to appeal to disaffected
white Democrats. Bilingual policies also alarmed white citizens,
particularly in states like California, Texas, and Florida in
which the Spanish-speaking population was growing rapidly. And
the support by Democratic politicians of mass amnesties for immigrants
who had broken U.S. immigration laws was widely interpreted as
a desperate attempt to compensate for the party's unpopularity
by seeking to naturalize foreigners who had broken American laws
in order to bring them to the polls.
The result of the race-based realignment in the 1960s was a pattern
racially polarized politics that changed little in the three subsequent
decades. No Democratic presidential candidate has won a majority
of the white vote since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. The only white
ethnic group that remains consistently Democratic is the Jewish
American minority, who voted for Al Gore over George W. Bush by
8o percent to 17 percent.
The definition of politics as moral crusading was most pronounce(
among the religious leaders who emerged as political kingmakers
in the last third of the twentieth century. American society as
a whole became more secular and tolerant with each decade. The
rise of political clerics was the result not of a "great
awakening" in American society in general, but rather of
the weakening of the political parties. As old-fashioned party
machines dissolved, the largest organizations with grassroots
membership that could be mobilized in political campaigns were
the churches. The Catholic Church played only a minor role in
politics. But evangelical Protestant churches in the southern
tradition-both black and white-moved to fill the void left by
the declining party organizations. Black Protestant preachers
like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton became more influential in
Democratic politics. But their influence was dwarfed by that of
white southern Protestant preachers like Jerry Falwell and Pat
Robertson, who became kingmakers in the Republican Party. Preachers
who could deliver busloads of the faithful to the polls on Election
Day replaced old-fashioned political bosses. The capture of the
nominating process in both parties by Protestant churches explains
why fervent Christian religiosity seeped into American politics
during the rise of southern political hegemony in the latter part
of the twentieth century. Not only conservative Republicans like
George W. Bush but also southern Democrats like Jimmy Carter and
Bill Clinton spoke of their personal relationship with Jesus in
a language familiar in the South-and among the descendants of
southern black immigrants in the cities of the North.
By the end of the twentieth century, American
politics was dominated by individualistic billionaires and true
believers belonging to various religions and secular ideologies.
People who were neither rich nor highly ideological found themselves
marginalized. Their disaffection expressed itself as growing alienation
from both national parties and declining levels of voter turnout.
In December 2000, following the bitter partisan debate over the
installation of George W. Bush as president by the electoral college,
42 percent of Americans identified themselves to Gallup pollsters
as independents-a greater number than either self-identified Republicans
The so-called neoconservatives were particularly successful in
dominating national debate. Ironically, neoconservative tactics
and strategy were modeled on those of the communist left. During
the 1930s the Trotskyist movement, which produced a number of
leading neoconservative figures, set up its own network of little
magazines and institutions to combat those of the Stalinist left
in the United States and Europe. Following World War II, anti-Stalinist
socialists collaborated with anticommunist liberals in founding
the Congress for Cultural Freedom, which opposed Soviet-sponsored
cultural front groups. The influence of the cultural front model
can be seen on the neoconservative movement, which, beginning
in the 1970s, created a political-intellectual network linking
elite journals like The Public Interest and The National Interest,
political monthlies or weeklies like Commentary and The Weekly
Standard, think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute (AEI),
and projects agitating for particular policies, like the Committee
on the Present Danger in the 1970s and the Project for a New American
Century in the 1990S and early 2000s. Irving Kristol, who had
co-edited the anticommunist liberal magazine Encounter in the
19505 when it was subsidized by the CIA, and his son William and
their associates were at the center of this network.
Their allies in the Protestant fundamentalist
subculture had a network of their own. Between the 1920S and the
1960s, the mostly southern fundamentalists, alienated from modern
society, had built their own counterculture of Christian bookstores,
Christian radio and television stations, and even pseudoscientific
"creation science" institutes that sought to refute
modern biology and geology. In response to the sexual revolution
and cultural liberalism of the 1960s, fundamentalists under the
leadership of the television preachers Jerry Falwell, founder
of the Moral Majority, and Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian
Coalition, had a preexisting base from which they were able to
capture the Republican Party and influence state and federal governments.
Like the secular neoconservatives, the Protestant fundamentalists
combined sectarianism with innovative use of up-to-date media
The American left handicapped itself in
its response to the neoconservative-fundamentalist alliance by
its media and political strategies. Instead of fighting the populist
right to influence public opinion, the left focused on persuading
the college-educated elite, through media like National Public
Radio (NPR), the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), and prestigious
journals. After the 1960s, the left dominated the academic subculture
at the price of losing its influence beyond the campus. Meanwhile,
from the 1960s to the early twenty-first century, the political
energy of idealists on the left was dissipated in the promotion
of divisive ethnic and gender identity politics, leaving the realm
of political economy largely uncontested.
Both conservative and liberal intellectuals
depended to a large degree on foundation funding. Liberal foundations
like the Ford and Rockefeller foundations had far greater resources
than those of the right, like the Bradley and Olin and Smith-Richardson
foundations. Neoconservatives, however, used their limited resources
to better effect by subsidizing cadres of young public intellectuals
accustomed to print and TV and radio debate, and by subsidizing
books intended to promote conservative ideas, such as the racist
anti-welfare tract The Bell Curve by Charles Murray and Richard
Herrnstein. By contrast, the foundations of the left supported
projects rather than thinkers and publicists. And much of the
money from the liberal foundations went to projects in relatively
noncontroversial areas like children's welfare and environmentalism.
The frequent choice of noncontroversial topics reflected compromises
between the progressive program officers at left foundations and
their more conservative boards of directors. All of these self-defeating
strategies by the center-left produced conservative victories
by default in the war of ideas.
In the kaleidoscopic confusion of post-Cold War American foreign
policy, the most powerful faction was that of the neoconservatives,
many of whom were former Cold War liberals or anticommunist socialists
who had broken with the left wing of the Democratic Party during
the Vietnam era. Like the old northeastern Establishment, the
neoconservatives were a small, well-educated elite, mostly northeastern
and metropolitan and largely Jewish. In the 1980s and 1990s the
support of neoconservatives for hard-liners in Israel led them
to cement an alliance with the Protestant fundamentalists of the
religious right, whose ardent "Christian Zionism" resulted
from their own interpretation of Christian theology. Neoconservative
ideology-incubated in think tanks like the American Enterprise
Institute in Washington D.C.-was disseminated to the right-wing
populists of the South and West via Rupert Murdoch's Fox TV network
and his American political magazine, the Weekly Standard, as well
as by conservative talk radio hosts like the popular Rush Limbaugh.
In the administration of George W. Bush,
neoconservatives like Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz,
Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith, and Vice
President Dick Cheney battled with Secretary of State Cohn Powell,
a self-described "Rockefeller Republican" who represented
the older internationalism of northeastern Republicans. In the
aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington,
D.C., of September 11, 2001, President Bush tilted decisively
toward the neoconservatives. The policy of the U.S. government
became the policy advocated by the neoconservatives during their
years out of power during the Clinton administration: a massive
military buildup; rejection of treaties and international organizations
and the adoption of aggressive American unilateralism; almost
uncritical support for the policies of Ariel Sharon's Likud regime
toward the occupied Palestinian people; and the invasion and occupation
of Iraq which had been advocated by Cheney and Wolfowitz during
the first Persian Gulf war but rejected by then-President George
Herbert Walker Bush and then-Chairman of the joint Chiefs of Staff
Cohn Powell. Neoconservative experts and journalists like the
military analyst Elliot Cohen, Norman Podhoretz, the editor of
Commentary, and Clinton's former director of central intelligence,
James Woolsey, blurred the distinctions between Israel's war with
the occupied Palestinians and the struggle against the Al Qaeda
Under George W. Bush, as a result of the alliance between the
neoconservatives and southern and western politicians, U.S. foreign
policy was transformed. The United States was alienated from all
of its ( major European allies except for Tony Blair's Britain.
The Americans had joined Israel as occupiers of an Arab nation,
and, like Israel, confronted a determined insurgency. Unlike the
war in Afghanistan, which was a rational response to the Taliban
regime's support for the Al Qaeda terror network, the Bush administration's
foreign policy was not a logical reaction to events. Its unilateralism
and militarism reflected the traditional distrust of diplomacy
and pro-military attitudes of southerners and their allies in
the interior West. And the shift in focus from Europe and Eurasia
to the Middle East reflected in part the eclipse of the Eurocentric
northeastern Protestant Establishment by a new and aggressive
counter-establishment of southern Christian Zionists and predominantly
Jewish neoconservatives who, for different rear considered Israel
the most important foreign country.