President Bush’s Neoconservatives Were Spawned Right Here in N.Y.C., New Home of the Right-Wing Gloat

“It’s a small world,” said William Kristol, editor in chief of The Weekly Standard , describing the intertwined world of

“It’s a small world,” said William Kristol, editor in chief of The Weekly Standard , describing the intertwined world of the neoconservatives. And indeed it is, at least to Mr. Kristol: His father is the legendary New York intellectual Irving Kristol, who is widely considered to be the founder of neoconservatism, and Mr. Kristol now edits the magazine owned by the financial godfather of the movement, American citizen Rupert Murdoch.

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Somewhere between Mr. Kristol’s ideas and Mr. Murdoch’s muscle, the modern neocon economy was built, complete with speakers’ bureaus, think tanks, magazines, newspapers, a television news network and, not to be coy, an official state residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

And that’s not even euphemistic! Years ago, during the Reagan administration, the neoconservatives had their first real shot at power after many years in the wilderness. The movement-built on the ashes of fallen heroes and villains like Barry Goldwater and Joseph McCarthy, stoked by urban ethnicity and Western political money, propelled by historical forces as varied as World War II and the states’ rights movement-found itself in power with a real President of the United States. Then it lost the football, first to a Republican moderate named George H.W. Bush, then to a clever Democratic moderate named Bill Clinton.

Now, after eight painful years, the neoconservative network is riding high, determined never to lose power again so easily, to make sure that its ideas are well distributed and that the distributors are well compensated, and that the current President of the United States and his aides-from Vice President Richard Cheney to National Security Advisor Condeleezza Rice-are inspired, cajoled, supported and, when memoir-time comes, well paid.

It’s the stuff that winners are made of.

Now they come upon their greatest triumph: a military victory in Iraq, conceived and wished for in neoconservative clubhouses and brilliantly supported during the course of the war by the neoconservative media.

“Yeah, I think we had some utility,” said Mr. Kristol. “Bush could have come to it all without us, too. But it helped that we had already made these arguments. You feel some responsibility when things go well.”

And Mr. Kristol couldn’t have done it without the New York firmament from which the movement came-from the right-wing think tank the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, to the op-ed pages of The Wall Street Journal , to the elemental neoconservative journal, Commentary , founded by the neocon patriarch and matriarch, Norman Podhoretz and his wife, Midge Decter. Their son, John Podhoretz, is a columnist and former editorial-page editor for the New York Post .

At the top of this neoconservative network, of course, is Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., home of the Fox News Network and the Post , both based on Sixth Avenue. Mr. Murdoch also owns The Weekly Standard .

“News Corp. should get a little spot on your map,” said William Kristol. “Many people at Fox News have been supportive of Bush’s policy. They deserve a bit of a mention. And Murdoch personally.”

But the neoconservative media is only a small part of the mechanism. New York is where the money comes from. “Most foreign-affairs thinking is done in Washington,” explained Mark Gerson, president of the investor-relations company the Gerson Lehrman Group and editor of The Neoconservative Reader . “But the financing of neoconservatism doesn’t come from D.C.”

Instead, said Mr. Gerson, it comes from New York moneymen like Bruce Kovner, chairman of the Caxton Corporation, and Roger Hertog, the vice chairman of Alliance Capital Management. Last year, both financiers helped fund a new newspaper, The New York Sun , now fighting its anti-liberal battle with its New York Times –counterprogrammed slogan, “A Different Point of View.” Both Mr. Kovner and Mr. Hertog also chipped in to join neoliberal Martin Peretz as co-owners of The New Republic . Mr. Kovner and Mr. Hertog, as enlightened neoconservative businessmen-intellectuals, are also on the board of the Manhattan Institute, where Mr. Gerson and William Kristol are also trustees, as well as the Washington, D.C.–based American Enterprise Institute. The A.E.I., a favored neoconservative think tank, has recently served as a kind of human-resource office for the Bush administration. It’s the venue that President Bush chose to step up to explain his intentions toward Iraq on Feb. 26. As he stood before the A.E.I., he called the organization the home of “some of the finest minds in our nation” and said they’d done “such good work that my administration has borrowed 20 such minds.” Lynn Cheney, the Vice President’s wife, is a board member, and Richard Perle, the former Defense Department adviser known as the “father of the Iraq war,” is a resident fellow.

It’s easy to overgeneralize and get the idea that a small group of neoconservatives have worked some voodoo on a sitting President-you may remember Hillary Rodham Clinton’s initial reaction to Monicagate on NBC’s Today Show, that it represented “a vast right-wing conspiracy.” It may be easy to insist that this small, concerted group of men and women have propelled an entire nation’s foreign policy toward the radical concept of “benevolent hegemony,” wonk-speak for an American Empire that brings democratic ideals to dictatorships around the globe. But that, as the neoconservatives say themselves, would be simplistic.

“I have been amazed by the level of conspiracy-mongering around neocons,” said David Brooks, an editor at Mr. Murdoch and Mr. Kristol’s Weekly Standard , and author of Bobos in Paradise . “I get it every day-the ‘evil Jewish conspiracy.’ The only distinction between ‘neoconservative’ and ‘conservative’ this way is circumcision. We actually started calling it the Axis of Circumcision.”

That’s the kind of knowing humor that neoconservatives often allow themselves to indulge in; it’s almost impossible to imagine the embattled and shredded remains of the liberals having that kind of laugh on themselves! But political security breeds gentle good humor.

For instance, when asked if she was a neocon herself, the best-selling right-wing pundit Ann Coulter replied, “No, I’m a gentile. That’s only partially a joke. These days, the term ‘neoconservative’ is almost always used to insult someone. More recently, the term has become a liberal epithet to mean ‘ Jew conservative.'”

That kind of brusque humor is endemic to the movement.

But occasionally-just in case it seems that hubris could be rearing its head-neoconservatives take care to disprove the influence of the movement, as John Podhoretz did in his Post column on Friday, April 18. “The president seems to have come to an understanding of these ideas almost entirely on his own,” he wrote. “He didn’t need the books we wrote or the magazines we published.”

Then he concluded: “Maybe our influence is really kind of an illusion.”

But in truth, the neocons-an intellectual school with roots in the City College of New York in the 1940’s-have been astonishingly well-coordinated, organized and consistent in their message. Originally, a neoconservative was an anti-communist liberal who rejected the 1960’s counterculture. After the Cold War ended, neoconservatism came to be associated with an aggressive foreign policy. It was clearly defined by Mr. Kristol the younger and Robert Kagan, a contributing editor at The New Republic and The Weekly Standard , in the 1996 book they co-edited, Present Dangers: Crisis and Opportunity in America’s Foreign and Defense Policy , which warned of the growing threat of terrorism and suggested pre-emptive remedies. In December 2002, Max Boot asked in his Wall Street Journal column, “What the Heck Is a ‘Neocon?” His answer: “Neoconservatives believe in using American might to promote American ideals abroad.” Not surprisingly, neoconservatism has since become the fast-and-loose, catch-all term for hawks-although the nuances between neocons and other varieties of conservatism remain stark on some issues.

Nor is it surprising that the movement which derived from both the disaffected New York left and the boardrooms of Western capitalism would be proficient and cohesive: In the wake of the war in Iraq, it’s now virtually impossible to tell a neoconservative from a regular old conservative-or, sometimes, even a fallen liberal. The neoconservatives in general don’t have much patience for squishy liberal columnist Thomas Friedman of The New York Times , but he was with them on the war, as was Newsweek international editor Fareed Zakaria.

And then there’s President Bush. One question that historians will be working on for a long time will be this: When did he receive his conversion on the road to Baghdad? Exactly what was the influence of the neoconservatives on this President’s thinking? Where did his nation-building, world-changing point of view start?

Was it here?

“I think what happened is that the United States of America got a President named George W. Bush, who believes in an American mission,” said Midge Decter, a board member at the right-wing Hudson Institute and John Podhoretz’s mother. “That is why the neocons have acquired this reputation for power. My husband,” Ms. Decter continued, speaking of Norman Podhoretz, “says no President can go beyond the point of where the culture has been prepared for his policy. So you can say that the cultural preparation was made for what George Bush wants. There’s nobody whispering in his ear. What you call neocons have prepared the culture for the making of this argument.”

If history is any guide, she’s right on the money. America was well prepared for the Reagan administration by the previous 20 years of history. And the Bush Doctrine may have been churned exactly as Ms. Decter suggests. Which means-as the accompanying map suggests-it was churned right here.

“You have a whole debate about ‘What’s a neocon?'” said 33-year-old Max Boot, the former Wall Street Journal op-ed editor who is now the Olin Senior Fellow on National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “A number of people I know object to being called neocons. I don’t particularly mind.”

And neither do some old-line Republicans, if only for the patina it gives them. As Lucianne Goldberg, one of the doyennes of the movement (and Madame LaFarge during the near collapse of Bill Clinton), exclaimed: “You mean the people who like to kill people and break things. That’s me!”

In the end, the difference between neoconservative ideas and those who would be called neocons may be moot. We are, after all, on the ground in Iraq, and as Mr. Kristol writes (with Lawrence Kaplan) in the now well-established last line of his new book, The War Over Iraq: Saddam’s Tyranny & America’s Mission , that may just be the beginning. For the true believers, it’s the sweet smell of success.

“The neocons so overwhelmingly won,” said Mr. Gerson. “The neocons more or less stayed true to their beliefs. Ideas rule the world, not marginal tax rates. And not politics.”

The core of the neoconservative movement couldn’t be more precise. Take the beginning of Mr. Murdoch’s Weekly Standard , for example. It was founded, as so many New York ideas were, in a coffee shop on West 72nd Street-the very place where so many ideas were hatched by the progenitors of the neoconservatives, back when they were lefties in the 1930’s and 1940’s. And in an exquisite irony that would have been appreciated by that generation of ideologues-most of whom experienced their own conversion to the right, which then brought them to power and allowed them to make possible the current neoconservative moment-it had just the right name. Saul Bellow could hardly have done better: The Weekly Standard was spawned in the Utopia Coffee Shop.

For an annotated map of New York as the Fertile Crescent of the neoconservative movement, click here.


NEWS CORP. (1). Rupert Murdoch (2), chairman and C.E.O. of News Corporation, funder of neocon stars and bosses, including Roger Ailes (3), chairman and C.E.O. of Fox News Corporation; Bob McManus (4), editorial-page editor of the New York Post; Post columnist and neocon scion John Podhoretz (5); see also: Commentary , (11). Mr. Murdoch’s News Corp. owns The Weekly Standard, edited by William Kristol, son of neocon patriarch Irving Kristol. (For an explanation of the elder Mr. Kristol’s movement from left-wing to conservative, try renting Arguing the World , the cogent 1998 documentary that charted the New York lefties’ path rightward.) William Kristol is a board member at the right-wing think tank Manhattan Institute (21), former chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle and a commentator on ABC News’ This Week (40).

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (6) . Home to top-tier neoconservative op-eds nearly every day of the week, including Richard Perle and other clients of agent Eleana Benador (26). Other WSJ neocon and neocon-friendly editors and columnists: Paul Gigot, Robert Bartley, Dorothy Rabinowitz, Dan Henninger and Tunku Varadarajan (7). (See also: Max Boot, 25)

THE NEW YORK SUN (8) . Seth Lipsky (9), president and editor, and Ira Stoll (10), vice president and managing editor. “A different point of view.” Funded by ex-Canadian media mogul , Roger Hertog (17), Bruce Kovner (18) and Conrad Black (19).

COMMENTARY MAGAZINE (11). Home of neocon editor in chief Neal Kozodoy (12). Founded by neoconservative patriarch Norman Podhoretz (13), husband to neocon godmother Midge Decter, father to John Podhoretz (5). See also: News Corp, (1); Writers’ Representatives, 29).

FIRST THINGS (14) . “Journal of Religion and Public Life,” home to Catholic neocon Father Richard John Neuhaus (15), preeminent “theocon.”

NATIONAL REVIEW (16). William F. Buckley Jr.’s paleo-conservative magazine, seen as a kind of a relic by the new neocons, but which achieved neocon street cred with editor Jay Nordlinger (17), who arrived last year from The Weekly Standard. Also publishes Gen-Y columnist Jonah Goldberg, son of Lucianne Goldberg (31), the Elaine Stritch of the neoconservative movement.


ROGER HERTOG (17), vice chairman of Alliance Capital Management, described by Mark Gerson (24) as the “one man who has, far more than anyone else, financially enabled this movement to exist.” A board member at the Manhattan Institute (21) and the American Enterprise Institute (38), Mr. Hertog is a primary financial backer behind the Shalem Center, a think tank known as the A.E.I. of Israel, as well as co-funder of The New York Sun (8) and The New Republic.

BRUCE KOVNER (18), chairman of the Caxton Corporation. Mr. Kovner, noted Wall Street figure, board member at the Manhattan Institute (21) and chairman of the American Enterprise Institute (38), the think tank that serves as the human-resources department for the Bush administration (40). Also invested in The New York Sun (8) and The New Republic .

CONRAD BLACK (19). Chairman and C.E.O. of Hollinger International Inc. Formerly a Canadian newspaper magnate, now a British subject, he also invested in The New York Sun (8). Richard Perle, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (38), is on Hollinger’s board of directors.

JOHN M. OLIN FOUNDATION (20). The philanthropic organization, headed by James Piereson, has funded the American Enterprise Institute (38), along with neocon players Max Boot (25) and the Manhattan Institute (21).


MANHATTAN INSTITUTE FOR POLICY RESEARCH (21). Right-wing bastion that houses the neoconservative stylings of Myron Magnet (22) and his City Journal , as well as the Fabiani Society (23)-founded to mock former Clinton aide Mark Fabiani, inventor of the phrase “vast right-wing conspiracy”-a social gathering of “young writers, journalists, professionals, activists, and others who share right-of-center politics and conversation.” Board of trustees consists of the neoconservative elite: Roger Hertog (17) Bruce Kovner (18) William Kristol (38), Mark Gerson (24). Also: Fareed Zakaria (32), editor of Newsweek International .

MARK GERSON, C.E.O. (24), of the Gerson Lehrman Group, editor of The Essential Neoconservative Reader . See also: Manhattan Institute (21).

MAX BOOT (25), neoconservative Wunderkind . At 33, the former Wall Street Journal op-ed editor writes in The Wall Street Journal , The National Review (16) and The Weekly Standard (39). Recent column asked: “What the Heck Is a ‘Neocon’?” Answer: “Neoconservatives believe in using American might to promote American ideals abroad.” Also: Olin Senior Fellow at Council on Foreign Relations (See also: Olin Foundation, 20).

ELEANA BENADOR (26). Theatrical agent and publicist. Formerly publicist of columnist and Middle East Forum founder Daniel Pipes, her clients now include A.E.I. resident scholar Richard Perle (38), former C.I.A. director James Woolsey, Max Boot (25) and former New York Times executive editor A.M. Rosenthal, now a columnist for the Daily News .


ADAM BELLOW (27). Editor at large at Doubleday, former editor in chief of now-defunct neocon publisher, the Free Press. The latest offering by right-wing son of Saul Bellow: Stephen Schwartz’s The Two Faces of Islam , a critique of Saudia Arabia.

CROWN FORUM (28). New conservative imprint owned by Random House Inc. will publish 15 conservative books a year, starting with Ann Coulter’s forthcoming Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism .

WRITERS’ REPRESENTATIVES (29). Glenn Hartley and Lynn Chu, V.P. and Vice V.P. of conservative literary agency. Clients include David Brooks of the Weekly Standard (39); Max Boot (25); Robert Kagan (37), world-affairs columnist for The Washington Post and a contributing editor for The Weekly Standard ; and Midge Decter, author of An Old Wife’s Tale: My Seven Decades in Love and War . For more on Ms. Decter, see: Commentary (11) and News Corp. (1)

PENGUIN IMPRINT: Announced on Tuesday, April 22, the new unnamed imprint will be run by Adrian Zackheim (30), who edited Newt Gingrich’s 1995 To Renew America . Says Penguin publisher David Shanks: “Fairly or not, there’s a perception among many conservative thinkers, leaders, scholars and journalists that the mainstream book-publishing industry doesn’t really respect their ideas or their audience.”


LUCIANNE GOLDBERG (31), founder of, Linda Tripp confidante. Former literary agent turned Web mistress. On neoconservatives: “You mean people who like to kill people and break things. That’s me!” Mother of Jonah Goldberg, National Review columnist (16).

FAREEDZAKARIA (32). Editor of Newsweek International, supporter of war with Iraq, democratization of the Middle East. He’s on the board of trustees at the Manhattan Institute (21), although he does not classify himself as a neoconservative.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN (33). Foreign-affairs columnist at The New York Times . Neocons would laugh; so would Mr. Friedman. But in a recent column, Mr. Friedman wrote: “There are still two other walls holding back the explosion of freedom in the Arab East … the first is the wall in the Arab mind.”

UTOPIA COFFEE SHOP (34). The Weekly Standard hatched here by young William Kristol (39), Norman Podhoretz (11) and Fred Barnes.

FRED SIEGEL (35), professor of history at Cooper Union and former editor of City Journal (21), considers himself a “New Democrat” on domestic issues, neocon on foreign policy. Contributes to Commentary (11). “The reason the neocons are so successful,” he said, “is because they have a purchase on reality.”


PRINCETON, N.J. At Princeton University, Aaron Friedberg (36), professor of politics and international affairs, will soon announce that he has taken a national security advisory job with Vice President Dick Cheney (40).

NEW HAVEN, CONN. At Yale University, history professor Donald Kagan, father of Robert Kagan (37), whose wife, Victoria Nuland, is Vice President Cheney’s national security advisor (40). Robert Kagan co-edited with William Kristol (39) Present Dangers: Crisis and Opportunity in America’s Foreign and Defense Policy (1996), which called for radical change in U.S. foreign policy because of “growing threats to the American peace.”

AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE (38), Washington, D.C. Neoconservative think tank. Richard Perle is resident scholar. Vice President Cheney’s wife, Lynn Cheney, is on the board of directors. On Feb. 26, President George W. Bush gave his most comprehensive foreign-policy speech here, declaring the need to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime, opening his remarks by calling the A.E.I. the home of “some of the finest minds in our nation,” which had done “such good work that my administration has borrowed 20 such minds.” (See also: Bruce Kovner, (18); Roger Hertog, (17))

WILLIAM KRISTOL (39), Washington, D.C. Editor of the Weekly Standard , owned by News Corp. (1), 30 copies of which go to Vice President Dick Cheney’s office each week, reported The New York Times . Mr. Kristol’s father, Irving Kristol, coined “neoconservative.” Colleague of Robert Kagan (37).

WHITE HOUSE (40), Washington, D.C. In various strategic alliances with neoconservative publications, theorists: President Bush, Richard Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld.

President Bush’s Neoconservatives Were Spawned Right Here in N.Y.C., New Home of the Right-Wing Gloat