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by Ben J. Wattenberg

How did a nice, liberal Jewish boy from the Bronx come to be called a conservative?Ben J. Wattenberg has been at the center of American ideas and events since 1966, when he became a speechwriter for and aide to President Lyndon B. Johnson. Recruited out of the blue, Wattenberg worked closely with press secretary Bill Moyers and immersed himself in the world of high-powered Democratic strategy making. Eventually he served as an adviser to two Democratic presidential candidates and in the 1970s helped write the Democratic National Platform. But something funny happened on the way to the Great Society: Key players in the Democratic Party moved to the far left. Wattenberg was not happy with this situation, so he helped establish the Coalition for a Democratic Majority (CDM) and became one of the most outspoken voices in the so-called neo-con movement.Neo-conservatism, with its signature cause of promoting liberty around the world, is a philosophy often misunderstood, and the phrase neo-con is used frequently as an insult by those who fail to understand the concept. Wattenberg traces the emergence of the movement from its earliest roots among Cold War thinkers such as Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz and from among the ashes of pre-radical liberalism of the early 1960s, to ideological giants Scoop Jackson and Pat Moynihan, to Jeanne Kirkpatrick and Ronald Reagan. The author also discusses the proliferation of neo-con “think tanks,” such as the American Enterprise Institute, as well as the surprising appearance of a neo-conservative platform in George W. Bush’s administration, in which a number of Wattenberg’s protégés have played key roles. With his characteristic wit and on-target observations, the author recounts personal anecdotes featuring a rich cast of characters from Johnson to Reverend Jesse Jackson to Rudolph Giulani, as well as many others. Never lacking for opinions---he calls himself the “immoderator” of PBS’s Think Tank with Ben Wattenberg---the author is here to set the record straight, and as the New York Times has said, “Wattenberg has the annoying habit of being right.” Replete with stories never told before, Fighting Words is Wattenberg’s firsthand account of the remarkable transformation of American politics over the last four decades.

Download Fighting Words: A Tale of How Liberals Created Neo-Conservatism epub
ISBN: 0312382995
ISBN13: 978-0312382995
Category: Politics
Subcategory: Politics & Government
Author: Ben J. Wattenberg
Language: English
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; First Edition edition (July 8, 2008)
Pages: 384 pages
ePUB size: 1441 kb
FB2 size: 1929 kb
Rating: 4.2
Votes: 432
Other Formats: txt lrf mobi doc

Wattenberg was a great guy who should not be forgotten. He was a terrific commentator on the political scene for many years.
"Fighting Words" is an enlightening ramble through the thickets of American politics from the 1960's to the present. Ben Wattenberg is the host of the long running PBS show "Think Tank" and the love of word and ideas that is so apparent on the show runs on steroids through this book. The main theme of the book is how Wattenberg who started as a loyal Democrat became a neo-con. Wattenberg makes no apology for his break with the center left coalition that now runs the Democrat party. He uses examples of the Democrat shift to the left on foreign and domestic policy and explains the rise of the neo-cons as Democrats who stayed with the old values. These old values of the Democrat party included spreading American values and liberty throughout the world and affirmative action without quotas at home. These and others are the values that according to Wattenberg's narrative the neo-cons have stayed with as the Democrat party has moved left towards a world view that doesn't recognize American exceptionalism and domestic policies that strive for equality of outcome (quotas).

But the best part of "Fighting Words" is not the main narrative. It is the personal stories, tangents and illuminating anecdotes that fill in the pictures of the political landscape that Wattenberg is painting. He tells a story about how Hubert Humphrey helped to insert "under God" into the pledge of allegiance in 1954. Another story about Adlai Stevenson, who ran as against Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956, quotes him as explaining a newspaperman's job "is to separate the wheat from the chaff and print the chaff."

Politics is not linear and neither is this book. It tells why Reagan opposed Carter's Olympic boycott and offers a theory on why voter turnout is so low in the US. Wattenberg emphasizes his most salient comments with the phrase "sound familiar" but lets us the reader make the analogy to the present.

This is not quite an autobiography and not quite a political how-to manual it is however a delightful look at the American political scene through the eyes of one of our times best political operatives, scholars and writers. "Fighting Words" is an excellent read that puts this years heated political debate into much needed perspective.
The year was 1966. Lyndon Baines Johnson presided over a gloomy post-Camelot America. His whiz kid special assistant and Time cover boy, the Rev. Billy Don Moyers, brought the author of an optimistic demography book to the White House for an audition. Moyers liked what he heard from the freelance author and took him to meet the president, who happened to be dressed in his silk pajamas in preparation for a nap. Thus began the beltway career of a B.A. in English and drama from Hobart College. Ben Wattenberg, not an academic as so many have assumed, combined shrewd instincts and a devotion to statistics into a life in "data journalism."

Moyers, by the way, pops up at various points in the book. Wattenberg can't seem to be able to believe that the former aide to LBJ decades later became the same man who recently claimed the right would mount a coup if Kerry won in 2004. He is thankful to Moyers for bringing him to the White House and appalled at the same time.

The book is both an autobiography of Wattenberg and a light history of neoconservatism. The two go together. Wattenberg, who grew up in a community disproportionately sympathetic to socialism in New York, is one of many Jewish intellectuals who found themselves first trying to move the Democratic Party to the center and then, in many cases, settling among Republicans. Wattenberg never went all the way to the GOP. He worked for LBJ, Hubert Humphrey, and Scoop Jackson before becoming a fixture in the think tank world. Unlike his fellow neocon Daniel Patrick Moynihan (who became a reliable left vote in the Senate), though, he could not reliably support the Democrats, either. It turns out Wattenberg is a rarity in Washington. He is a swing voter.

Though the title is Fighting Words: A Tale of How Liberals Created Neo-Conservatism, it isn't quite apt. Wattenberg weaves neoconservatism into his life story, but in this volume, the political movement is really part of his story rather than the other way around. However, rehabilitating neoconservatism is part of the mission. The longtime AEI (American Enterprise Institute) fellow is eager to remind readers that there is more to the movement than aggressive foreign policy. While it's true that neocons began as liberals faced with growing disappointment in the Soviet experiment with Communism, they were also concerned about the degradation of American culture.

One of Irving Kristol's most memorable aphorisms is that a conservative is simply "a liberal mugged by reality." The reference to mugging was not merely metaphorical. Crime became a compelling issue in Vietnam-era America. Wattenberg reports that his own mother was mugged once. His father was mugged twice. His son was mugged twice. His sister-in-law was murdered. A key belief that distinguished neocons from liberals of the time was that "law and order" is not code for racism, but rather that it is the code for civilization.

The specter of Barack Obama lurks behind a number of the book's confident proclamations about the future of neoconservatism. Wattenberg is bullish on the concept and believes that soft liberals are poison to the Democratic Party while tougher liberals win the prize. Is Obama more like the tough cold warrior Kennedy or the softer McGovern? One suspects Wattenberg would say Obama is the exception that proves the rule.

Obama also comes to mind when Wattenberg writes about President Jimmy Carter. For example, Wattenberg explains:

"As an unknown, he [Carter] gained a dream situation for a candidate: the ability to describe himself as he wished to be known....That is why money is so important. It buys the paint a portrait of a candidate as he or she wants to be known."

Those words could have been written precisely for the president-elect.

THE BEST TREASURES in the book center on Wattenberg's many experiences in Washington life. In one instance, Wattenberg found himself debating Milton Friedman, which he found profoundly disturbing because Friedman had the "unnerving" debate tactic of chuckling in a barely audible fashion while his opponent spoke. Wattenberg reports he felt a consistent urge to check whether his zipper was open.

He also recalls Scoop Jackson (a devout Christian) enthusiastically telling a Jewish audience how his mother instructed him to "love the Jews." Wattenberg had to explain to the senator how that kind of talk made Jews uncomfortable.

Some of his anecdotes are earnest and touching. Traveling with Hubert Humphrey, Wattenberg heard the candidate take an audience through an unscripted and heartfelt guided tour of the Pledge of Allegiance with his eyes shining. Humphrey had been instrumental in inserting the words "under God" in the pledge. He told audiences those two words "gave real meaning to human dignity."

Wattenberg's book goes in a number of different directions. It is sometimes an autobiography, sometimes a movement history, sometimes a compilation of anecdotal tales of time spent with famous men, and sometimes a lift of the curtain to expose the wizard behind political television and syndicated columns. Despite this stew of different ingredients maintaining their own flavor, Fighting Words is consistently smart and entertaining. It is somewhat ironic that a man who has long focused on examining the data to explain the issues, has written a personal history that explains so much about the last half-century of American politics.
This book reveals a lot about neocons that I don't think much of the public would have known, because of how the media treats the word "neoconservative." You'd have to know a lot of history to know that many of the neocons started out on the left - some on the far left. Wattenberg's pride at having helped to pass the Great Society programs of the 60s really surprised me. The Civil and Voting Rights acts and Medicare weren't exactly key conservative causes, but so many of us (including me before I read this book) thought neocons were the furthest of the far-right. Not so true!

Promoting liberty and democracy for people around the world used to be a liberal cause, and it's been a loss for the left that we're not as strong as the Republicans about this. I think we could do a better job of it than they have (especially in terms of invading Iraq).

Wattenberg is a good writer with an interesting story. Now I understand the neocons better, and know what's good about them (really, there's a lot), but many have become plain old conservatives and that's bad.