By the time Irving Kristol died on September 18 at the age of 89, he had transformed the Republican Party through the neoconservative philosophy he helped pioneer. A former Trotskyist, Kristol promoted the supply-side economic theories that formed the foundation of the Reagan administration’s domestic agenda. At the same time, he tapped industry trade groups and right-wing sugardaddies for massive donations, enabling the birth of an apparatus of conservative think tanks that would provide the future Republican Congress of Gingrich and DeLay, and the George W. Bush White House, with their policy blueprint.
These highlights of Kristol’s career have been detailed at length in the many obituaries about his death. But the story of one of Kristol’s most momentous — and cynical — maneuvers, the brokering of a tactical alliance between Jewish neoconservatives and openly anti-Semitic evangelicals, has been generally omitted.
In my book, “Republican Gomorrah: Inside The Movement That Shattered The Party,” I describe how Kristol initiated the alliance in July 1984, urging that American Jews, “enmeshed in the liberal time warp,” ally with Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority.
Kristol’s apologia was inspired by the anti-Semitic ravings of a preacher named Bailey Smith. “I don’t know why God chose the Jews,” Smith had said. “They have such funny noses.” When Jewish groups pounced on those remarks and on those of Jerry Falwell, who told his followers that Jews “can make more money accidentally than you can on purpose,” Kristol rushed to the preachers’ defense.
“Why should Jews care about the theology of a fundamentalist preacher when they do not for a moment believe that he speaks with any authority on the question of God’s attentiveness to human prayer?” Kristol wrote. “And what do such theological abstractions matter as against the mundane fact that this same preacher is vigorously pro-Israel?”
In a 2003 essay for his son William’s magazine the Weekly Standard, Kristol added a new wrinkle to his apologia, claiming that the alliance was formed organically in response to American culture “sinking to new levels of vulgarity.” Neoconservatives and the religious right, Kristol wrote, “are united on issues concerning the quality of education, the relations of church and state, the regulation of pornography, and the life, all of which they regard as proper candidates for the government’s attention. And since the Republican Party now has a substantial base among the religious, this gives neocons a certain influence and even power.”
But were neocons as personally committed to the culture war as Kristol claimed they were? Kristol’s close friend, Cornell University political theorist Alan Bloom, assailed the counterculture, feminism, black power and sexual liberation in his famous polemic, “The Closing Of The American Mind.” Bloom singled out Mick Jagger as a symbol of American cultural decay, describing the singer as “male and female, heterosexual and homosexual…tarting it up on the stage.” However, Bloom never publicly acknowledged his own homosexuality and wound up dying of AIDS.
Neocon William Bennett, the Reagan administration’s secretary of education and former Bush I drug czar, was a key movement liaison to the Christian right, having led high profile battles against rap music lyrics, illicit drug use, and gay rights. (William Kristol was Bennett’s chief of staff in the Department of Education.) In his moralistic tract “The Book Of Virtues,” Bennett presented self-control as a panacea for societal problems. “We should know that too much of anything, even a good thing, may prove to be our undoing,” he wrote. “[We] need…to set definite boundaries on our appetites.”
But Bennett had an almost unquenchable appetite of his own, and it wasn’t just for catered souffles on the Washington dinner circuit. Bennett was a “preferred customer” at over a dozen casinos between Atlantic City and Las Vegas. By the time reporters Josh Green and Jonathan Alter revealed his high-stakes hustling in The Washington Monthly in 2003, he had gambled away $8 million.
While Bennett faded from the scene momentarily after his gambling addiction came to light, the pantheon of the neoconservative clique fixated on realizing their geopolitical goals in the Middle East, an agenda that dovetailed with the Likud Party, which a few of them had advised. In his original 1984 manifesto for a neoconservative-Christian-right alliance, Irving Kristol insisted that it was essential in order to defend Israel.
Under George W. Bush, the neocons cultivated support from the droves of evangelicals who viewed the so-called war on terror as a spiritual war between good and evil. So far as the neocons were concerned, the anti-Semitic eruptions of figures like Pastor John Hagee — who called the Holocaust a divinely ordained incident and said the anti-Christ would be “at least partly Jewish” — were inconsequential if the primary target of his vitriol remained the Muslim evildoers surrounding Israel.
When Barack Obama was inaugurated, neocons and rightist evangelicals joined to attack the president in the same terms they had used against Islamic terrorists. From Jerusalem to Washington to the Bible Belt, Obama has been smeared as a closet Islamist devoted to destroying Israel. Irving Kristol’s influence endures not only in the conservative movement he helped build, but in the apocalyptic nature of its crusade against Obama.