Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Semantics Is Easier Than Politics

Hmm. This fellow is waxing incontinent about the perceived "neo-conservative" threat to the Supreme Court. He may be right that there's a threat of some kind, but his use of language makes me doubt it very much.

Here's my idea, which leads me to dismiss what's-his-name in the London Review of Books as a scaremonger. The word "neoconservative" has become such a popular term of opprobrium on the left (particularly in the UK) because it kerns similarly to "neo-Nazi", the only other political movement to bear the prefix. (In the common lexicon, anyhow. Get out of here, ye neo-Keynesians.) To an audience that winces at the term "conservative" to begin with, tacking on the "neo" is like introducing the progressively souped-up breeds of vampire in the Blade sequels.

I'm not sure how much I trust Irving Kristol to give me the straight dope, but here's his take. "Neoconservative" means something specific in the context of foreign policy, something wishy-washy in the context of domestic policy, and nothing whatsoever in the context of judicial nominees. What does calling Clarence Thomas a "neo-con" mean? Something bad, that's for sure, but I'm sure Thomas will take it over some of the other things he's been called.