Michael Sean Winters, Neocon

By Nicholas G. Hahn III

Michael Sean Winters doesn't like neoconservatives. Winters regularly brands almost anyone or any idea he doesn't like as "neo-con" at his National Catholic Reporter blog and in other liberal outlets. Here some "neo-con talking points," there an "old canard of Catholic neo-cons," everywhere are "neo-con colleagues" who ought to be put on a watch list.

Winters regularly rails against George Weigel, Michael Novak, and their "neo-con friends," who Winters says want to "baptize the founding. They want to baptize capitalism. They want to baptize the Republican Party" -- in stark contrast to his efforts to sprinkle the Democratic Party in the name of the Most Holy Trinity.

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Neoconservatives are responsible for "reducing religion to ethics" and therefore "do not realize how far down the slope of secularization they already are." In fact, Winters suggests, neoconservatives are a "large part of the reason for religious decline." Neocons have made the "face of Christianity in America" out to be "a scolding, finger-wagging prelate or minister" and "our understanding of Christianity is too wedded to a set of neo-con understandings ("politesse"!) that lack natural, let alone supernatural, empathy."

When it comes to the economy, Winters accuses neoconservatives of championing "impersonal market forces" and offering "paltry contributions" to Catholic social thought. After all, Winters says, neo-cons were only able to "get a few lines in praise of capitalism" into the papal encyclical Centesimus Annus and their attempts to "wiggle self-interest into a virtue by pointing to its 'creative' potential" don't pan out. Winters pushes Catholic neo-cons to "just admit that you 'dissent'" already.

Winters often lumps all people who are somewhat friendly toward markets together under the "neo-con" banner, which makes for some embarrassing errors on his part. In his review of Ross Douthat's book Bad Religion, he accused the author of having "drunk the Kool-Aid being distributed by the papal biographer George Weigel, the American Enterprise Institute's Michael Novak, and other neoconservative interpreters of Catholicism," even though Douthat quoted them specifically to disagree with them and make the point that American Catholics are too quick to conflate Christianity with capitalism.

Winters's neoconservative "vendetta," as Douthat called it, is strange because actual neoconservatives often have more to say about culture and foreign policy than they do about the economy. They aren't devotees of Ayn Rand -- for neoconservatives, economic and social questions are really moral questions. Winters may be using the "neo-con" insult as squid ink to distract his progressive audience from the fact that most of his own positions give off a whiff of neoconservatism.

On a laundry list of issues, Winters shares a lot in common with neoconservatives. Take abortion: Winters not only claims to be pro-life; he claims that his mind was changed on this issue not by papal encyclicals or church teaching but by the arguments of neoconservative eminence Charles Krauthammer.

Or take immigration. Winters recently wrote to caution Republicans against "turning the GOP into an anti-immigration, Know Nothing party" and asked: "How many Republicans will have the courage to stand up and prevent the yahoos from driving the party off a cliff?" by embracing comprehensive immigration reform.

Wait, no, that's not right. The actual author of those words was neoconservative royal Bill Kristol, writing in the Weekly Standard in 2006. But the language is very similar to what Winters uses to lash out at opponents of immigration reform, and he encouraged President Obama to "send up to Congress the exact same proposal on comprehensive immigration reform that his predecessor, George W. Bush, sent to Congress" even though the bill was "killed" in 2007.

But what's really telling of Winters's neoconservatism is foreign policy. Winters recently explained why he is a Zionist. In a post where he ridicules the Palestinian Authority's recognition as a Non-Member Observer State in the United Nations, Winters gives it to the U.N. in a way that would make former Ambassador John Bolton proud. Indeed, Winters laments that "most of the U.S. political leaders who share my suspicions of the U.N. are also committed to the kind of neo-con foreign policy we associate with John Bolton and Donald Rumsfeld," but shreds the U.N. all the same. Winters says the U.N. matches "its impotence with a bizarre sense of its self-importance" and so, "we should not give the pooh-bahs of Turtle Bay the impression we give a damn what they do."

As much as Winters likes to condemn "America-worshipping neo-cons," he doesn't hesitate to praise America's superpower status. When it became "clear that non-violent protests will not dislodge" Moammar Gaddafi, Winters called for a no-fly zone in Libya, and ultimately regime change: "If the U.S. does not lead, there will be no leadership." More on Libya, Winters chided the world's inaction and said that the U.S. "needed to get past its reluctance to intervene with military might." Then, in March of 2011, Winters admitted that "Americans are, understandably, war-weary," but now says the opposite. Ultimately, Winters later wrote, "When liberals say they are in favor of human rights but opposed to any use of force to secure those rights, they mock themselves."

First Libya, now Syria. Last week, Winters scolded his friends on the left for believing the "myth" that "we should simply give peace a chance" in Syria. He cited American leadership, again, as a reason the U.S. must act: "Everyone wishes the U.S. was not the world's policeman, but power brings responsibility." Winters believes that "if we have the power to alleviate the suffering of the long-suffering Syrian people, we have an obligation to try and help." Paul Wolfowitz never said it better.

Nicholas G. Hahn III is the Editor of RealClearReligion. Follow him on Twitter @NGHahn3.

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