Ben Wattenberg, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and moderator of PBS's Think Tank, was a member of a core group of Democratic Party hawks who, in the 1970s, shifted to the right after their failure to push the party to a more hardline, anti-Soviet posture. Like a number of his neoconservative contemporaries, including Richard Perle and Frank Gaffney, Wattenberg served on the staff of the hawkish pro-Israel Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson (D-WA) before joining the Ronald Reagan administration in the early 1980s. According to the profile on his infrequent weblog "Wattenblog," he is "currently working on a book, Tales of a Neo-Con," which is to be compiled from excerpts from his blog posts and from Think Tank.
In his 1997 neoconservative hagiography, Mark Gerson, a former director of the Project for the New American Century, included Wattenberg among a handful of early neoconservatives who according to Gerson were "largely Jewish intellectuals who, once considered to be on the left, are now on the right." Gerson listed some 40 individuals as being at the core of the early movement, including George Weigel and Irving Kristol—"the central figure of neoconservatism"—Gertrude Himmelfarb, Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter, and an assortment of now well-known political figures, writers, and academics, including Michael Novak, William Bennett, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Joshua Muravchik, Walter Lacquer, Peter Berger, Elliott Abrams, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Sidney Hook, Nathan Glazer, Saul Bellow, Daniel Bell, Leon Kass, Carl Gershman, and Martin Peretz (see Neoconservative Vision, p. 4).
Wattenberg has been actively involved in a number of neoconservative-led pressure groups since the 1970s, when he was a member of the Coalition for a Democratic Majority (CDM), a group devoted to promoting the presidential candidacy of Senator Jackson and pushing back the influence of anti-war Democrats. In a 2005 obituary for Penn Kemble, a CDM cofounder who once organized for the anti-communist Young People's Socialist League, Wattenberg recalled the origins of the CDM: "All through the summer and early fall of 1972, a troop of counterrevolutionaries met furtively in a proletarian hideout at the old Federal City Club. It had to be kept secret: We couldn't be blamed for the Democratic catastrophe that we knew was coming. And so, under Penn's guidance one more letterhead organization was born. We planned full-page advertisements for the Washington Post and New York Times. We decided who would be listed as the organizing committee. They included House Speaker-to-be Tom Foley, Ambassador-to-be Jeane Kirkpatrick, civil rights leaders Bayard Rustin, Velma and Norman Hill, the 'boss' of Montgomery County Democratic politics Dick Schifter, Ambassador-to-be Peter Rosenblatt, and Arms-Control Negotiator-to-be Max Kampelman—and Penn Kemble" ("Passing of a Patriot," AEI, October 24, 2005).
When Reagan was elected president, Wattenberg was tagged to serve on the Board of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, the radio stations made famous during the Reagan era for their anticommunist broadcasts into the Soviet Union. At the same time, Wattenberg joined the likes of Donald Rumsfeld and Decter in supporting the work of the Committee for the Free World. The group, which was devoted to promoting freedom "in the world of ideas" and opposing the influence of those in and outside the United States "who have made themselves the enemies of the democratic order," served as a bastion of hardliners and neoconservatives during the 1980s, including among its supporters Muravchik, Kemble, Michael Ledeen, Richard Allen, and Edwin Feulner.
During the George W. Bush presidency, Wattenberg has been a reliable supporter of key aspects of Bush's foreign and domestic agendas. An outspoken promoter of the Iraq War and an aggressive "war on terror," Wattenberg joined a formidable list of neoconservatives and foreign policy hawks in 2004 to resurrect the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD), a group created in the 1970s to turn back the politics of détente with the Soviet Union and which helped set the stage for a revived Cold War during the Reagan presidency (also see GroupWatch Profile: Committee on the Present Danger). In its more recent incarnation, the CPD says its mission is "to educate free people everywhere about the threat posed by global radical Islamist and fascist terrorist movements; to counsel against appeasement of terrorists; to support policies that are part of a strategy of victory against this menace to freedom; and to support policies that encourage the development of civil society and democracy in those regions from which the terrorists emanate." In a blurb on CPD's website, Wattenberg is quoted as saying: "The rules of the game are strange: we win if we win, they win if they win, and we win in case of a tie. There will be plenty of other opportunities after Iraq to chase them down in a world which will remain uncertain, but with America as the leader."
In a June 2006 article for the conservative National Review, Wattenberg criticized those who compare the Iraq War to the Vietnam War, arguing: "On the Vietnam Memorial in Washington are about 58,000 names; in Iraq, the total number of KIAs is lower than the number of Americans killed on 9/11." Wattenberg continued: "In both wars, we were told our actions would hurt us in the eyes of the world. And so they did. Unfortunate. But we ended up as the exceptional nation, Number One, more influential than any nation in history, the City on a Hill, hearing anti-American language which boiled down to 'Yankee go home and take me with you.'"
Among Wattenberg's core subjects have been population demographics and immigration. Largely supportive of Bush's immigration agenda, Wattenberg argues that the United States needs immigrants to keep its population growing—and to maintain a large military. In an April 2006 National Review article, he wrote: "At its most elemental, size means it is easier to fund a defense force, which is cheaper per person when paid by 500 million people instead of 300 million. That is a particular advantage when other nations are shrinking—albeit some of them getting richer, like the China [sic]. It means more influence available for export. All things being equal, which is often the case, a large population yields power and influence."
Wattenberg contributes commentary to various outlets including the National Review and WashingtonPost.com. His opinions are often collected by the Jewish World Review, which also republishes articles by Linda Chavez, Frank Gaffney, Charles Krauthammer, Dennis Prager, and many others.
Wattenberg is the author of a number of books, including Fewer: How the New Demography of Depopulation Will Shape Our Future (2005). The Publishers Weekly review of Fewer was critical: "A s Wattenberg surveys the reasons behind declining fertility rates, his arguments take an assertive turn. Wattenberg bemoans abortion, women who put careers before children, homosexuality, and co-habitation without marriage—all with little of the statistical analysis that bolsters his initial arguments. Wattenberg himself says, 'straightforward demographic numbers can engender mighty arguments,' but doesn't let his own numbers speak for themselves."
Other books by Wattenberg include Values Matter Most (1995), The First Universal Nation (1991), The Birth Dearth (1987), The Good News is the Bad News is Wrong (1984), The Real America (1974), and The First Measured Century: An Illustrated Guide to Trends in America, 1900-2000 (2001) (with Ted Caplow and Louis Hicks).