The latest Newsweek devotes an impressive eight pages to an article about neoconservatives and their continuing role in American politics.

Writer David Margolick spends much of his time discussing criticism of ?neocons? and mentions that many people considered neocons reject the label.

That criticism and the refusal of some suspected neocons to fess up might make more sense if Margolick had devoted at least a couple of paragraphs to defining ?neoconservative.?

Although he mentions the term?s early roots briefly, he never explains the origin of the term. The uninformed reader is left with the idea that a neoconservative is any person who supported the Bush administration?s war efforts in Iraq.

It?s not that simple. The earliest neoconservatives were basically liberals who supported a strong national defense and a robust anti-communism. They maintained no philosophical objection to the New Deal and even some aspects of the Great Society.

Neoconservatives tended to turn on welfare state policies only after it was clear from empirical evidence that those policies didn?t work. (They also tended to turn on those welfare state policies after they started splitting with other Democrats on foreign policy issues as well. These former liberals were different from traditional conservatives. Hence the name neo-conservatives.)

Had Margolick mentioned this history, he would have shed light on the reason why other segments of the conservative movement always had a cool relationship with neoconservatism.

That history lesson also would have helped explain why so many supposed ?neocons? refuse to accept the label. Rather than participating in some conspiracy to hide their true nature, most of these folks are not really ?traditional? neocons at all.

This article should remind us of the futility of trying to brand all conservatives as identical.