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The bad ideas that keep Paulists from winning over the Party of Lincoln and Reagan.
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There is no great sin in Paul’s non-interventionist stance (or “isolationist” stance as his critics would have it). There have been American politicians aplenty throughout American history, particularly in the 20th century, who believed precisely as Paul and his enthusiasts do right now. (Paul touts his admiration for the Founding Fathers, but even that is very selective. James Monroe of Monroe Doctrine fame was a considerable interventionist, Washington as a general invaded Canada, and Alexander Hamilton gave rise to Paul’s idea of evil spawn — the Federal Reserve. Interventionists of all types have been with us right from the start.)
The deception — and it is a considerable deception — is that almost to a person those prominent pre-Ron Paul non-interventionist “Paulist” politicians of the 20th century were overwhelmingly not conservatives at all. They were men of the left. The far left.
From three-time Democratic presidential nominee and Woodrow Wilson Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan to powerful Montana Democratic Senator Burton K. Wheeler to FDR’s ex-vice presidential nominee Henry Wallace to the 1968 anti-war presidential candidacy of Minnesota Democratic Senator Eugene McCarthy to 1972 Democratic presidential nominee (and Henry Wallace delegate in 1948) George McGovern, non-interventionists have held prominent positions in the American Left that was and is the Democratic Party.
But of particular interest, and here is where the deception by Paulists is so considerable, the Ron Paul view of foreign policy has been the cornerstone of Republican liberals and progressives. Those who, using current political terminology, would be called the RINOs (Republican In Name Only) of their day.
Specifically this included the following prominent leaders of the non-interventionist/isolationist camp:
• Liberal Republican William Borah, the
Senator from Idaho
• Liberal Republican George Norris, the Congressman and Senator from Nebraska
• Liberal Republican Gerald Nye, the Senator from North Dakota
• Liberal Republican Robert LaFollette Sr., the Senator from Wisconsin
• Liberal Republican Robert LaFollette Jr., the Senator from Wisconsin
To go back and re-read the arguments of these prominent GOP liberals as to why America should not intervene in World War I or World War II, striking dated references, and one would think one were reading the latest Ron Paul press release. George Norris and LaFollette Sr. were both vocal opponents of World War I, for instance, blaming “greed” (LaFollette) and “munition” makers, the early 20th century version of Paul’s attacks on “neoconservatives” or the military-industrial complex.
The one prominent exception on this score was the decided anti-New Dealer, Ohio Senator Robert Taft. Senator Taft was viewed as the pre-eminent conservative in his time in the U.S. Senate (elected in 1938, he died as the new Senate Majority Leader in 1953). But even Senator Taft ran straight into a part of the problem that Congressman Paul is encountering. While he was known as “Mr. Republican,” Taft’s non-interventionist streak — which was considerable and thoroughly cloaked in the language of constitutionalism — was seen by conservatives in the day as a confounding break with his conservatism. Snapped Taft’s thoroughly conservative Uncle Horace Taft (brother of Taft’s presidential father William Howard Taft) to conservative friends over his nephew’s unwillingness to understand the danger posed by Adolph Hitler: He (Robert Taft) was “one of the best fellows in the world [but] dead wrong on foreign policy.” As if to prove the point, Taft refused an endorsement request from Joe McCarthy — supporting the liberal Republican and McCarthy primary opponent LaFollette, Jr. McCarthy won anyway.
Why is this important now?
Because Ron Paul, as noted, has deservedly developed a reputation for fiscal conservatism. Just as all of those Liberal Republicans from days long gone by were able to run and get elected as Republicans by developing enough of a conservative reputation for something seen as the conservative position in the time — support for a tariff here or a government reform over there. All the while carrying the liberal flag for Bryan’s left-wing Populism or Wilson’s Progressive New Freedom or FDR’s New Deal.
So if Ron Paul is conservative on domestic issues, but of a like mind with liberal non-interventionists of both parties, what precisely is Ron Paul?
The right term is certainly not conservative.
From liberal Republicans Borah, Norris, and Nye to the liberal Republican father and son LaFollettes, not to mention non-interventionists on the Democrats’ side from Bryan to Burton Wheeler, Wallace, McCarthy and McGovern, some version of out-and-out liberalism was the order of the day for all. Liberal Republican LaFollette Sr. and liberal Democrat Senator Wheeler even teamed up to run on the Progressive Party presidential ticket in 1924, supported by no less than the Socialist Party.
The proper term for Paul and his followers, then, would take into account this political half horse/half man philosophical creativity. Conservative on domestic policy, a staunch advocate of historically liberal views on foreign policy.
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