A Further Perspective

Iowa and Ron Paul

Paul takes off in the home of left-wing populists and pacifists amid the ghost of Henry Wallace.

By 12.20.11

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There is a reason, you know.

One doesn't eat cake and ice cream 24/7 and put on weight only to be curious as to reason for the weight gain.

There is a reason Ron Paul is doing well in Iowa (as seen in this recent story.)

And yes, it is directly related to the fact that Iowa is a caucus state rather than a primary state, where the organizational skills of a candidate with a small core of passionate supporters can make more of a difference.

But there is a second, hardly discussed factor at work in Iowa politics: Iowa is a state that has historically produced or supported political leaders whose left-wing foreign policy sentiments were somewhere in the same cornfield's as Ron Paul.

The most prominent, of course, was Henry Agard Wallace.

Iowan Henry A. Wallace began his political life as a liberal Republican, or what in today's world would be called a RINO (Republican In Name Only). His father had been Secretary of Agriculture for conservatives Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, but the son, as sons can do, had a different view of the world. Born and raised in Iowa, a graduate of Iowa State College, Henry Wallace began his career working on the family paper Wallace's Farmer, eventually taking over as editor. An accomplished farmer, he parlayed his knowledge of agriculture into a successful company known for breeding a high yield hybrid corn. Along the way, as with many RINOs then and now (think, say, Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter), Wallace's leftist instincts led to changing parties and he became a considerable supporter of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. This resulted in FDR lifting Wallace out of Iowa to take his father's old job as Secretary of Agriculture.

From this position Wallace became one of the leading voices of the American progressive movement. So much so that in 1940 FDR selected Wallace as his vice-presidential running mate for his famous third term victory over GOP nominee Wendell Willkie. For the next four years Wallace's corn-fed Iowa leftism became so pronounced that nervous Democratic Party leaders began agitating for his removal from FDR's fourth term bid, a strikingly unusual ploy that came about because of a considerable and quite unspoken fear. Democratic leaders had the uneasy feeling that FDR would win -- and die. This was the middle of World War II, and by 1944, love him or hate him, Franklin Roosevelt had been at the helm of two of the most monumental events of the thus unfolded 20th century -- the Great Depression and the Second World War. He was, at this point, a party icon and no one had the ability or the will to push him aside. What they could do was push Wallace aside and assure that someone else top Democrats considered as more responsible was in second place. They got their wish and did the deed with FDR's exhausted consent -- fatefully replacing Wallace with Harry Truman. And as feared, four months after inauguration day, FDR was dead. Truman, not Wallace was president.

He was, however, Secretary of Commerce by the grace of a guilty FDR who had appointed him as a sop for removing him from the ticket. But it wasn't long before the progressive politics of Iowa farmer Wallace were clashing with ex-World War I Captain Truman over the budding Cold War. There was a spectacular clash between the two -- and Wallace was out.

On September 19, 1946 Truman had angrily written in his diary -- in terms opponents today frequently apply to Paul -- that Wallace was "a pacifist 100 percent." Truman bluntly accused the Iowa progressive of seeing "no wrong" in anything done by Stalin and the Soviets, including "Russia's loot of Poland, Austria, Hungary, Rumania, Manchuria…. I do not understand a 'dreamer' like that."

In short, as with Ron Paul today and as Paul demonstrated afresh in the latest Fox debate, Wallace believed that the cause of America's difficulties was -- America. It was America provoking the Russians to their behavior, not some messianic Communist urge to take over the world that was the real problem. The spreading Soviet presence in Europe and elsewhere be damned.

WALLACE'S BELIEF, OF COURSE, is now precisely the core philosophy of Ron Paul and his allies, although today it is applied to America's struggle with Islamic fundamentalists. It was also the philosophy behind a Paul mentor, Murray Rothbard. Rothbard, a conservative with William F. Buckley Jr. and the rest at the beginning of the modern conservative movement, also believed with Wallace that the Cold War was America's fault. Rothbard's real philosophical alliance would eventually reveal itself in later years as he split with Buckley. Rothbard went on instead to ally himself with the leftist inclinations of the Students for a Democratic Society -- the infamous SDS that birthed Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn and Jane Fonda's radical husband Tom Hayden. In addition to Rothbard, Paul is a big fan of the leftist intellectual and progressive writer Randolph Bourne, whom he cites favorably in his book The Revolution: A Manifesto. It is Bourne who inspires both Paul and his followers to frequently quote Bourne's far left "wisdom" that "war is the health of the state."

Free to be his own man after leaving Truman's cabinet, Henry Wallace launched himself as an American champion of progressivism. In 1948 he became the presidential nominee of the Progressive Party. One of his delegates at that Progressive convention was a young academic from neighboring South Dakota named George McGovern -- who in 1972 would lead the far left capture of the Democrats using Wallace's (and now Ron Paul's) philosophy, calling it "Come Home America."

A comparison of Ron Paul's beliefs with those of the 1948 Progressive Party Platform is instructive, the similarities decidedly not accidental. Masquerading as conservatives, Paul and his allies repeatedly use the principles of the Progressive Platform to champion a foreign policy view that, to cite but one example, Michele Bachmann calls "bizarre."

That core belief is what Ron Paul and his allies attack as the philosophy of "Endless War."

Let's take a look at how closely Ron Paul's core views on foreign policy dovetail with those of Iowa progressive Henry Wallace.

Endless War.

To some ears this charge of Ron Paul and his legions sounds new, fresh, a different take on the post-9/11 world. But is it new? Fresh? Different? Is it even conservative?

Answer: No. None of the above. It echoes, at times almost eerily, Iowan Henry Wallace's fanciful Progressive Party platform of 1948. 

Why?

The obvious. War is nothing but human conflict on a grand scale. To promise that one would end human conflict is to suggest that Ron Paul is a modern version of King Canute, commanding the tides to do his bidding. This didn't work for Canute and it isn't going to work for a President Ron Paul either.

One always hopes that war ceases, that, in Henry Kissinger's famous phrase about the Vietnam War, that "peace is at hand" -- forever and ever, Glory Hallelujah, Amen.

It will never happen. Ever. For the very obvious reason once noted by conservative philosopher Russell Kirk when he dismissed the leftist notion of "the perfectibility of man." Kirk was speaking of people like Ron Paul and, in an earlier day, of Iowa's Henry Wallace, when he accurately noted they "deny that humanity has a natural proclivity toward violence and sin." Kirk was exactly right -- and of course this has long been a central tenet of conservatism before Kirk set pen to paper. Human conflict is with us always, precisely because humans are imperfect.

But that hasn't stopped Mr. Paul from his Henry Wallace-like utopian faith in commanding the tides of man's nature.

CASE IN POINT is this telling belief Ron Paul shares with the iconic Iowa progressive Henry Wallace.

"We have 900 bases around the world." -- Ron Paul in the September 12, 2011 GOP debate in Tampa

"They (the Truman administration) encircle the globe with military bases which other peoples cannot but view as threats to their freedom and security." -- Henry Wallace's 1948 Progressive Party platform

The points Paul and Wallace are making -- some 63 years apart -- are identical.

If only Henry Wallace had succeeded Franklin Roosevelt as president, if only Ron Paul could be elected president, each would have or could somehow now perfect human nature -- if only America didn't "encircle the globe with military bases" (Wallace) or "have 900 bases around the world" (Ron Paul).

Another case in point comes with Wallace's fervent supporter George McGovern, who served as a Wallace delegate to the Progressive Party Convention of 1948, making McGovern not coincidentally a literal vote in favor of the 1948 Progressive platform that so carefully now tracks with Ron Paul.

Here's George McGovern in 1972, talking with the famous chronicler of presidential campaigns Theodore H. White. South Dakotan McGovern was busy telling White, just as a real disciple of Iowa's Henry Wallace could be expected, that communism wasn't a threat. Said McGovern:

"The war against communism is over…somehow we have to settle down and live with them."

Shift ahead in time to Ron Paul, taking a question last summer from a voter expressing concern about the threat from radical Islam. Replied candidate Paul, in an exchange found in the Des Moines Register:

"Which enemy are you worried that will attack our national security?" Paul asked.

"If you're looking for specifics, I'm talking about Islam. Radical Islam," the man answered.

"I don't see Islam as our enemy," Paul said. "I see that motivation is occupation and those who hate us and would like to kill us, they are motivated by our invasion of their land, the support of their dictators that they hate."

It should be said here that this point of view sells with some in Iowa. Henry Wallace was certainly not alone in the cornfields with this belief.

A more recent example is Iowa's late Senator and Governor Harold Hughes. Democrat Hughes was a burly, one-time truck driver and recovered alcoholic who served the state as a popular governor, elected to the first of two terms in 1962. In 1968 he won a Senate seat and was frequently mentioned for a 1972 presidential run, which he declined.

Senator Hughes was not simply an outspoken opponent of the then-ongoing Vietnam War and its most prominent antagonist of the day, Minnesota's Senator Eugene McCarthy. Harold Hughes, Iowa politician, was, by his own account in his memoirs The Man from Ida Grove -- "a pacifist."

What did this mean in terms of his actions as a sitting United States Senator from Iowa? How did this translate into every day actions?

Senator Hughes was a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and thus, in his capacity representing Iowans he used his pacifism to vote against weapons systems and military budgets and so on and on. Even he finally began to feel this was the wrong place for him to be, and he passed up his re-election in 1974 to work as a religious layman.

While Hughes and Wallace before him (not to mention elected liberal Iowa Democrats after them) were elected to public office, it would be a mistake to think that this kind of thinking Ron Paul is touting throughout Iowa is limited to Iowa's candidates for office.

Perhaps one of the best known Iowa leftists in recent history was the late Peg Mullen. Mrs. Mullen's son Michael was killed in the Vietnam War. Unsatisfied with the explanation of her son's death, she began her own investigation, resulting in her discovery that Michael had not been killed by the enemy but rather by "friendly fire" -- meaning accidental fire from the American military. A furious Peg Mullen wound up launching a crusade as an anti-war activist. A book and the inevitable television movie was made of her transition from placid farmers wife to a fire-breathing left-wing peace activist, the film starring Carol Burnett.

SO WHAT DOES all of this mean? Because of course there's more. After all, Iowa is the place that birthed the most famous leftist politician of today -- then-Illinois Senator Barack Obama, whose upset of Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Iowa Caucuses launched him on the path to the presidency Iowa's Henry Wallace had come so close to filling before being yanked from FDR's ticket in 1944.

What it means is that yes, even among Iowa Republicans, there is a streak of isolationism or, as Ron Paul would have it, "non-interventionism."

It is this progressive streak that produced Iowans Henry Wallace, Harold Hughes, Peg Mullen and, for that matter, a line of leftist foreign policy politicians from Iowa Senators John Culver to Richard Clark to current Senator Tom Harkin, none of whom got elected without appealing to voters identified on the rolls as Republicans.

Could Ron Paul finish well or even win in Iowa?

Yes he could.

But the question, quite beside the structure of a caucus versus a primary, is why? Why would presumably conservative Iowa Republicans vote for Ron Paul?

And the answer is that there are enough Americans in Iowa who now and for decades past genuinely believed or believe in the progressive view of foreign policy put forward by Iowa's Henry Wallace.

The very same view that Ron Paul is carrying to Iowa Republican voters.

And why is Ron Paul doing that?

Because he believes it.

Just as Iowan Henry Wallace believed it. Just as Iowan Harold Hughes believed it.

And neither were conservatives.

How could this be? How could Ron Paul possibly be part of the same Progressive Establishment as two of the most prominent Iowa progressives of their day?

Easy.

Because when it comes to foreign policy -- Ron Paul is a Progressive.

And somewhere…Henry Wallace is very proud indeed.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.