In a recent column, Jeffrey Lord warned that Ron Paul's presidential bid was secretly a "Neoliberal Reeducation Campaign." Writes Lord: "the Paul campaign is not just a campaign for president. This is a campaign -- a serious campaign -- to re-educate the American people…" For Lord, Paul's alleged reeducation mission means passing off liberal ideas as conservative. This is amusing -- because this is precisely what self-described conservatives of Lord's ilk have been doing for years.
Imagine that there never was a President George W. Bush, and when Bill Clinton left the White House he was immediately replaced with Barack Obama. Now imagine Obama carried out the exact same agenda as Bush -- Medicare Plan D, No Child Left Behind, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars -- the whole works. Would conservatives have generally supported Obama as they did Bush -- or would they have rightly criticized the most big government president in our history at that time?
Despite his glaringly statist record, did Lord ever consider Bush a "neo-liberal"?
Arguably the loudest conservative critic of Bush was Ron Paul, and this was certainly true during the 2008 election. Yet, as we head toward 2012, many presidential candidates are sounding a lot like Paul. Would Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich be attacking the Federal Reserve if running in 2008? Would Michele Bachmann be questioning the Libyan intervention if carried out by Bush? Would Mitt Romney now be saying it is not the United States military's role to fight for the independence of other nations -- the exact opposite of what he said about our role in Iraq in 2008?
Which brings us to Lord's main beef with Paul: foreign policy.
Woodrow Wilson is the president most associated with early 20th century liberalism, second only to Franklin Roosevelt. During the Bush years, every self-described conservative who believed, as Wilson did, that it was America's mission to "make the world safe for democracy" spoke the language, however unknowingly, of an earlier left-wing liberalism. William F. Buckley and George Will explained in a 2005 interview:
WILL: Today, we have a very different kind of foreign policy. It's called Wilsonian. And the premise of the Bush doctrine is that America must spread democracy, because our national security depends upon it. And America can spread democracy. It knows how. It can engage in national building. This is conservative or not?
BUCKLEY: It's not at all conservative. It's anything but conservative…
In 2006, The American Spectator's Neal Freeman also described the Bush administration's post 9/11 liberalism: "the Bush administration began to rumble about 'regime change' and 'going it alone,' and 'building a democratic Iraq.' Call this 9/12 approach whatever you will -- utopian, neoconservative, Wilsonian -- it could not fairly be characterized as 'conservative."
Reflecting a more conventional Republican view likely in line with Lord's, talk host Sean Hannity said in 2009: "You can't deny that George Bush was conservative on national security issues." Well, at varying times, Bill Buckley, George Will, Robert Novak, Jack Kemp, Pat Buchanan, Paul Weyrich and many other conservatives did indeed deny that Bush's foreign policy was conservative.
So did Ron Paul.
So did some of the most prominent figures in the history of American conservatism -- and that's even leaving out the libertarians. Traditionalists such as Russell Kirk, Richard Weaver and Robert Nisbet were some of the heaviest intellectual hitters at early National Review and each held foreign policy views far closer to what Paul believes than what today's Republican hawks try to portray as conservatism.
Ronald Reagan even won the Cold War with a foreign policy marginally closer to Paul's cautious approach than what Bush represented, or as former chairman of the American Conservative Union David Keene notes: "Reagan resorted to military force far less often than many of those who came before him or who have since occupied the Oval Office. . . . After the (1983) assault on the Marine barracks in Lebanon, it was questioning the wisdom of U.S. involvement that led Reagan to withdraw our troops rather than dig in. He found no good strategic reason to give our regional enemies inviting U.S. targets. Can one imagine one of today's neoconservative absolutists backing away from any fight anywhere?"
No, one can't imagine it. In fact, if using the definition of 2008 Republican presidential nominee and hardline neoconservative John McCain -- Reagan would be considered an "isolationist."
Ah, but Lord thinks anyone who uses the term "neoconservative" must be anti-Semitic. Is David Keene anti-Semitic? When Ann Coulter asks "Didn't liberals warn us that neoconservatives want permanent war" is she being anti-Semitic? Is George Will anti-Semitic for writing that the "most magnificently misnamed neoconservatives are the most radical people in this town."
And "radical" is certainly the operative word. The supposedly "kooky" Paul believes we should only wage wars of national defense -- not irrational offense. Paul supported military action against Afghanistan after 9/11 because there was a clear link between Al-Qaeda and that country. Paul opposed the Iraq War because he believed that country had nothing to do with 9/11 and did not possess WMDs.
Was Paul right about Iraq? Admitted Buckley as early as in 2004 "If I knew then what I know now about what kind of situation we would be in, I would have opposed the war." Lord's former boss Jack Kemp wrote in 2002 that based on the evidence he had seen, there wasn't "a compelling case for the invasion and occupation of Iraq."
Lord is right about one thing -- Paul's campaign is about reeducation. It's about reminding Republicans still confused after Bush what real conservatism is. Have Paul and some of his admirers criticized their fellow conservatives? Yes, but typically only to the degree that those figures continue to value partisanship over conservative principle. Early National Review was defined in large part by constant intellectual spats, in which some of conservatism's most important figures (Frank Meyer vs. Russell Kirk, for instance) argued over the true definition of that term.
Reflection, reexamination -- and yes, reeducation -- have long been integral to the health of the conservative movement. Concerning Paul and "real" conservatism, the question today should be this: Is today's Tea Party-influenced GOP more conservative than Bush's GOP? And if we can agree that it is, is today's GOP now closer to Paul's philosophy or Bush's?
That Paul still upsets many by asking hard questions, attacking sacred cows and challenging convention is understandable. But in doing so, it is also undeniable that Ron Paul continues to make the Republican Party more conservative.
-- Jack Hunter
Jeffrey Lord replies:
Ron Paul's blogger-in-chief Jack Hunter, aka "the Southern Avenger," seems to begin his history always at very interesting spots.
He asks if I ever considered George W. Bush a "neo-liberal." Just as I've met Ron Paul, I've met George W. Bush. Both are good and decent men. But alas, my boss was Ronald Reagan. So alas for both men, yes indeed I do consider them to have liberal tendencies. For Ron Paul it's his addiction to leftist foreign policy, for George W. Bush it's his acceptance of statist philosophy on exactly issues like Medicare Plan D, No Child Left Behind, etc. There is a difference, as I have written many a time, between a "Reaganite" and a "Bushie." This is apparently a news flash for Mr. Hunter. Mr. Bush and Mr. Paul are simply liberal on different sides of the policy coin -- one, Bush, domestically, the other, Paul, on the foreign policy side. In Paul's case his mantra is the same as non-interventionist left-winger George McGovern's in 1972: "Come Home America."
It is always a very good thing to realize, as Ronald Reagan used to say, that the Republican Party is a political movement and not a social club. And political movements must have two things to both survive and move forward: core principles and ideas. Congressman Paul deserves credit for moving the current discussion forward. Yes indeed, there is little doubt that 2012 Republican presidential candidates are in some fashion adopting Ron Paul's ideas even if not attributing them when doing so. In the writing world this is called plagiarism, in the political world this is the way history unfolds. The New Deal agenda of Franklin Roosevelt, for example, moved the country in a direction first laid out in a substantive fashion by the populists of the late 1800s. One could charge plagiarism, but in point of fact no American living life in November of 1932 seemed to have cared who thought of FDR's ideas first. C'est la vie in politics generally.
Particularly amusing is Mr. Hunter's insistence that Ron Paul is "reminding Republicans still confused after Bush what real conservatism is." Actually, it seems Ron Paul apparently uses this sentiment as shtick. Why would I say that? In 1988 Ron Paul ran for the Libertarian Party's presidential nomination. His opponent: Russell Means, the famous Indian rights activist. Mr. Means wrote in his memoirs that Paul insisted "Reagan wasn't really a conservative and didn't represent conservative Republicans." Means was so in sync with Ron Paul that he agreed, adding that Reagan was a "Mussolini fascist." Newsflash: Ron Paul believes Ronald Reagan was a fascist? Tell us more, Mr. Hunter!
The interesting thing about the Ron Paul-Russell Means connection is that it perfectly illustrates Mr. Hunter's hypocrisy on issues of self-determination. In this video Mr. Hunter makes his usual impassioned case for why Abraham Lincoln was a tyrant. He even says Lincoln's idea of saving the Union was genocide. The problem, of course, is that Russell Means applies this same principle to all the ancestors of Ron Paul and Jack Hunter who showed up on the shores of North America and proceeded, from Hunter's view, to commit "genocide" so Mr. Hunter could live the good life in South Carolina or Washington, D.C., neither of which belonged to Hunter's ancestors. So Hunter's idea of the valiant Confederacy is, gently put, a phony. The only difference between Lincoln and Hunter is that Hunter would sanction "genocide" to save South Carolina and the Confederacy for Southern whites. The pleas of Indians for self-determination are no big deal. And, of course, he seems to have no problem with the fact that the Confederate Constitution completely eliminated 100% of civil liberties for its own citizens of a certain color.
The reason no one thinks conservatives George Will or Ann Coulter are anti-Semitic when they discuss "neoconservatives" is that neither Will nor Coulter have a reputation for anti-Semitism, although because the latter criticizes liberal Jews for accepting pandering from Democrats, liberal Democrats have so charged, hilariously.
The central problem here is in foreign policy. Simplified more than a bit, it's the oldest of human questions: Do you let the bully regulate your behavior -- or do you do what you choose, act like a free man -- and take on the bully? Ron Paul repeatedly tries to convey that the Founding Fathers were "non-interventionists" and therefore conservative. The problem is that this is historically not so. To a Father they chose to take on the bully.
General George Washington authorized an attack across the American border on Quebec in 1775. John Adams conducted the Quasi-War against France, authorized by Congress in July of 1798. Thomas Jefferson sent the Marines to Tripoli to fight the Barbary pirates. James Madison, father of the Constitution Paul cites so frequently, invaded Canada. James Monroe drew a line around, literally, half the planet Earth and declared it an American protectorate. Ron Paul says that he is asking if American foreign policy hasn't over the decades put Americans in greater danger and made Americans more vulnerable to attack. In every single one of the above examples the answer to Paul's question is a resounding yes.
If Paul was right about Iraq, the Founding Fathers -- the men Paul identifies as conservatives -- were wrong about their actions invading and attacking other countries as well. Per Ron Paul's logic, had we not antagonized the British, the French, the Barbary pirates, the Canadians and all of the Western Hemisphere, Americans would not have died and we could have saved a bunch of money.
The objection here isn't that Ron Paul isn't sincere -- although Means' account that says Paul was saying of Reagan in 1988 what he now says of Bush raises an eyebrow. The objection is only that Paul isn't conservative, much less Republican, as claimed.
Mr. Hunter, on the other hand, seems merely selective about the right to self-determination. Finding himself, as a result, in an interesting quandary: if Lincoln was wrong -- Russell Means was right.
I await the Southern Avenger's latest YouTube pronouncement telling the good people of his hometown of Charleston, South Carolina, that it's time to pack it up and head off the North American continent because, as the Avenger said in his comparison of Iraqis to Confederates, the 41 Indian tribes who were the original inhabitants of South Carolina "simply want occupying armies out of their country."
When that happens, when Mr. Paul and Mr. Hunter lead the convoy off the continent that belonged to others, we will know just how conservative Mr. Paul and his blogger in chief really are.
Don't wait up.