Posted on | September 6, 2010 | 105 Comments
Lisa Graas was the founder of PalinTwibe, a Twitter feed that supports Sarah Palin, but resigned after Palin endorsed Rand Paul. (Graas supported Christian conservative candidate Bill Johnson in the Kentucky GOP Senate primary.)
Her stance made Lisa a target of Ron Paul’s supporters, whose online fury is legendary. And she has now published “A Blogger’s Guide to the Paulastinian Masturbatorium,” a glimpse inside Liberty Forest, a.k.a., Ron Paul Forums, a site she describes as “the online staging ground for Paul supporters to organize and become like gum in the hair for any blogger who may disagree with them.”
It has been my policy as a blogger not to offend the supporters of Ron Paul. While some have called them “Paulbots” or “Paultards,” I’ve always used the term “Paulista.” This borrowing from Spanish — e.g., Sandinista — is apt, I think, and is an adaptation dating back to the 1980s, when many conservatives (who opposed Daniel Ortega’s Marxist regime in Nicaragua) referred to themselves jocularly as “Reaganistas.”
Long before Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign I admired his principled stance against Big Government, which earned him the sobriquet “Doctor No” for his many votes against measures he considered unconstitutional. If there were 218 Ron Pauls in the House of Representatives, we certainly wouldn’t be in the deficit-ridden mess we’re in now, although (as some would say) we might be in a completely different mess.
The Paulistas’ devotion to limited government, their critique of the Federal Reserve, and even their skepticism toward U.S. foreign policy strike me as valuable assets to the conservative coalition. While one might disagree with any one or more of their arguments, the Paulistas offer an ideological critique of Bush-era Republican policy — which certainly deserves criticism.
Bushism and ‘Brand Damage’
Steve Sailer has notably described the philosophy of Bushism as “Invade the World, Invite the World, In Debt to the World” — foreign wars, open borders and deficit spending. Justify any of Bush 43’s policies however you will, you cannot say their short-term popularity (i.e., the GOP electoral successes of 2002-04) led to Karl Rove’s dream of a “Permanent Republican Majority.”
Bush’s talk of “compassionate conservatism,” of being a bipartisan “uniter not a divider” who could bring about “a new tone in Washington,” turned out to be a roadmap for unprincipled compromises with liberalism. From the atavistic atrocity known as No Child Left Behind to the abomination of Medicare Part D to the wrongheaded TARP bailout of 2008, George W. Bush spent eight years telling Americans that enacting expensive Big Government measures was “conservative.” If you repeat a lie often enough, people start to believe it and so, to this day, you’ll find Republican useful idiots like Fred Barnes who defend the very worst acts of Bush’s tenure as “conservative” or, at least, necessary.
Bad policy is generally bad politics, too, and the disastrous elections of 2006-08 — which gave us Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Reid and President Obama — should rightly be seen not as an endorsement of liberalism, but rather as a negative referendum on Bushism. If conservatives are to have any hope of correcting the GOP “brand damage” problem, the correction must begin with honest criticism of the failures of Bushism.
Despite all the cleverness of those “Miss Me Yet?” billboards, a reliable majority of Americans will not vote for conservative Republicans if they believe that this means a return to the self-contradicting incoherence of Bush-era Republicanism.
We do not need a “New Conservatism,” but we definitely need a Real Conservatism.
Our Very Foreign Policy
As critics of Bushism, then, the Paulista insurgents are certainly part of a long-needed reasssessment of what conservatism means and what core principles the Republican Party should stand for, including foreign policy.
While I am myself generally hawkish — at times savagely so — I am also opposed to the nonsensical drivel of “nation-building,” which amounts to a universalist ideology wherein America has a divine mandate to remake the world in our own image. The slightest acquaintance with the realities of Afghanistan and Iraq should dissuade us from this error. We have neither the money nor the manpower to turn Kabul into Cleveland or Baghdad into Boston, and even if we did have sufficient resources to accomplish such ambitious schemes, I doubt the wisdom of doing so.
To borrow a phrase from an old buddy of mine, those neocons who dream of converting the Middle East into Western bourgeois democracies — Iraq as a Mesopotamian replica of Minnesota, Afghanistan as an egalitarian society that would warm the cockles of Melissa McEwan’s feminist heart — are guilty of advocating “diversity through homogenization.”
To be told that thousands of American soldiers died to bring the blessing of women’s suffrage to these countries . . . well, I’ll defer to Ann Coulter, who has argued that the 19th Amendment was a tragic error.
The Framers of the Constitution declared their intent to “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity,” and conservatives ought to give full weight to their use of first-person possessive pronouns in this regard. The preservation of our own liberty ought to be every American’s first concern, and we should consider that we may jeopardize this hard-won legacy if we undertake grandiose projects to impose liberty on other nations. I’m not generally fond of John Quincy Adams, but he was certainly correct in declaring that Americans “are the friends of liberty everywhere, but the guardians only of our own.”
Four Critiques of ‘Empire’
Lisa Graas notes the contempt of Paulistas for the “American Empire,” and I think in this regard it is helpful to distinguish between (a) anti-imperialism, (b) isolationism, (c) pacificism, and (d) anti-Americanism.
Anti-imperialism has a long and honorable history in American culture. The Founders, being well-read in the history of Rome and Greece — it is worth mentioning that Gibbon’s classic Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was published in 1776 — and warned strongly against the danger that the Republic they established might suffer the fate of those ancient civilizations. The key event in the downfall of Athens, narrated by Thucydides in the History of the Peloponnesian War, was the ill-advised Syracuse expedition of 415 B.C., which Nicias rightly opposed and Alcibiades wrongly advocated. As for Rome, its constant warfare and extensive conquests brought to power military leaders who, seeking popular support for their selfish ambitions, subverted the patrician authority of the Senate and granted citizenship to barbarians whose allegiances were ultimately not fully Roman.
Most intelligent people who are usually described as “isolationists” consider that term a pejorative misnomer. They insist that they are not nativist Know-Nothings opposed to any U.S. involvement in world affairs. Rather, they say, their concern is for the maintenance of American sovereignty and independence, and a skepticism toward the universalist nostrums of globalism. This attitude also has deep roots in American culture, as the Founders warned against standing armies and “foreign entanglements.” Some would say that advances in transportation and communication have rendered a Pat Buchanan-style “America First” posture obsolete, but within the conservative Big Tent, it is helpful to have these voices of caution to warn us against an unthinking embrace of Wilsonian overreach and oxomoronic delusions of “perpetual war for perpetual peace.” Those who see George W. Bush as a latter-day LBJ — whose Great Society was critiqued by Murray Rothbard as a guns-and-butter scam he called the “Welfare-Warfare State” — ought not be dismissed lightly.
Of pacifism, we may say that it is pure folly. The United States is too big, too rich, too powerful and too vulnerable to be Sweden. “World peace” is a secularist fantasy, and America’s peace rests upon only thing: Our enemies’ belief that we’ll blast the everlasting crap out of anybody who dares attack us or our allies. This is where my bloodthirsty Jacksonian streak comes out. As much as I love peace, I believe that our willingness to wage hard and ruthless war against our enemies is ultimately the only security of our peace. On the evening of 9/11, as I watched newscast videos of jihad-happy Arabs dancing in the streets of Cairo and Gaza, fond thoughts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki danced in my own mind. Advocates of “human rights” should be glad that I didn’t have my finger on the nuclear button at that moment, just as they should be glad I wasn’t in charge of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. My objection is not that waterboarding is cruel, but that it is so much less efficient than a 9-mm.
And so, of the four distinct schools of hostility to “American Empire,” we finally come to (d) anti-Americanism, for which I have even less tolerance than I do for sincere pacifism. The pacifist is a fool, whereas those who espouse anti-Americanism have internalized an enemy ideology, usually rooted in half-digested crypto-Marxism.
Anti-Americanism: Its Roots and Fruits
“America the Evil” is an idea which has both domestic and foreign varieties, of course. One may find the domestic variety at least as early as the more disgruntled New England Federalists of the early 1800s who, having been purged from federal office during the 24-year ascendancy of the Virginia Dynasty (Jefferson, Madison, Monroe) conceived a spiteful hatred in their hearts that echoes to this day. Everytime you hear some elitist snob put down the American people as ignorant hicks — whether it’s Thomas Frank in What’s the Matter With Kansas or David Brooks in his New York Times column — you’re observing a remnant of the attitudes pioneered by those haughty Puritans of the early 19th-century.
Then as now, the elitists dressed up their snobbery in moralistic drag, portraying their opponents as the prey of demagogues, and pretending that their own scruples had nothing to do with hurt feelings and thwarted self-interest. You can trace a direct line of historic succession from the Hartford Convention of 1814 to the “peace” movements of the 1960s and on to the MoveOn.org/Code Pink nonsense of our own era. The elite will support war if it serves their domestic political purposes — that is, when it enhances their own status and results in “jobs for the boys” in their own particular party. This is why liberals celebrate World War II as “The Good War,” which was fought by FDR and enhanced the prestige of liberalism, whereas liberals denounce the Vietnam war and re-write history to disguise the fact that it was “escalated” by a liberal Democrat and ended by a Republican.
Let us grant the sincerity of those fools who actually believe the “peace” rhetoric of Democrats. Insofar as Democrats are the party of anti-Americanism (and they most certainly are), they are consistent in opposing only those wars which arguably advance American interests. This is the ironclad logic by which Bill Clinton could bug out of Somalia, invade Haiti on behalf of the Aristide regime, and send U.S. bombers to wage war for the independence of Kosovo. It would have been in U.S. interest to hang tough after the Battle of Mogadishu, to stay out of Haitian politics, and leave the mess in the Balkans to our European “allies” (the scare-quotes necessitated by the dubious fidelity or value of any alliance with, inter alia, France).
In war as in peace, liberalism is always 100% wrong and the fact that many prominent Democrats were, in 2002-03, even more hawkish toward Iraq than the neocons ought to have been our first clue that the mission to Mesopotamia would have an unhappy denouement for the GOP.
Pro-war Democrats of 2002-03 evidently imagined, as did many Republicans, that the conquest of Iraq would be a quick-and-easy affair like the Kuwait war of 1991, and therefore wanted to put themselves on what seemed the popular side of the issue. As night follows day, however, these Democrats predictably were the first to cry “quagmire” when the going got tough and, by 2004, were denouncing “Bush’s war” as if it hadn’t originally been their war, too.
“Bush lied, people died” was and still is a deceitful mantra, but as political rhetoric it has the virtue of simplicity, whereas the arguments against it are (prepare to cringe) nuanced.
The Young Paulistas
Republicans have lost, at least temporarily, the under-30 vote because GOP policy during the Bush years was so unpopular on college campuses. Granted, Reagan was also unpopular on campus, but Reagan’s policies had the merit of being right, so much more right than liberal policies of the 1980s that when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, Democrats were forced into an embarrassed silence about their decades-long advocacy of appeasement toward the Soviet empire. If there is to be any similar happy-ending payoff for Bushism, we haven’t seen it yet.
The GOP’s “brand damage” problem is worst among the under-30s, and this is an important consideration in dealing with the Paulistas because, for the past two or three years, Ron Paul has been the only gravitational force holding many young people within the conservative orbit. I first witnessed this in fall 2007, when I covered a Ron Paul rally at the Boulevard Woodgrill in Arlington, Va. The room was packed and full of energy and at least two-thirds of the attendees were under 30.
Young and old, the Ron Paul campaign inspired enthusiasm from people who otherwise had become in recent years indifferent to the fortunes of the GOP. Given the dire plight of the Republican Party since 2006, to treat potential allies as enemies (as Jane Norton did in Colorado and Sue Lowden did in Nevada) is political folly.
At the same time, however, the intransigent fanaticism of the most hardcore Paulistas — and the indisputably obnoxious attitude of many of Paul’s online activists — makes it problematic to fit them within the Big Tent. I think an attitude of principled allegiance is possible, but there seems to be no mutually acceptable authority to broker such an allegiance by laying down the rules of engagement. If the Paulistas and other Republicans are constantly warring against each other in the most hateful terms, this only benefits Democrats.
Yet the GOP Establishment is too arrogant to try to seek constructive engagement with the Paulistas, while the Paulistas are often guilty of behavior that can only be described as self-marginalization.
Lisa Graas’s description of the “Paulastinian Masturbatorium” is worth reading. While it will likely serve in the short term only to make her a target of further abuse, it ought to inspire thoughtful Republicans to think deeply about how to mend the breach and begin building a genuinely principled conservatism that can unite a broad coalition on the Right.