The annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which has been going on for many years, is a bellwether of where the action is on the right side of the political spectrum – and the news from the latest gathering has both the traditional Buckley-style right and the Obama-ite liberal-left in shock. The CPAC presidential polls are a conference tradition, and the winner is often hailed as not only the up-and-coming champion of the Republican "hard" right but also a serious presidential contender. The winner of the previous three CPAC polls, Mitt Romney, was accorded such status early on in part because of his CPAC victories, but this time he was left in the dust by congressman Ron Paul.
Headlines reported Paul’s win as a "surprise," but early indications of the Paulian domination of CPAC this year included the ubiquitous presence of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) activists and the rock star reception given to Rep. Paul himself.
The former – and perhaps future – Republican presidential candidate gave a half-hour peroration that boldly stressed anti-interventionist foreign policy as the key to reining in big government on the home front. Invoking the shade of Robert A. Taft, and wondering aloud how we’re going to pay for our empire, Paul traced the roots of our dilemma back to Woodrow Wilson, the quintessential "progressive" of Glenn Beck’s worst nightmares. Unlike Beck, however, whose anti-progressive polemics only mention World War I in passing, Paul realizes that the whole kit-n-kaboodle of progressivism – the income tax, the Federal Reserve, and the philosophy of government as an instrument of moral uplift –all culminated in US involvement in the Great War.
As Murray Rothbard pointed out, the war – portrayed by its advocates at The New Republic and among the nation’s intelligentsia as a crusade for moral and spiritual uplift on a global scale – was the apotheosis of the progressive project. The term "Wilsonian," in foreign policy lingo, refers to the view that democracy and human rights can and should be advanced abroad at gunpoint.
We didn’t hear Beck, at this conference, where he was the featured speaker, or during one of his televised tirades, own up to the essentially Wilsonian foreign policy of the Bush administration, which he fulsomely supported. Beck is the perfect right-wing populist archetype, who, armed with a little knowledge, manages to miss the essential lesson of the Bush years – that an interventionist foreign policy with globalist pretensions is incompatible with the desire for limited government.
Nor does Beck, in his many disquisitions on the evils of progressivism, mention the worst depredations of the "progressive" Wilson administration, which Ron Paul surely did: it warmed the cockles of my libertarian heart to hear, at a CPAC conference, the name of Eugene Victor Debs raised as a martyr to the cause of individual rights, on account of his being jailed for speaking out against World War I. Yes, and it was a Republican, Paul reminded his audience – Warren G. Harding – who finally freed Debs. Ron truly is the anti-Cheney.
Too many conservatives, averred Paul, take a piecemeal approach to liberty: they don’t understand that freedom is indivisible, and that you can’t have constitutional and strictly limited government while engaging in endless wars.
Beck, in his CPAC speech, likened the Republican party to a substance-abuser: the first thing you’re supposed to do, he said, is recognize that you have a problem. Beck would do well to follow his own advice: he should go on television and admit that he and his fellow "movement" conservatives are addicted to war, and warmongering.
Paul’s CPAC victory is a stunning repudiation of the War Party’s long-standing dominance of the GOP, and is bound to ramp up the already quite active campaign to smear and destroy him. Neocon Dorothy Rabinowitz, in the midst of a jeremiad ostensibly aimed at Sarah Palin, points out that the liberals may hate Sarah for all the wrong reasons, but there are perfectly good neoconservative reasons for joining in the media pile-on, beginning with:
"The unsavory echoes of her regular references to ‘the real America’ as opposed to those shadowy “elites,” now charged with threats to the life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness of all real Americans. Neither does she seem to have any idea of how that low soapbox oratory – embracing one kind of American as the real kind, those builders in the towns and cities across America – rings in the ear today. It is not new."
Neocons hate people who talk about the elites in less than reverent tones, because they think you’re talking about them – which is often the case. They hate any sort of populism, whether of the right or the left, because they see in it the seeds of revolution, and, of course, anti-Semitism. Most of all they hate Ron Paul, because he and his followers embody the Jeffersonian values and culture of the American heartland, the old America of Bob Taft, America First, and a Republican party that was skeptical of overseas adventurism. They are the "real Americans" Rabinowitz hates and fears, and, this year, they came to CPAC in droves.
A rebellion among conservatives has long been brewing, and the CPAC convention represents the first skirmish in a civil war on the right, a war that is essentially over foreign policy. The Paul movement is well-organized, activist-oriented, and well-funded: more importantly, it has a well-grounded ideology, one that offers an alternative to the brain-dead neoconservatism of Republican party hacks and third-rate politicians like Rudy Giuliani – whose single delegate to the 2008 Republican convention fairly represents the strength of the Rabinowitz wing of the conservative movement.
As numerically tiny and largely discredited as the neoconservatives are on the right, the whole tone of Rabinowitz’s disquisition is that of an arbiter, one whose blessings – or curses – are the final word on the subject of Palin, Paul, and, as it turns out, Rand Paul, Ron’s son, who is running for the US Senate in Kentucky:
"Though it hasn’t attracted wide attention, nothing Mrs. Palin has done recently has been worthier of notice than her endorsement of Rand Paul, now running in Kentucky’s GOP senate primary. Dr. Paul, an ophthalmologist and radical libertarian, holds views on national security and defense that have much in common with those of the far left. Not to mention those of the considerable body of conspiracy theorists, antigovernment zealots, 9/11 truthers, and assorted other cadres of the obsessed and deranged who flocked to the presidential candidacy of his father Ron Paul, the congressman from Texas."
Whatever sort of libertarian Rand Paul is, "radical" is hardly a fair description: here, after all, is someone who disdains the Obama administration’s determination to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the Christmas Day bomber in civilian courts, and opposes the dismantling of Guantanamo. Sure, he questions US policy in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, pointing out that we don’t need to be "nation-building" overseas when our own nation is falling to pieces, but such complaints are hardly the exclusive prerogative of libertarians, radical or otherwise.
Rabinowitz & Co. have their work cut out for them if they’re going to try and convince conservatives that the Paul movement is "leftist." Good luck with that one. The neocon method, however, is simple repetition: if you tell a lie long enough, and persistently enough, maybe, just maybe people will come to accept it.
"Conspiracy theorist," "zealot," "deranged," "truther" – rinse, and repeat. There is something oddly childish about the taunting polemical style of the neocons: what it boils down to is simple name-calling. Rather than engage Paul’s actual views, the idea is to drive him out of the public square by means of pure epithets. Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson joins the chorus:
"The left has a political interest in defining the broad backlash against expanded government as identical to the worst elements of the Tea Party movement – birthers and Birchers, militias and nativists, racists and conspiracy theorists, acolytes of Ron Paul, Tom Tancredo and Lyndon LaRouche."
Ron Paul, avers Gerson, is preying on those "new to political engagement" who find "anger and paranoia intoxicating." (After all, there’s nothing to be angry about: only the "paranoid" get angry.) They "listen to Ron Paul attacking the Federal Reserve cabal, and suddenly their resentments become ordered into a theory. Such theories, in politics, can act like a drug, causing addiction, euphoria and psychedelic departures from reality."
Yes those drug addict-truther-paranoid-extremist-birther-militia types – how dare they so much as open their mouths!
The whole neocon pack of attack dogs is bound to be out in full force by Monday morning, on that you can depend. Angry, paranoid, and full of hate – that describes Ron’s critics to a tee. They are merely projecting these attributes which they possess in full measure onto Ron Paul and his supporters.
The Rabinowitzes and Gersons of this world are angry that people are beginning to question the previously unquestionable: they’re paranoid that their positions as opinion "leaders" and official arbiters of what’s kosher and what’s not are being overturned – and they’re chock full of hate for anyone who, like Rep. Paul, challenges their power. As well they should be. Because if Ron and the movement he leads is successful, their day is over and done.