Ron Paul is to neocons what a silver bullet is to vampires, and, for me at least, a great deal of the joy accompanying Ron Paul’s CPAC victory has been anticipating the squeals of outrage, shock, and real pain coming from those circles. This may be my sadistic streak coming out, albeit not for the first time, but after years of hearing Paul and his supporters dismissed as "fringe" irrelevant sectarians with no real political prospects, you’ll forgive me if I indulge myself in a little gratuitous cruelty.
Fox News simply repeated the word "unscientific" whenever it mentioned the CPAC poll results, as its "news" reporters wondered aloud if indeed Paul’s runaway victory had any meaning at all. Most of the attendees were young activists, Fox anchors endlessly reminded their viewers – and oh those wacky kids! Fox also amplified the boos that greeted the announcement of Paul’s victory, but the reality is that the hall was at that moment filled with those who had come to hear Glenn Beck and Newt Gingrich, two speakers that were boycotted by the libertarians present on account of their odious views and smears directed at the Good Doctor. Is Fox News seriously asking us to believe the conference-goers were booing themselves?
The reliably neocon blog Powerline harrumphed that the Paul victory "is dismaying, to the extent one takes it seriously. Ron Paul is the crazy uncle in the Republican Party’s attic. He is not a principled libertarian like, say, Steve Forbes. Rather, as I noted in this post, where I likened him to Pee-Wee Herman, Paul has a rather sinister history as a hater and conspiracy theorist."
Paul, the genial 75-year old physician from rural Texas, who radiates a palpable benevolence – "sinister"? Aside from the melodramatics, however, what this means is that, according to Powerline, a significant portion of the conservative movement has been taken over by a "sinister" conspiracy of … conspiracy theorists! Oh, and Paul’s not really a libertarian – only plumb-line supporters of perpetual war, torture, and the suspension of the Constitution in the name of the "war on terrorism," such as the editors of Powerlust, are "real" libertarians. Uh huh. Sure they are. War, torture, and tyranny – sounds "libertarian" to me!
Oddly, the supposedly "conservative" Powerline echoes the leftist Earl Ofari Hutchinson, who angrily notes in the Huffington Post the less than reverent Paulian approach to Abraham Lincoln, and reiterates the same grab-bag of lies and innuendo unleashed by Jamie Kirchick at The New Republic and dutifully echoed and amplified by Reason magazine and its former employee David Weigel – who has now graduated up to the "right-wing extremist" beat at MSNBC. I debunked this nonsense here, here, here, here, and here – or, as Hutchinson would put it, I "reveled in it."
Hutchinson’s screed is remarkable for its tone of hysteria – Paul’s followers are invariably "fanatical," having fallen victim to "Paul mania," and they are also "scary." Although this fusillade comes from someone on the ostensible "left," it is indistinguishable from the jeremiads that poured forth from the likes of David Frum and the neoconservatives during the GOP presidential primaries: Hutchinson accuses Paul of being a racist, claiming that his CPAC speech was "sprinkled here and there with racial baits." Really? I challenge Hutchinson, or anyone else, to listen to Paul’s speech, go through it line by line, and come up with a single half-credible "racial bait." Where oh where are these "baits?" On this point Hutchinson is mum: he doesn’t think he needs to be more specific, because, you see, he’s the expert on racism, and we’ll just have to take his word for it.
Hutchinson is riled by Paul’s insistence that the Civil War could and should have been avoided, if at all possible. As to whether it could have been avoided, I’ll leave that to the historians and specialists to argue out. After all, it’s a risky business to engage in could-have-beens, and so it’s best to leave that to the authors of alternate histories. That it should have been avoided, if at all humanly possible, would hardly seem to be a controversial position: it was certainly the bloodiest war in our history, one that tore the nation asunder long after the issue had been "settled" by force of arms. Why is it a hate crime to suggest that it would have been better if hundreds of thousands of Americans hadn’t been slaughtered, maimed, and impoverished by a vicious conflict must remain a mystery of the Hutchinsonian mind, one best kept under lock and key.
All of these anti-Paul polemics seem to blend into a single panic-stricken shriek. Ex-Reason employee Weigel chimes in with his view – really a hope – that conservatives are essentially hostile to the antiwar Paulian message, and, what’s more:
“Conservatives don’t want their image to the American people to be septuagenarian politicians who bang on about the need to close down American bases and speak at meetings of the John Birch Society. … It was accidentally very revealing of how far right the party’s gotten.”
The first time as tragedy, the second as farce – the old Marxian aphorism comes unbidden as I contemplate the reappearance of the Birch Scare. You’ve heard of the Red Scare, of course, as a time of evil, when honest pinkos were tarred as Commies and a monster called Tail-Gunner Joe roamed the land. I’ll bet you haven’t heard of the Birch Scare, however, a weirdly parallel phenomenon that occurred during the early 1960s, when the John Birch Society first came to public attention.
The Birch Society was founded by Robert Welch, a candy maker, a rather mild-mannered and courtly man who for a while was excoriated by the liberal media as a veritable devil. After first being denounced by the neoconservatives of his day in an anthology titled The Radical Right, Welch and the Society found themselves inundated by a series of hysterical journalistic attacks that portrayed them as demonic hate-mongers secretly plotting to overthrow the government. Breathless exposés appeared almost daily in the mainstream media, warning against the dire Birch menace: they were organized into secret "cells," and they were spreading their message of "hate" and "division" – well, you know the drill.
In reality, Welch was a rather idiosyncratic example of an Old Rightist, that breed of conservative that died out with the death of Robert A. Taft and Colonel McCormick‘s Chicago Tribune. Sure, he had some, ah … exotic views, but in essence he was just a good old fashioned anti-Communist whose suspicion of what he called "internationalism" eventually led him to oppose US military adventurism overseas. In a mid-1960s edition of the Birch Society’s internal bulletin, he denounced the Vietnam war and proposed that the Society initiate a campaign to extend their slogan of "Get US Out" – which had previously applied to the United Nations – to mean get us out of the war.
That’s why it was funny to watch MSNBC’s "news" anchors rail on and on about how the Birchers – who had been allowed to co-sponsor CPAC – had re-"infiltrated" the conservative movement, and isn’t it horrible, blah blah blah. They then had the nerve to trot out Buckley‘s ghost, wondering why WFB’s famous "excommunication" of the Birchers had been rescinded. If only those commie-hippie-liberals realized that one of the principal reasons given by Buckley for the anti-Bircher interdict was Welch’s opposition to the Vietnam war. The Birchers were tolerated as long as they confined themselves to rehashed McCarthyism – after all, Buckley had written a book defending the red-baiting Senator, although somewhat half-heartedly. And of course McCarthy’s downfall occurred when he started targeting alleged Communist infiltration of the US military – an investigative thread that Welch simply took up and elaborated on.
Although the Society has been smeared as racist, as well as anti-Semitic, and called every name in the book, the truth is quite the opposite: Welch was an intransigent opponent of racism, and he regarded anti-Semites as sinister "neutralizers" who were objectively aligned with the Society’s enemies. (The raving lunatic Revilo P. Oliver, a professor of classics and a fanatical anti-Semite, was unceremoniously kicked off the JBS Council by Welch, and racists regularly received the same treatment.)
The Birchers’ real sin, in Buckley’s eyes, was to oppose the Warfare State as much as they opposed the Welfare State. They were the first to alert conservatives to the dangers of George Herbert Walker Bush’s "New World Order." And when Bush II moved to implement and complete his father’s hegemonist dream at gunpoint in Iraq, the Society strongly opposed the war – unlike various and sundry "liberals."
When liberals who know or care nothing about the history of the conservative movement trot out Buckley, you know they’re up to no good. They claim they want to "understand" what’s going on with the tea-party movement, and the identity crisis on the Right, but their "analysis" is just a lot of ideological ax-grinding. There’s no real attempt to come to grips with the issues raised by the Ron Paul movement, and the much wider wave of discontent that is now rolling across the country.
The anti-interventionist, anti-government trend in the GOP, represented by the Paulian triumph at CPAC, is really just a delayed reaction to the end of the cold war and the promise of a return to normalcy. You’ll recall, back then, when the Berlin Wall fell, conservatives came around to a non-interventionist outlook. Bill Clinton’s promiscuous meddling in affairs that should have been none of our business accelerated a trend that would have developed naturally anyway. What happened to interrupt this growing "isolationism" was 9/11.
Yet as signal an event as that was, as hard as it hit the American psyche and changed our politics, the objective circumstances that gave rise to anti-interventionism on the right are still present and on the increase. To begin with, there is no worldwide ideological challenge to liberal democracy, no competing universalist ideology like Communism seeking to claim the allegiance of the world’s peoples. The sectarian"appeal" of al-Qaeda and allied terrorist organizations is very narrow, strictly limited to the Muslim world: in any case, the threat posed by bin Laden is hardly equal to that posed by the old Communist International.
This fact and the economic facts of reality – that we cannot continue to fund an overseas empire without going bankrupt – conspire against any "conservative" who wants to limit government and mobilize massive armies to occupy vast portions of Central Asia.
In the midst of an economic crisis such as has not been seen since the 1930s, the War Party is at a loss as to how to drum up enthusiasm for yet another bout of Mideast adventurism. That they’ve even lost their most reliable allies in the conservative movement, which is now rallying behind the anti-interventionist champion Ron Paul, shows just how remarkably weak they have become. The Rabinowitz–Frum wing of the Republican party is small, and getting smaller by the minute: how many battalions does Powerline command, anyway?
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, as a supporter of the present admnistration – which
is waging an immoral and unsustainable war in Iraq, Afghanistan,
and Pakistan – has every reason to find Ron Paul and his supporters "scary."So do the neocons, the vultures of the American politics, who hover over every battlefield cheering on the slaughter. I revel in their fear: it gladdens my heart and sustains me. Because it means, not that we’re winning, necessarily, but that we can win. And in a battle of this kind, so hard and unforgiving, that makes all the difference.