The New Meaning of ‘Isolationism’

How an epithet becomes a compliment

by , July 23, 2014

Washington, D.C., is a world unto itself: inside the bubble, where politicians and their kept pundits endlessly massage each others’ egos (and bank accounts), the world is America’s oyster, to be greedily gulped and washed down with a swig of the Imperial City’s most popular intoxicant – hubris. Oblivious to the unwholesome spectacle of their ongoing public orgy, the Bourbons of the foreign policy establishment ignore growing hostility emanating from us peasants in flyover country – to their peril.

Let’s look at the numbers. While the downing of MH17 has politicians in both parties calling for direct US intervention in Ukraine, a recent poll of voters in battleground states has a pathetic 17 percent agreeing with them – and more than double that opposed. While the poll was taken before this latest ginned up "crisis," most Americans aren’t paying the least bit of attention to the war propaganda coming out of Washington – they are tuning it out just as they have steadfastly ignored the neocons’ recent call to arms urging us to re-invade Iraq. Bill Kristol’s assessment that Americans are just waiting to be "rallied" to the cause underscores the delusional blindness not only of the neocons but of the entire foreign policy establishment, which routinely pushes grandiose projects normal Americans scoff at. The Politico poll puts a mere 19 percent in favor of Commander Kristol’s Iraqi expeditionary force.

The tone-deafness of our political class when it comes to foreign policy was underscored by a recent trip to Kentucky by newly-elevated Republican majority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Goldman Sachs). Asked what he thought about Sen. Rand Paul’s nascent presidential campaign, McCarthy said he could support Paul if nominated but made a point of distancing himself from the Kentucky Senator’s increasingly visible opposition to Washington’s foreign policy of global meddling:

"I see what’s happening in the world. Do not think if you’re an isolationist… I do not think that’s a strength for America. I think there’s a reason why America should lead. I think it makes the world safer. It makes America safer. I think being president of the United States, you should be strong.”

The recent rash of attacks on "isolationism" by leading Republican warmongers is doing nothing but making us isolationists more popular than ever – and is turning what is supposed to be a marginalizing epithet into a compliment and a political asset for politicians like Sen. Paul. I have news for the Majority Leader: Americans want to be isolated from the violence and chaos of a wacked-out world. Not only that, but they resist the superior "wisdom" of Washington know-it-alls who say such a policy is neither practical nor possible.

If the new meaning of "isolationism" is that one doesn’t want the country fighting other peoples’ wars, then ordinary people in this country will increasingly embrace it – no matter how many times John McCain and Peter King liken anti-interventionists like Paul to such half-forgotten historical figures as Charles Lindbergh. Insofar as Americans vaguely recall the Lone Eagle, they remember his transatlantic flight, not his views on US entry into World War II. And I think most Americans would be shocked by the assumption that we’re on the cusp of yet another world conflict: they are smart enough to know that not every conflict is the equivalent of a global holocaust that killed over 60 million – and naïve enough to be shocked that some people want nothing more than to blow every international incident into the occasion for a world war. If disbelief in this dark vision is "isolationism," then the overwhelming majority are for it.

Senator Paul clearly sees this, which is why he is putting his supposedly un-Republican foreign policy views front and center, taking on McCain, Christie, Rubio, and calling out the neocons by name. As the Louisville (Kentucky) Courier reports:

"Paul doesn’t see his positions as revolutionary or politically risky. In fact, he thinks it’s the folks who are calling him an isolationist who are out of step with the rest of the country.

“’I think there’s a disconnect between the American people and Washington,” Paul said Monday. ‘Washington often lags a decade behind American opinion. I think I’m actually where the people are, and it’s going to take everybody else awhile to figure this out.’

"To make his case, Paul points to Iraq, noting the neocon voices who are saying the U.S. should send troops, or in some cases, never should have left.

“’They’re outliers,’ Paul said. ‘They are somewhere on the extreme end of the spectrum because that’s not where the majority of the American people are.’”

"Outliers" is one way to put it, but since this is a family-friendly web site I’ll refrain from getting more specific. Most Americans may be unfamiliar with the arcane lingo of Washington-speak, but they do know who and what a neocon is, and what they know is bad news for the War Party.

McCarthy opines that Sen. Paul may become more "educated," i.e. talked out of his more angular stances by, presumably, the Republican donor class, who agree with the new Majority Leader that "our friends don’t trust us and our enemies don’t fear us." What this misses is the commonsensical view of the man-in-the-street, who knows we don’t have any real "friends" – due not only to the nature of the world we live in, but also because we’re so good at making enemies.

McCarthy is right about one thing, however: “Whoever gets through the primary," he avers, "I think foreign policy will be a very strong element.” To which the Courier reporter adds: "What’s telling at this point is that both Paul and his critics think that’s a good thing."

As Daniel Larison points out in The American Conservative, "If some Republicans still respond favorably to boilerplate hawkish claims, just as many now seem to be rejecting them." I would go further and baldly assert the majority of GOP’ers are just as sick of the neocons’wars as the rest of the country, if not more so. Falling back on the assumption that GOP primary voters are as reflexively warlike as the editorial staff of the Weekly Standard may prove to be the War Party’s fatal error.

A recent Pew poll graphed a stunning reversal of what it means to be on the "right" and on the "left" in terms of foreign policy: Pew found 71 percent of "steadfast conservatives" want to focus more at home than overseas, with Republican-leaning "young outsiders" generally agreeing and only "business conservatives" (i.e. the crony capitalist-ExIm Bank crowd) dissenting. This is the winning coalition Sen. Paul is hoping to mobilize.

What’s surprising – and really kind of sad, actually – is the same poll shows both the "next generation left" and "solid liberals" as enthusiastic interventionists, with the "faith and family left" and liberal "hard-pressed skeptics" siding with conservative opponents of global interventionism.

Let’s hope Sen. Paul is right about the political class lagging at least a decade behind the American people – a decade in which an entire generation has grown up without ever knowing peace – and pray they don’t wake up in time to realize how badly they’re losing.

Like the Bourbon queen who trilled "Let them eat cake!" as the peasant masses seethed, the Republican grandees who think they can wield their vaunted veto power over the 2016 nominee may be in for quite a surprise. Unfortunately, they will evade Marie Antoinette’s fate, but at least they’ll suffer it figuratively. The beheading of the beastlike war-god, and his Washington-based priesthood, is going to be a spectacle worth waiting and working for.

And I, like Madame Defarge, will sit up front, knitting and nursing a smile.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.

I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).

You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.

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