Bobby Jindal, Louisiana’s Republican governor, bluntly called his party the "stupid party." He also said that, "The Republican Party does not need to change our principles…but we might need to change just about everything else we do."
This stupidity was recently on display when House Republicans and especially grandstanding Senate Republicans melodramatically grilled the now wildly popular Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about "what she knew and when she knew it" about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Any viewer of the televised hearings would have thought that Republican members of Congress were talking about an administration transgression of Watergate-style proportions. It’s a travesty that the real tragedy of the killing of four Americans associated with the American consulate by heavily armed Islamists has become so politicized.
Hillary Clinton skillfully made monkeys out of the Republican congressional attempt to make a mountain out of a molehill – or perhaps in this case, a sandstorm out of sand dune – by noting that President Barack Obama had said right from the start that the attack was a terrorist attack and asking this obvious question: with four Americans dead, who cares if those militants took advantage of a protest (later determined to be inaccurate) or just decided they wanted to kill Americans? Even the worst case – that the Obama administration had been fibbing a bit to avoiding undermining its election storyline that Obama’s first term had been one of vanquishing Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda – is a yawner after the mountain of lies the George W. Bush administration told about Saddam Hussein’s involvement with al Qaeda and 9/11 and Saddam’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. These lies were told to involve the United States in an unnecessary and costly war – in both blood and treasure – that lasted almost a decade and was counterproductive in generating more terrorism.
The more important issue, remedying the obvious gaps in U.S. diplomatic security, seeped its way into the hearing but was, of course, eclipsed by Republicans beating a dead horse (or shall we say camel) about the Obama administration’s initially erroneous version of how the Benghazi attack went down. Even more crucial, the Republicans were too busy grandstanding – and war boostering – to legitimately attack Clinton about the chaos in Libya that resulted in the consular attack being caused by the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, which the administration played a crucial role in facilitating.
Gaddafi previously had made nice with the West and given up his nuclear program, yet was deposed and killed with the help of the U.S. and its western allies (a lesson probably not lost on Iran and North Korea). Islamist fighters from the Libyan civil war, after looting Gaddafi’s vast weapons stocks, used them to take over Northern Mali. Alarmed that Mali would become a terrorist base, the French then invaded that country; Islamist terrorists from there, in retaliation, attacked a natural gas complex in Algeria near the country’s border with Libya – killing mainly foreign workers. The Algerian government has alleged that some of those attackers were the same individuals who struck the American consulate in Benghazi. Also, the attackers of the gas facility used anarchic Libya to acquire weapons, as a travel conduit, and as a staging base for the strike. Thus, instability caused by the western-led toppling of Gaddafi has not been confined to Libya – where armed tribal militias roam the country – but is now radiating around the region. The Republicans avoided criticizing the Obama administration on this crucial issue, because most of them blindly support any type of U.S. military action.
This brings us to the larger question derived from what Governor Jindal said above. What principles do Republicans – that is, "conservatives" – stand for? (I’m taking the liberty here of using the terms Republican and conservative interchangeably, because the Republican Party has been taken over by people calling themselves "conservative.")
It’s certainly not small government. When not effectively holding power, Republicans always talk a good game about reducing government; but the last time they did hold such power – during the eight years of the George W. Bush administration – they spent more domestically than any administration since Lyndon Johnson. Similarly, despite the conservative rhetoric of Ronald Reagan and his successor, George H. W. Bush, government increased as a percentage of GDP.
Conservatives who favor government-imposed religious intolerance, substitute state power for civil liberties, advocate government invasion of the bedroom, and espouse bigoted policies toward gays and immigrants are not for small government either. The rapidly rising Hispanic population is already rendering the immigrant-unfriendly Republican Party incapable of winning national elections. Further deterioration of the party’s national position looms.
So what are conservatives today conserving? If conservatives today stand for anything, it is war. Constantly beating the drums for war (as John McCain does) or fully supporting it is required in the party to avoid being deemed wimpy and unpatriotic. And of course, wars lead to big government abroad and at home, even in seemingly unrelated areas.
You have to go back to the 1920s – to the Harding and Coolidge administrations – to find Republicans who were really against big government and realized that war leads to it. (Because Republican presidents before and since that time were usually increasing state power, this era may have been the only time in Republican Party history that the party truly gave us small government.) Harding was the only president in U.S. history to reduce government spending after a war to below what it was before the conflict. In addition, Harding’s tolerance was demonstrated by freeing socialist Eugene Debs – who the progressive war enthusiast Woodrow Wilson had thrown in jail for opposing World War I – and invited him to the White House. Harding and Coolidge are called "conservatives" today and are admired by many in the conservative movement, but they have little in common with them. Harding and Coolidge were not trying to conserve the massive government take over of American society during World War I – as conservative policy conserves big government today – they were trying to roll it back. Also, they were for peace and small government and realized the close relationship between the two. Harding and Coolidge were really proto-libertarians.
In contrast with Governor Jindal’s view, Republicans and conservatives need to introspectively examine their espoused principles, not just eliminate stupid execution of them.