For a good 75 years, the Republican Party has been the party of conservatism, the anointed vehicle for the hopes and dreams of those who believe in limited government and seek to preserve the legacy of the Founding Fathers.
It hasn’t been true for quite a while, but at least the Republicans were rhetorically committed to conservative principles right up until the second Bush presidency. George W. campaigned on a platform that old-time conservatives found at least recognizable: he opined that Americans ought to be able to keep a larger proportion of their income than the Clinton regime found permissible, and even on foreign affairs he sounded like a Taft Republican of the old school, promising a more "humble" foreign policy.
How far we have wandered off that road!
Under George W. Bush, today’s GOP is in the vanguard of the biggest expansion of governmental power since 27 B.C., the year Octavian was crowned with laurel leaves in the Roman Senate, and the yeoman’s republic on the Tiber morphed into an Empire.
Government spending has not only increased, it has engulfed us in a veritable tidal wave of unsustainable debt and force-marched us to the brink of bankruptcy. More ominously, the coercive power of government has expanded exponentially, and basic civil liberties the right to a fair trial, the right to be secure in our own homes, the right to speak out against government policies without being harassed, spied on, and otherwise encumbered by said government are in danger.
If, on the home front, the Republicans represent a brazen authoritarianism that seeks the overthrow of the Constitution, on the foreign policy front they are also revolutionaries. Professor Claes Ryn, the noted conservative scholar and past president of the Philadelphia Society, calls them "Jacobins," after the French revolutionaries who sent so many of their enemies to the guillotine. The Jacobins sought the revolutionary transformation of society via a purifying violence, and their brief rule was a paroxysm of nihilistic carnage unprecedented in the history of European nations. The neoconservatives, with their self-proclaimed objective of "creative destruction," are playing a similarly sadistic game in the Middle East today. Having seized the reins of government in Washington and commandeered the U.S. military in the service of their hubris, the neocons are on the march, like Orcs gathering at Isengard, shrieking their war cries and shaking their spears first at Iraq, and now at Iran.
I won’t go into the history of how the neocons migrated from the Democratic Party to the GOP, since that subject has been covered, here and elsewhere, in mind-numbing detail. Everybody knows about the neocons by now: Alcove B, the Trotskyist Irving Kristol and his fellow apostates, James Burnham and Max Shachtman, the infiltration of the Democratic Party by Shachtman and his confreres, and their effective control over the so-called "Scoop" Jackson wing of the party. Their own whining and complaining memoirs, of which there are far too many, have informed us of their reasons for abandoning their historic home and migrating to the GOP.
It was the Vietnam War, and the whole issue of what foreign policy is best suited to the U.S., that precipitated their break with the mainstream of their party. The neocons grouped around Commentary magazine, and, in the alternate universe of left-liberal politics, around Social Democrats, USA stomped out of the Democratic Party when that party rejected the failed policies of Lyndon Baines Johnson. In rallying around the candidacy of Eugene McCarthy, and later, George McGovern, the party’s activist core rejected the Cold War liberalism that had prompted John F. Kennedy to mount the Bay of Pigs invasion and vaingloriously declare that we would "pay any price, bear any burden" in the service of an interventionist foreign policy devoted to upholding "freedom" around the world.
Boring old hypocrites like Hubert Horatio Humphrey a hero to the neocons foundered on the rocks of the Vietnam conflict, and the pro-war AFL-CIO, long a bastion of neocon-Shachtmanite influence, had already passed the apex of its power. Their policies discredited, their political fortunes in ruins, the neocons retreated to the tall grass and regrouped to fight another day. The first stage of their strategy for a protracted conflict was a complete ideological makeover, a radical transfiguration that would catapult them to the opposite side of the political spectrum but without, of course, in any way altering their core principle: devotion to the cult of the war god. Militarism, not only as a foreign policy but as the organizing principle of the domestic order, is the central doctrine of the neoconservative creed, and they have never betrayed it no matter what their party registration.
The neocons, in their takeover of what used to be the conservative movement, have Prussianized the GOP. The movement of Taft and Goldwater, of the Chambers of Commerce and the Rotarians of the old America where prudence and modesty, rather than revolution and grandiosity, were in style, is no more. In its place is a party that stands for what the neocons call "national greatness," which derides prudence as cowardice, and knows nothing of modesty. Their role model is no longer Barry Goldwater, who questioned such government-guaranteed entitlements as Social Security, but Otto von Bismarck, whose name is a byword for militarism and who introduced a government welfare scheme similar to our own Social Security system well before the New Deal came to America.
For libertarians, the GOP is a total loss: like the neocons and the old "Scoop Jackson" Democrats, they are bad on everything, including domestic policy. Today, whatever skeptics of the government’s power to effect positive change, at home and abroad, still exist inside the Republican Party are lonely guardians of a nearly forgotten tradition. This is the party of Big Government, and Big Ambitions overseas: in the new Bushian GOP we are witnessing the triumph of "National Greatness" Republicanism. Gone is the plain, republican cloth coat: in its place GOPers flaunt the imperial purple.
Libertarians no longer have any place in the GOP coalition, and any who remain will have long since betrayed their ostensible devotion to liberty. The Republican Party is today hopelessly authoritarian. Maddened by war, its leaders are so corrupted by power and their desperation to hold on to it, that they will resort to any tactic, any subterfuge, no matter how contemptible and/or self-defeating. A good example is their secret funding of the campaign of Democrat Joe Lieberman against their own candidate for U.S. Senate in Connecticut. As Insight magazine reports, the GOP’s Karl Rove steered millions of dollars from big Republican contributors into Lieberman’s coffers.
Lieberman, an advocate of Big Government and out-of-control spending if ever there was one, supported the president on the Iraq war question and has signed on to the campaign to provoke a similar conflict with Iran. His defeat in the Democratic primary at the hands of Ned Lamont was a big blow to the War Party. It marked the effective end of neoconservative influence within the party of Jefferson, and represented a real setback for the neocon strategy of effectively controlling the foreign policy stances of both major parties a maneuver that has worked well in peacetime, but is always frayed as the consequences of our interventionist policies come back to haunt us in the form of body bags.
Republican support for a dyed-in-the-wool statist like Lieberman is proof positive that the GOP leadership could care less about their ostensible principles when it comes to domestic policy. In truth, they care about one issue and one issue only: the war, including the one to come. In supporting Lieberman, they are, in effect, saying: To hell with less government. We’ll settle for more war!
As Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos, the founding father of "netroots" Democratic activism, has said, there is room for libertarians in the Democratic Party and especially now, when the Libertarian Party has thrown its wonderful platform overboard and adopted a self-consciously "pragmatic" stance that has rendered it indistinguishable from the majors. If anyone is skeptical of government power and its dangerous increase in the era of Bush, he or she is probably a Democrat.
This skepticism of government power is particularly sharp when it comes to critiquing American foreign policy. Although there is a growing contingent of Republican critics of the war, in Congress and among the ranks, the Democratic Party activists who are the most energized are solidly opposed to our presence in Iraq. Significantly, many are extending their critique of intervention in that particular instance to a more generalized skepticism of our power to democratize the world at gunpoint.
This doubt of military power abroad is bound, in many cases, to translate into a similarly jaundiced view of the promiscuous employ of government coercion on the home front. Not always, but often and certainly more often, as the years of the "war on terrorism" drag on and the proto-fascist Republicans launch fresh assaults on civil liberties.
The sad decline of the GOP into a party that could credibly be described as scary, if not outright fascist, is bound to depress many longtime Republicans, particularly those with libertarian inclinations. Yet I would not linger over this gravestone too long, mourning the demise of a tradition remembered by few. And it isn’t all bad news, either. The good news is that the American people are not going to look with favor on a party that stands for perpetual war and eternal debt. Against all evidence and common sense, Republican leaders defend a war that has rightly been called the biggest strategic disaster in our history, one that even a full third of GOP voters reject as not worth fighting. Against the principles of their modern leaders and their own platform, they are the biggest promoters and enablers of government expansionism, a trend that has provoked a rebuke even from Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, a potential presidential candidate and GOP stalwart with impeccable conservative credentials.
Republicans are headed for a drubbing at the polls, and it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving party. Ever since the neocon takeover of this administration, they have been headed for disaster, and now that it is finally striking I just want to sit back and enjoy the spectacle of their extended and agonizing demise. That’s right, "stay the course," guys! Until you fall right into that inviting abyss