The GOP Purge

The ongoing hara-kiri of the GOP proceeds apace, with the latest being a concerted effort by the party’s neoconservative wing to oust sitting Republican members of Congress who oppose the war. The latest examples: Walter B. Jones of North Carolina and Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland. Rep. Jones attracted national attention when, at the height of the pre-invasion war hysteria, he led an effort (with now-jailed Rep. Bob Ney) to rename the French fries on the menu in the House cafeteria "Freedom Fries" – and then attracted more serious attention when he turned against the war he had championed, and began to denounce the president’s war policies in no uncertain terms.

Jones is quite a character, an old Southern gentleman who emanates sincerity and class: he has personally written to thousands of military families who have lost loved ones in this futile and apparently never-ending war. What’s more, he has taken an enormous political risk in reversing course, not because it’s now the popular thing to do – it wasn’t when he began speaking out – but because he’s a man of principle who puts his conscience and his constituency before partisan considerations. What I like about him is that his denunciations of the war are invariably fiery, and shot through with a white-hot anger directed at those who lied us into war:

"At a local barbecue restaurant last week, he delivered a passionate speech defending his position – and slamming the administration’s foreign policy. He approvingly read from Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold’s 2006 Time editorial attacking the Bush administration for using ‘9/11’s tragedy to hijack our security policy.’

"He accused the ‘neocons’ – he repeated the phrase twice – of manipulating intelligence to sell the Iraq war to the public. He said he was more concerned with terrorists coming from South America than from Iraq.

“‘Many people get their news from Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity,’ Jones said after the speech, referring to the popular conservative radio talk show hosts. ‘I get my news in classified briefings with military experts and CIA experts. I have to make my decision based on what the experts say.’"

His primary opponent is one Joe McLaughlin, a financial planner, retired military man, and Onslow county commissioner who tends to ignore (and neglect) his constituents and has been accused of using his office to promote himself (no doubt a first for a politician!). McLaughlin stupidly accuses Jones of being a "leftist" – a charge that falls flat when confronted with the congressman’s lifetime ACU rating of over 90 percent – and is making Jones’ co-sponsorship of a congressional resolution condemning Rush Limbaugh for his "phony soldier" comment the main issue of the campaign. In McLaughlin’s world, it’s okay to diss a soldier who disagrees with him and Rush on the war, but it’s not okay to criticize the pill-popping talk-radio icon who has never been anywhere near a battlefield. This is why, brays McLaughlin, Jones is a "phony Republican."

On his Web site, McLaughlin proclaims he’s a "family values conservative," and yet rumor has it that, uh, maybe not… At any rate, local Republican activist Jim Kouri reports "one member of the NCGOP told this writer that ‘not a day goes by without Joe [ McLaughlin] smearing Congressman Jones.’" It’s incredible that McLaughlin is trying to portray the staunchly conservative Jones as some sort of left-wing subversive, but the clear implication of his most recent radio ad – which proclaims McLaughlin "supports the troops" – is that Jones does not support the troops. This accusation is especially toxic in a district with one of the heaviest concentrations of military bases in the country.

“His is a message of despair," says McLaughlin, "a message of defeat." Yet who is likely to arouse more despair, especially in the ranks of military families: those who say the five-year war in Iraq must stretch into 10 or more – or those who say it is time for the Iraqis to stand on their own legs and walk the walk?

Walter Jones supported this war in the beginning: he was, indeed, one of its most fervent advocates. It takes character for him to admit he was wrong – and a real sense of responsibility to go as far out on a limb as he’s gone in order to make up for what he now recognizes as a grievous mistake.

Instead of appealing to the various signs and symbols of the fake Left-Right divide – Rush, Cindy Sheehan, and Dennis Kucinich (the latter two, McLaughlin unconvincingly avers, are Jones’ good pals) – why doesn’t McLaughlin engage Jones when it comes to the war issue, on its merits?

I’ll tell you why: because McLaughlin doesn’t know the first thing about the war, Iraq, or foreign policy in general. He’s just a political opportunist circling Jones’ seat like a vulture seeks out carrion. Yet Jones is far from being dead meat: for one thing, McLaughlin has yet to raise much campaign cash – although that could change.

Word is out that the Club for Growth – a right-wing neocon outfit rolling in dough – has met with McLaughlin and may be interested in funding his campaign. The Club is also bankrolling the campaign of another Republican primary challenger, state Sen. Andrew Harris, who is going up against antiwar Rep. Gilchrest.

The Club purports to be for "limited government" and "economic freedom," yet their major concern, these days, seems to be going after any and all Republicans who so much as breathe a word of criticism of the neocons’ war. Yet what has provoked the biggest orgy of spending since the New Deal – and promises to cost us as much as $2 trillion before it’s over? This rotten war.

I’ve even heard the Club described as "libertarian" – but this use of its resources as a battering ram against the real libertarian Republicans, such as Walter Jones, shows what these guys are really up to, which is to serve as the neocons’ water boys. War trumps parsimony in the new GOP’s hierarchy of political values, and the ongoing Republican purge is carving this principle in stone.

There have been rumors that Jones – who started out a Democrat, like his father, who once represented the district – might return to the party of his youth, yet nothing has come of that so far. Local Republicans are rallying to his cause, and the veterans whom he has stood by so steadfastly – especially the wounded, who have been the worst victims of government incompetence in this war – have come to his aid, even as party officials have abandoned him. VoteVets is running pro-Jones ads in which retired Maj. Gen. John Batiste, former commander of the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq, lauds Jones for his “moral courage.” Says Batiste:

“We are caught in the middle of a brutal civil war in Iraq without a focused national strategy. Congressman Jones is well-informed in challenging those politicians who are breaking our great Army and Marine Corps.”

In the fifth year of a long, grinding war, the appeal of McLaughlin’s demagoguery is increasingly limited, especially where it concerns his key audience: military personnel and their families. He attacks Jones for appearing with Cindy Sheehan, but remember, Cindy is a military mom, too, and the grieving mothers of North Carolina’s 3rd congressional district have a lot more in common with her than McLaughlin might imagine. Recent polls suggest that the "solid South," once solidly for the war, is now turning against it: a majority now say it was a "mistake," and – along with much of the rest of the country – Southerners now support a decrease in troop levels (56 percent).

Nationally, Republicans are wavering in their support for the war, and that’s why Ron Paul, the only antiwar candidate in the Republican presidential stable, is going from dark horse to a somewhat lighter hue. Jones has endorsed Paul’s bid, and it is likely that the North Carolina congressman will benefit from the kind of dedicated nationwide support – from veterans as well as libertarians – that has come Dr. No‘s way.

The effort to oust Jones demonstrates the essentially parasitic – and destructive – character of the neoconservative virus in the GOP. For these guys, it’s rule or ruin: they don’t care about regaining control of Congress (they gave up on that distant possibility a long time ago) or saving a conservative vote on fiscal and other matters. They care about one issue and one issue only: war and more war, as far as the eye can see. When they’ve run the GOP into the ground and reduced it to a mostly regional party, they’ll abandon the dried-up husk and emigrate back to where they came from – the Scoop Jackson wing of the Democratic Party, where they can join Joe Lieberman, Joshua Muravchik, and Hillary Clinton’s neoconservative fan club in ginning up a war with Iran.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

I have a long essay over at Taki’s Top Drawer: "Ayn Despite the Randians," a commentary on the legacy of Ayn Rand and the 50th anniversary of Atlas Shrugged, and also a whole lot of blog posts that you really ought to check out.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is editor-at-large at Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].