Rand Paul, Eugene McCarthy, and the ‘Values of the Hills and Hollows’

What does it take for a dyed-in-the-wool progressive to transform himself into such a warmongering Dick Cheney look-alike that he even harkens back to the Vietnam war era, darkly implying that we were stabbed in the back by Eugene McCarthy and a bunch of crazy college kids? 

I’ll tell you just what it takes: the election of Rand Paul to the US Senate. 

That’s all it took for David Hawpe, the Grand Old Man of Kentucky progressives, recently retired after a century or so at the helm of the Louisville Courier-Journal‘s editorial page. As an "adviser" to Paul’s opponent, former state Attorney General Jack Conway,  Hawpe never let such journalistic niceties as the pretense of objectivity get in the way of his openly partisan agenda. He proudly wore two hats. As one Kentucky blogger reports, Hawpe "performed his job at the C-J with a rooster — the symbol of the Kentucky Democratic Party — on his desk." 

What moved him to come out of retirement with such alarming swiftness was the swearing in of the freshly elected libertarian US Senator and Paul’s recent comments that the military budget is "on the table."  In a screed of such alarming hypocrisy that it must forever serve as the exemplar of turn-on-a-dime partisanship, Hawpe – who vigorously denounced the Iraq war, and the Bush administration for launching it – denounces Rand Paul for advocating cuts in military spending. Yet why wouldn’t a withdrawal from Iraq – a real withdrawal, not the fake one we’re engaged in now – make military cuts possible, or even inevitable?  

One really has to read Hawpe’s polemic in full to appreciate the depths to which this hack has sunk. He starts out with a paean to the military virtues, as embodied in the "hills and hollows" of Kentucky: 

"It was a living moment. 

"The winter graduation crowd rose spontaneously. Applause filled the Morehead Academic-Athletic Center. 

"Two clean-cut, stiff-backed young men embraced. The crowd cheered with an honest fervor seldom heard at non-athletic events. 

"This was a mountain audience, unabashedly revealing itself and the values of the hills and hollows. 

"When university President Wayne Andrews presented diplomas to this winter’s graduates, there was polite applause. Families of honorees produced the predictable outbursts, provoking embarrassed grins from the objects of their relatives’ enthusiasm. …But it was only when ROTC Cadets Zachary Shawver and Zachariah Sutte marched to the stage that a great wave of sound rose and beat against the auditorium walls. Maj. Robert Mason, chairman of the Department of Military Science, administered the oath of office to the new second lieutenants. They grinned as wide as an Appalachian valley and hugged each other. When they marched briskly off the platform, an affectionate roar followed them." 

This cinematic valorization of "stiff-backed" young men embracing, and military virtue on parade, is but a précis to the political agenda Hawpe is peddling, for midway through his turgid prose we read that Morehead ROTC is not just a great educational resource in a region where, Hawpe notes,  such attainments are "a challenge." No, it’s also a political statement, an ideological call to arms, as Hawpe reminds his readers what a bastion of pro-war sentiment Morehead was during the 1960s: 

"In January of 1968, as the Tet Offensive was nearing in Vietnam and other universities were under pressure to shove ROTC off campus, Morehead enthusiastically embraced the program. MSU officials knew that the Appalachian region their institution serves is a great reservoir of patriotism — where service in, and respect for, the military is expected 

"In a year when New England college students trudged the snow to campaign for Gene McCarthy and repudiate the Vietnam War, Morehead honored Appalachia’s military and patriotic traditions. That spring, while Morehead was welcoming its new Eagle ROTC Battalion, the national media covered anti-war riots on the Berkeley campus. Since that historic spring, Morehead has commissioned more than 600 officers." 

Apparently "the values of the hills and the hollows" don’t allow for protesting an immoral and utterly futile war in a faraway land whose people don’t want us there. For this alleged progressive to wave the bloody shirt of Vietnam, and imply that those who opposed that war were somehow less than patriotic – well, you can’t get any lower than that.  

But you can try, and Hawpe does just that as he segues into the real point of his screed: 

"It’s a shame that those would-be congressional budget-cutters who represent Kentucky in Congress weren’t at this year’s MSU winter graduation. That includes Senator-elect Rand Paul, who last October co-authored a letter complaining, ‘The Department of Defense currently takes up almost 56 percent of all discretionary federal spending, and accounts for nearly 65 percent of the increase in national discretionary spending levels since 2001.’ Dr. Paul said on his campaign website, ‘I believe that large cuts in defense spending are indispensable …’" 

So it’s Hawpe and those straight-backed cleancut ROTCers, with their patriotic fervor and their history of support for US intervention in a tiny Southeast Asian nation that suffered over a million casualties, versus Rand Paul, Eugene McCarthy, and those unwashed hippies relentlessly covered by the national media. That’s the dichotomy Hawpe wants to draw for his readers: stiff-backed patriots versus media-driven Benedict Arnolds. A better rendition of the neoconservative "stab-in-the-back" myth could hardly be expected in the pages of the Weekly Standard, or National Review – and yet here it is, staring us in the face, in the Courier-Journal, mouthpiece of Kentucky’s progressive community, and appearing under Hawpe’s byline instead of, say, Bill Kristol‘s or Victor Davis Hanson‘s.  

This is all very weird, but not very surprising. Indeed, it’s just what one would expect from those who put party above principle and power above morality. There is, furthermore, every reason to expect, with Democrats now in charge of waging our endless "war on terrorism," that even the most "progressive" among them will reject spending cuts of all kinds – including reductions in military spending. For them, spending is in and of itself a high principle, a practice that must be maintained no matter what – because it’s all "stimulus," meant to "re-start" the slumping economy.  

Except it isn’t, and it won’t – because only private business generates real production, real values, and real wealth. Government spending – especially military spending – is simply a drain on the productive sector. The jobs that didn’t materialize this year were, instead, exported overseas to Afghanistan, where we’re paying Afghan border guards to smoke dope and sodomize young boys

As an "adviser" to Conway during the Senate race, perhaps it was Hawpe who suggested the Democratic candidate take out after Paul for being "weak" on defense. He should have taken a lesson from Paul’s Republican primary opponent, who tried that – even citing an interview Rand Paul did with Scott Horton on Antiwar Radio – and was crushed at the polls. Just like Conway was crushed.  

The movement started by the elder Paul, and effectively championed by Paul the younger, is not just the Tea Party plain and simple, concerned solely with economic issues – although the core appeal is to those who are fed up with government in general, and want to fiercely limit it on the home front. This is also a movement that consistently applies its first principles – less government, more individual liberty – all across the board, extending their critique of the welfare state to also include the warfare state. When the typical Republican is interrogated by, say, some Democratic party hack on MSNBC as to what, exactly, the "tea party Republicans" intend to cut,  reductions in military spending are nearly always excluded right off the bat. Yet as Ron Paul says, if we cut back on our overseas commitments – our empire, as he rightly calls it – we’d have enough left over to fund all the social programs liberal Democrats don’t want to cut.  

The Establishment, as represented in both major parties, is terrified. They see that their system cannot last much longer, and are desperately trying to hold off those peasants with pitchforks at the pass. They’ve tried every sort of smear and calumny to destroy the Paulian movement, defaming both father and son – to no avail. Rudy Giuliani,  Trey Greyson, Jack Conway – all of these characters are history, and have found their places in the Graveyard of Failed Politicians, while the Paul family is still running strong.  

A specter is haunting Obama’s America – the specter of libertarianism. New York magazine reassures its readers that libertarians are just harmless utopians, doomed to fail. Rachel Maddow implies that they’re racists, and pawns of some billionaire in Kansas. The whole machinery of ideological orthodoxy whirrs into action and churns out rhetorical boilerplate: libertarians, we are told, are "extremists," and also "impractical" idealists who nevertheless represent a real "danger" to the precious bodily fluids of anyone who comes into contact with them. And the complaints are rising: from social conservatives, who claim they’re taking over CPAC, as well as from the born-again "moderate" David Frum and progressives of Hawpe’s stripe.  

This chorus of whining at the success of the freedom movement is a good sign – indeed, it is the most encouraging news I’ve heard in my 40 years as an activist. The David Hawpes of this world are right to be in a panic, because libertarianism does indeed threaten his warped version of "the values of the hills and hollows," which are entirely a product of his hollowed-out brain. Those values – embodied in a highly centralized, highly militarized overweening federal government – are on their way out. And if Hawpe wants a clue as to what will replace them, he should look to the principles of the movement that so handily defeated him and his dwindling band of supporters in the Bluegrass State.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was 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].