“Between government in the republican meaning, that is, constitutional, representative, limited government, on the one hand, and Empire on the other hand, there is mortal enmity. Either one must forbid the other, or one will destroy the other. That we know. Yet never has the choice been put to a vote of the people.”
Garet Garrett had been an editor of the Saturday Evening Post, a financial writer for the New York Times, a renowned author and journalist of the “roaring Twenties,” an intransigent opponent of the New Deal, and sometime novelist: his career spanned the era of Coolidge, Hoover, FDR, and Truman. In those days his was the voice of mainstream conservatism, albeit of a sort alien to the Newt Gingriches and Charles Krauthammers of this world, and he wrote the above cited words just as the US was embarking on its postwar crusade to save the world from Communism.
He had lived through the previous holy war against the Axis powers, witnessed the demise of the Old America and the rise of the Welfare-Warfare State, and saw – even then – that the country would face ruination if the crusading spirit prevailed over the need for self-preservation. He saw what would happen if we acquired an empire and sought to remake the world in our image. He annoyed his fellow libertarian, the novelist and ideologue Rose Wilder Lane, with his “keening” note of pessimism, which mourned “a world forever lost.” Lane was sure the “world revolution” of freedom was coming, yet in those dark days when the spirit of freedom was seemingly forgotten it looked as if her friend Garrett was right.
Garrett died in 1954, a few years after the publication of his prescient essay: Rose followed him in 1968. Neither got to see the rise of a movement that would take the former’s insights and the latter’s optimism and forge a new path – and a new hope – for lovers of liberty. But I like to think they are still hovering over us, delighted at the success of their intellectual heirs, who today call themselves libertarians. No doubt they are buoyed by the success of presidential candidate Ron Paul, whose thrilling ascent in Iowa and beyond is redeeming Lane’s optimism – and Garrett’s hope – that the choice between empire and our old republic will – finally – be put to a vote of the people.
Paul’s success – he is currently the frontrunner in Iowa, although the “mainstream” media is doing its best to downplay the numbers – has provoked an outburst of hysteria and pure hate from the War Party. Iowa, they declare, will be rendered “irrelevant” if Paul wins: Joe McQuaid, the bombastic editor of the neocon Union-Leader, rants that “Ron Paul is a dangerous man.” How is that? Well, you see, Paul agrees with the overwhelming majority of Americans who don’t think the Iraq war – which McQuaid and his tabloid supported – was worth the costs in lives and taxpayer dollars. Paul’s anti-interventionist foreign policy views, says the would-be New Hampshire kingmaker, “have been largely overlooked by a news media more interested in the presidential ‘horse race’ than in the candidates’ positions on issues.”
McQuaid is getting on in years, and so probably doesn’t get out much: while he is railing about the media’s inattention to what he considers to be Paul’s mortal sin, virtually every article assessing Paul’s chances since the beginning of the campaign season has harped on precisely this theme. Paul’s appeal is necessarily “limited” due to this: there is a “ceiling” on his support, they aver. As he began to climb in the polls, and this “ceiling” began to lift, the punditocracy declared that Iowa is passé, irrelevant, and an archaic tradition which ought to be ignored from now on by Those In The Know: Gail Collins gave voice to the New York-Washington axis when she sniffed that we ought to “feel free to ignore Iowa,” because “in some rural districts, the entire caucus will consist of one guy named Earl.” That she wouldn’t dare say that if Earl lived in, say, the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn – where plenty of Earls reside, to be sure – underscores the bigotries our elites allow themselves, these days. In the world of Ms. Collins, some Earls are more equal than others.
The alleged dissonance between Paul’s anti-interventionism and the frothy-mouthed militarism that has been Republican gospel ever since Robert Taft was cheated out of the GOP presidential nomination by the party’s Wall Street wing – (see Phyllis Schlafly’s classic A Choice, Not An Echo, p. 52, for a recap of the Eastern Establishment coup) – has been the constant theme of these pieces, written by youngsters with no understanding or knowledge of history. The one exception, oddly, was John Nichols in The Nation, a liberal-progressive periodical not known for its devotion to libertarianism, who recalled the history of the Old Right in his perceptive piece about the intellectual roots of the Paul campaign. McQuaid, for his part, neither knows nor cares about the history of the conservative movement he presumes to advise: he gets his “conservative” gospel from other sources. He cites Dorothy Rabinowitz’s darkly threatening characterization of Paul as “the best-known of our homegrown propagandists for our chief enemies in the world. One who has made himself a leading spokesman for, and recycler of, the long and familiar litany of charges that point to the United States as a leading agent of evil and injustice, the militarist victimizer of millions who want only to live in peace.”
He left out the part about Paul being a “propagandist for our enemies,” perhaps because it was too much even for him. To the Rabinowitzes of this world – and the Gingriches, the Santorums, the Bachmanns, and the rest of that crazed crew – falls the solemn responsibility of determining the Enemy of the moment. Debate is limited, on this subject, to the question of which Enemy ought to be targeted at this particular point in time. Paul has broken this rule, and allowed that the main enemy – for those who want to limit the power of government, cut $1 trillion dollars from the budget, and emerge out of our economic morass – is in Washington, D.C., not Tehran.
This is literally treason in Rabinowitz’s book, but then again that slim volume only contains several variations on a single theme: anyone who criticizes the regime of war and the constant erosion of our civil liberties is lacking in patriotism, and is quite possibly a “traitor,” a “fifth columnist,” a secret plotter against America and the supporter of its enemies – her enemies. In person – or, at least, on television – her bile is more acidic: here she compares Paul to Hitler and Mussolini while a panel of nattering neocons eggs her on.
One wonders what holds Rabinowitz back from calling for Paul’s arrest as an “enemy combatant” – such restraint goes against the grain of her personal style. It is a style that has long since gone out of style, an echo of the bad old days of the Bush era, when the smoke had hardly cleared from the skies over Manhattan, and the country trembled at the commanding tone of the neocons as they accused war critics – “the decadent left in its enclaves on the coasts,” as neocon tool Andrew Sullivan put it – of wanting to “mount a fifth column.”
One of the most expected – and most welcome – developments of the primary campaign so far, from my perspective, has been Sullivan’s withdrawal of his endorsement of Rep. Paul, after pressure from his friends on the Washington-New York cocktail party circuit and outraged emails from his dwindling fan club of gay waiters and sad young women who love only their cats. It’s funny how everyone is howling that Paul must actively denounce and cast out any support from some white supremacist no one has ever heard of, but not a peep about the odiousness of an endorsement from someone who advocated, at the height of the post-9/11 hysteria, the launching of a nuclear attack on Iraq. Oh well, each to their own moral priorities.
Rabinowitz and McQuaid and the rest of the hate-mongers, who come up with a fresh Enemy every time we knock off the old one, or tire of the task, know who their real enemy is – and it isn’t the President of Iran, or the Communist Party of China. It’s those patriotic Americans who believe we ought to be putting the interests of Americans first – and that the empire is an albatross hung around our necks. It’s the one-third of veterans who, according to a recent poll, think the Iraq war wasn’t worth it: it’s the majority of the American people who think we ought to pursue a policy of “minding our own business” abroad – these are the enemies Rabinowitz rails against. Paul is just a stand-in for the great Outer Wilderness that exists – so some say – outside the Washington-New York axis of power. That the great unwashed masses beyond this perimeter don’t share the obsessions tormenting the Upper West Side of Manhattan and the Georgetown cocktail party circuit has been of little concern to Dorothy and her friends, the Cowardly Lions of the chickenhawk brigade and the Tin Woodsman a.k.a. Mitt Romney. Along with the scarecrows of the Fox News commentariat, together they’ve been marching down the yellow-brick road to war with Iran with nary an opponent to vilify. Suddenly they find themselves confronted by one who combines all their fears in a single convenient package: anti-interventionism (which they call “isolationism”), anti-elitism, and a well-organized and ideologically coherent movement targeting not only “big government” but the big financial interests, centered in New York, who profit from a system based on government debt.
The American empire – indeed, the entire colossus that is our bloated federal government – could not exist a single day without enslaving the American people to the demon of debt. The obvious beneficiaries [.pdf] are those collecting the interest on that debt – the big financial institutions that buy and sell US government securities. They finance the wars, they profit from government spending, and this is the essence of the real issue of “crony capitalism” some of the lesser Republican presidential candidates babble about without understanding or acknowledging that it isn’t just Solyndra. That’s small change compared to the massive theft being pulled off by the Federal Reserve as it inflates away our savings and enriches the few.
How do we pay for our overseas empire? The same way we pay for our burgeoning welfare state: by monetizing the debt, i.e. degrading the currency by creating “money” out of thin air, and inflating the bubble until it bursts again. This has been Paul’s issue from the beginning, and it’s a powerful one: it has substantially shaped the political discourse, with the other candidates forced to jump on board the anti-Fed bandwagon.
This is the Ron Paul Effect, and it has Dorothy and the War Street Journal running scared. Here is a conservative populist who is challenging their power, and in the very redoubt of neoconservative orthodoxy, the GOP! They who have always lived in fear of the rest of the country – in fear of the day those peasants with pitchforks gather in the streets below and yank them out of their Manhattan towers – are seeing in Paul their worst nightmare come true. That accounts for the spittle on Rabinowitz’s cruel lips as she likens a gentle country doctor to the architect of the Holocaust.
It won’t be long now before we hear baseless charges of “racism” and “extremism” supplemented by an overarching explanation for the Paulian phenomenon that echoes the clichéd “sociological” analysis of the neocons Richard Hofstadter and Seymour Martin Lipset, whose characterization of “pseudo-conservatism” as “status resentment” and “the paranoid style” given political form was an all-purpose smear, to be trotted out when liberal commentators were forced into discussions of conservatism. Conservatism, in this view, isn’t an ideology so much as a mental affliction: Hofstadter and Co. were merely popularizing the Marxist theories of Theodore Adorno and the “Frankfurt School,” who opined that opposition to FDR and the New Deal was evidence of a “father complex,” the touchstone of “the authoritarian personality.” Similar psycho-smears are deployed against Paul, who is said by his enemies to be a “crazy old uncle,” “a crazy old codger,” and a “crank,” with neocon professional prig and “movie critic” Michael Medved calling him “Dr. Demento.” This is the level of the “debate” the neocons want: prove you’re not a crazy old Nazi!
The New York Times has collected and codified the “paranoid style” campaign against Paul, essentially stealing (with only minimal attribution) the “analysis” of Dave Weigel and Julian Sanchez, who inveighed against Paul’s “right-wing populism” in the pages of Reason magazine. In that essay, they charged that Paul has deliberately cultivated racists and other even less reputable elements while under the influence of his ideological Svengali, the libertarian theorist Murray N. Rothbard. The Times piece tries to link the good Doctor to one self-proclaimed neo-Nazi, who runs a racist web site – coincidentally the same person who was linked by the media to the Republicans in the infamous battle for Broward county, Florida, where disputes over ballot-counting escalated to the level of physical confrontations. Or not so coincidentally, as the case may be. In any case, the Times writer soon turns to the “right-wing populist” theory first floated by the anti-Paul tag team of Weigel and Sanchez, which is supposed to account for the racists and other troglodytes who are supposedly rallying to Paul’s banner. Weigel-Sanchez characterize this populist strategy as based on “racism,” and they present the following timeline:
“During the period when the most incendiary items appeared—roughly 1989 to 1994—Rockwell and the prominent libertarian theorist Murray Rothbard championed an open strategy of exploiting racial and class resentment to build a coalition with populist “paleoconservatives,” producing a flurry of articles and manifestos whose racially charged talking points and vocabulary mirrored the controversial Paul newsletters recently unearthed by The New Republic.”
What was it about that period – roughly 1989 to 1994 – that stands out in one’s mind? If you’re a foreign policy analyst, or even if you’re just an ordinary educated person, what it recalls is the downing of the Berlin Wall and the implosion of the Soviet empire. This, and not some mythical appeal to the followers of David Duke, was the impetus for the “right-wing populist” strategy. Weigel and Sanchez cite as their source Rothbard’s 1992 speech to the John Randolph Club, but fail to provide a link – leaving their readers to the interpretive mercies of these two mendacious authors. These two turncoats are liars plain and simple, for the speech, delivered before a group of writers and activists who represented both the libertarian and conservative strains of the emerging “paleo” coalition, was a passionate appeal for unity now that the greatest cause of their previous separation – the cold war – was over. It was a call for the conservative movement to return to its anti-imperialist Old Right roots:
“What I call the Old Right is suddenly back! The terms old and new inevitably get confusing, with a new ‘new’ every few years, so let’s call it the ‘Original’ Right, the right wing as it existed from 1933 to approximately 1955. This Old Right was formed in reaction against the New Deal, and against the Great Leap Forward into the Leviathan state that was the essence of that New Deal.
“… The most radical view of the New Deal was that of libertarian essayist and novelist Garet Garrett, an editor of the Saturday Evening Post. His brilliant little pamphlet The Revolution Was, published in 1938, began with these penetrating words – words that would never be fully absorbed by the right:
“’There are those who still think they are holding a pass against a revolution that may be coming up the road. But they are gazing in the wrong direction. The revolution is behind them. It went by in the night of depression, singing songs to freedom.’
“The revolution was, said Garrett, and therefore nothing less than a counterrevolution is needed to take the country back. Behold, then, not a ‘conservative,’ but a radical right.
“In the late 1930s, there was added to this reaction against the domestic New Deal, a reaction against the foreign policy of the New Deal: the insistent drive toward war in Europe and Asia. Hence, the right wing added a reaction against big government abroad to the attack on big government at home. The one fed on the other. The right wing called for non-intervention in foreign as well as domestic affairs, and denounced FDR’s adoption of Woodrow Wilson’s Global Crusading which had proved so disastrous in World War I. To Wilson-Roosevelt globalism, the Old Right countered with a policy of America First. American foreign policy must neither be based on the interests of a foreign power – such as Great Britain – nor be in the service of such abstract ideals as ‘making the world safe for democracy,’ or waging a ‘war to end all wars,’ both of which would amount, in the prophetic words of Charles A. Beard, to waging ‘perpetual war for perpetual peace.’”
Racism? “Exploitation of class and race resentment”? There is none of that here: go and see for yourself. David Duke gets a mention in passing. Joe McCarthy is praised for his anti-elitism, populist appeal, and instinct that the main danger to liberty is right here at home, while Rothbard notes ruefully that the militant anti-Communism of the McCarthyites was soon transmuted into a militant foreign policy that nearly plunged us into a nuclear showdown with the Soviets.
With communism out of the way, however, conservatives could unite with libertarians to get rid the last vestiges of leftism: for while the Bolsheviks were defeated, to Rothbard’s great joy, their Menshevik cousins were in power in every Western country, including the United States. At the end, he conjures up a vision of a world eerily descriptive of the hysteria surrounding Paul’s rise in the polls:
“Social democracy is still here in all its variants, defining our entire respectable political spectrum, from advanced victimology and feminism on the left over to neoconservatism on the right. We are now trapped, in America, inside a Menshevik fantasy, with the narrow bounds of respectable debate set for us by various brands of Marxists. It is now our task, the task of the resurgent right, of the paleo movement, to break those bonds, to finish the job, to finish off Marxism forever.”
This is precisely the task Paul has set for himself, and in the process he is creating – or, rather, recreating – a conservatism that is anti-war, anti-elitist, and anti-corporatist to the bone. This has the neocons fighting mad, but there is very little they can do about it except attach themselves to Romney, the Establishment candidate, and hope the peasants with pitchforks can be smeared out of existence.
We are, indeed, trapped inside a Menshevik nightmare world, in which peace is demonized as “appeasement” and the uniquely American antipathy to the exercise of arbitrary government power is deemed “unpatriotic.” Paul, it seems, has found the trap door out, however, and it looks like many of his fellow citizens are pouring through the breach. – much to the horror of our arrogant elites, who don’t recall authorizing any such movement.
Note the sheer breadth of the Anti-Paul Popular Front, extending all the way from the Beltway “libertarians” of the Weigel-Sanchez-“cosmotarian” school to the Union Leader, the War Street Journal, and the identity-politics lefties who think Rachel Maddow is a real “radical.” At the core of the smear campaign, you’ll note, are our old friends the neocons: the self-proclaimed “homosexual warrior” Jamie Kirchick, who effortlessly wafted from The New Republic to Radio Free Europe and thence to the extremist edges of the neocon movement inhabited by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. The latest “rediscovery” of the infamous newsletters was prompted by a rehash published in Bill Kristol’s Weekly Standard, who is still hoping that David Petraeus or some general on a white horse will come riding in to save the GOP from Paul.
This is a classic neocon smear operation, and it has only just begun. Before long, we’ll be treated to endless elaborations of the New York Times-Weigel-Sanchez “analysis,” which will no doubt bring in all the familiar demons that haunt the nightmares of our elites: no smear campaign involving the alleged “evils” of right-wing populism is complete without invoking the specters of Father Coughlin, the German-American Bund, and the allegedly pro-Nazi sympathies of the old American First Committee, the biggest antiwar movement in American history and one that was mercilessly smeared by the left and actively persecuted the US government. And, of course, as Ms. Rabinowitz proved, the inevitable comparison to Hitler – because in Bizarro World, don’t you know, the peacemakers are Hitlerites and the war-makers are the Good Guys.
This campaign will fail: indeed, it is already failing. Nobody is buying it. That’s because the people are tired of our arrogant, self-satisfied elites, who think they can determine the outcome of an election before a single ballot is counted. The more they say “but of course he can’t win,” the more the average person wonders: isn’t that our decision to make?
I can’t help feeling gleeful. The old paradigm that Republicans are invariably – genetically – warmongers is coming apart at the seams, and the War Party is livid. Well, that’s tough, but all good rackets must come to an end, especially when the sheep discover to what extent they’ve been fleeced.
It’s the thrill of a lifetime to see the neocons in such a frothy-mouthed lather: they are calling Paul a hater, but they are the ones exuding hate from every pore. And the people can smell it as it stinks up the political atmosphere, poisoning the election and obscuring the issues they care about. That’s why the haters can’t touch Paul, and won’t touch him with their vicious tactics – although I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised if their accusations of “racism” and worse inspire violence against Paul’s followers and possibly even against the candidate himself. Which is why I hope and pray Paul has some good security in place, because he represents the last chance we have to change American foreign policy before we’re all dragged down by the impending collapse of the American empire.