When did conservatives become liberals? Actually, when did conservatives adopt the rhetoric of third rate marxist agitators?
While replying to some reader comments last night, I decided to look into the position of several third party conservative candidates. I already knew Barr had adopted the Libertarian Party platform position on isolationism (or non-interventionism, the terminology makes no difference), but I was unsure of the position of the Constitution Party, so I decided to do a bit of research.
On the platform alone, I didn't find much objectionable in the Constitution Party. I knew they had been getting a lot of attention from the conservatives who planned to file protest votes against McCain, so I expected them to be relatively conservative, and the platform fit my impression. The only worry was that the platform was a bit vague on some points, such as defense, speaking in generalities which could be, interpreted properly, read to range form Ron Paul's isolationism to Bush's preemptive war to Theodore Roosevelt style gunship diplomacy all the way to Clinton's efforts to turn us into the UN's army. It was hard to tell what the party's position would be, for example, on the current conflict in Iraq.
So, I had to turn to their press releases. And was it ever a surprise. See for yourself:
Barr is in favor of an interventionist foreign policy, arguing for intervention in Iran and South America, among other countries. Barr voted for the Iraq war. He praised Bush because "the surge is working." Chuck Baldwin believes, as our Founders did, that we should be a friend to all and avoid ‘foreign entanglements’. Baldwin has stated that if elected he would see to it that those who have been sent to fight the illegal, unconstitutional and immoral wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would receive orders to return home immediately.When you are arguing that Bob Barr is TOO INTERVENTIONIST, then you definitely are out there on the fringe.
Now, I understand this was written as a desperate attempt to sop up the Ron Paul votes, as they clearly weren't going to McCain, but I have to think they still, in some way, represent the view of the Constitution party, and that is disturbing.
But it is a common error among a certain type of conservatives and libertarians, this belief that "the Founders" did not believe in foreign wars. That is mistaking the argument against "foreign entanglements" to mean we have to hide behind the Atlantic and do nothing as other countries war with one another, or even threaten us. For some reason, many believe it was the intention of "the Founders" that we fight no war unless someone has landed in New Jersey.
First of all, the idea is absurd on the face of it, as "the Founders" were hardly of one mind on anything. As I wrote before, the conservative tendency to refer to "the Founders" as this all-knowing tie breaker is absurd, as they couldn't agree amongst themselves on many things. If the intent of "the Founders" is deciding, then what happens when we try to decide an issue where Jefferson and Adams disagreed? On many questions there is no single belief of "the Founders".
But even if there were a single belief, it seems pretty clear that in this instance, the intent was not what the Constitution Party and others would have us believe. Jefferson was quite willing to send troops and ships to suppress the Barbary pirates, who were hardly attacking the US. Nor were they opposed to providing what support they could to the revolutionaries in France. The modern isolationists would denounce both as interventionist wars, but the founders had no problem engaging in both, despite the caricature of them as isolationists, based entirely on a single quote from Washington (himself hardly the most characteristic representative of either the Federalists or Democratic Republicans).
But, let us suppose that the Founders really were of one mind, and that the war on the Barbary pirates and our support for France can be somehow distinguished from modern conflicts. In short, for the sake of argument, let us pretend the isolationists are right and the founders wanted us to remain hidden behind the Atlantic. So what? I know it is sacrilege in some conservative circles to say so, but the founders were just men, and could make mistakes. They would be the first to admit that and ask that we learn from their errors. So simply because they thought we should hide behind the Atlantic (which they didn't) it would not follow that we must follow that idea for all eternity.
Some will think this means I am a supporter of a "living Constitution", but nothing could be farther from the truth. I still believe in a literal reading of the Constitution. Now, some will no doubt ask why, if I think the founders were fallible men I should endorse a literal reading of the Constitution. The answer is simple, one does not have to believe the Constitution is perfect to be a literalist. The virtue of literal, consistent reading is not because the document itself is perfect, but because a literal reading gives us predictable law, which, as I have argued before, is of inestimable value, regardless of how good or bad the laws themselves are.
But I am straying a bit far from my point. My point being that there is no Constitutional argument for isolationism, and it is clear that, not only did the founders not have any opposition to foreign wars, but even if they had, it should not control our decisions today. There is simply no constitutional or legal argument against foreign involvement.
Nor is there a practical one. In fact, practicality suggests that sitting around watching an aggressor gobble up other nations before turning on us is a suicidal plan. Would it not have been better to settle World War II in Czechoslovakia? Or even the Rhineland? Or should we have given him Poland and waited for him to eventually get around to attacking France and England?
Nor does staying out of foreign affairs save us from aggression, as I argued elsewhere. The idea that we are attacked only because we have attacked others is an absurd bit of Marxist theorizing, promoted in the 30's to keep us from doing anything to Stalin and revived in the 60's to keep us out of many Russian and Cuban backed "wars of national liberation". There is simply no reason to think militant Islam would ignore us if we cut Israel loose and withdrew to our borders. History is full of innocent nations attacked by aggressors, so why would we be ignored?
But actually, none of that was what surprised me so much. I am used to certain conservatives making that silly argument. What caught my attention was the same thing that troubled me about Ron Paul's campaign. Conservatives using the rhetoric of marxist agitators. "[T]he illegal, unconstitutional and immoral wars in Iraq and Afghanistan"? Not even most leftists go that far, saying even Afghanistan was "illegal". Apparently, according to the Constitution Party, Mullah Omar had to land in Charleston and declare jihad in front of two witnesses before we would have been justified in attacking Afghanistan. Simply providing a base of operations for Bin Ladin was not enough.
As I asked at the beginning, when did conservatives become liberals?
For those who argue "non-interventionism" is not a liberal philosophy, I beg to differ. It may be the policy of Ron Paul, Bob Barr and Pat Buchanan, but it also appears to be the party platform of the Democrats, at least of their probable nominee.
As I wrote in an earlier essay:
After writing my last essay, I realized the Pat Buchanan shares with Barack Obama a peculiar kind of blindness.Actually, they are not alone, Ron Paul and many libertarians also share this blindness. It is the strange belief that if someone is not attacking us, they are not a threat.Their justifications may be different, but in practice there is not a whit of difference between Obama and Barr in terms of defense.
Let me draw an analogy. You come home from a vacation and find a rattle snake residing in your favorite chair. "Well," you think "it isn't striking, not even rattling, let it stay there.". You go upstairs and find a wolf sleeping in the baby's crib. "Ah, peacefully sleeping," you sigh, "must be a friendly wolf" and snuggle the baby up against its soft fur. And finally, retiring to bed, you and you wife see a dozen black widow egg cases hanging above your bed. "Well, they seem peaceful enough, I am sure there won't be any problem when they hatch." And off go the lights.
How long would anyone survive with that mindset?
Originally posted in Random notes on 2009/07/18.