11 February 2008

Bad Timing?

The new American Conservative magazine, which landed in my mailbox this weekend, endorses Rep. Ron Paul for the Republican nomination just as the media reports the libertarian to be on the verge of quitting the race in order to save his Texas congressional seat. The magazine didn't really make a big deal about it, the endorsement being overshadowed on the cover by a cartoon of an evil-looking John McCain grasping a globe, with the motto: "Invade the World, Invite the World."

In the McCain article, author Justin Raimondo digs back to 1983 to discover a freshman Representative questioning American intervention in Lebanon. In 1990, McCain questions the Gulf War, saying, "We cannot even contemplate, in my view, trading American blood for Iraqi blood." But later in the 90s, McCain supported Clinton's bombing campaign against Serbia in defense of Kosovo, chiding him for timidity while criticising Republican opponents of the campaign as isolationists. McCain's positions since then are well known. What happened to him? Raimondo finds in Kosovo the first instance of McCain playing the maverick and dissident against his own party in order to get media attention. He regards McCain as a dangerous narcissist suffering from a "psycho-political pathology" that metastisized into "a full-blown delusional system." This isn't a satisfactory explanation. We should at least see a process of rationalization, a paper trail documenting McCain's evolution or devolution; instead, Raimondo seems to suggest that McCain is plain crazy.

Meanwhile, Ron Paul is endorsed in half a page, and with full consciousness that he hasn't a chance of winning. The editors say that Paul "alone understands that the ever expanding federal government is a far greater threat to American liberty than some tinpot dictator in the Caucusus." They applaud his opposition to free-trade in defiance of libertarian orthodoxy and his consistent anti-abortion stance. They recommend a vote for him as "a signal to both parties that a significant number of Americans value their country's great Constitution." The problem, of course, is that many Americans value the Constitution as it's been amended over time, a process the legitimacy of which Paul doesn't really seem to accept. This is where conservatism hurts the American Conservative. The magazine is often a stimulating read because the writers often approach issues from unpredictable angles, producing unexpected and challenging insights. But by endorsing Dr. Paul in a year when many Americans want to look ahead, the Conservative, sadly living up to its name, asks us to look as far backwards as possible, to an inescapable dead end.

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