01 July 2010

Tea Party or War Party?

Ever since the Tea Party movement became something less than initially met the eye, less independent and more obviously radio-controlled Republican, disappointed yet still hopeful observers have wondered whether it was still possible to steer the TPs in more promising directions. The antiwar populist paleoconservatives at The American Conservative are probably among the most disappointed observers, since they probably believed more strongly than most that the TPs were their kind of people: conservatives capable of thinking outside the GOP box. Hope still survives, however. This month's issue (the last before a worrisome summer hiatus for the troubled journal) asks on its cover "Will the Tea Parties turn Antiwar?" The best answer W. James Antle can offer is maybe.

Rand Paul's victory in the Kentucky senatorial primary has given some paleocons (and some libertarians) fresh hope that the Tea Partiers might yet rally to the standard raised by Rand's father. Antle sees Rand's eclectic list of endorsements (including Sarah Palin's) as a sign of enduring openness to what he takes to be the Paul family's anti-interventionist views. Seeing Rand as more successful, for the moment, than Ron in rallying wider Republican support, Antle wonders whether Rand's primary win proves the potential of a subtler approach to foreign policy.

Antle thinks that anti-interventionism might sell better with Tea Partiers if pitched as a matter of fiscal conservatism. Believing that the TPs are primarily fiscal conservatives ("they have turned away from the neoconservatives' social-democratic roots," he writes), he suspects that, despite their "instinctive patriotism [that] makes them a tough audience for criticism of U.S. intervention,...there is a limit to their willingness to spend American blood and treasure, especially as the nation teeters at the brink of insolvency." He quotes Rand Paul on the "simple arithmetic" of future foreign policy.

If I had my druthers and I was in charge of the budget, the budget might well be 80 percent national defense. But the number would still be much smaller than what we currently spend on the military.

The younger Paul has made a greater impression on the Republican mainstream, Antle claims, because he takes a more nuanced approach than his father does. Rand has been careful not to allow himself to be characterized as an "isolationist," while Ron almost dared his rivals of 2008 to call him that. Antle cites a National Review writer's perception that Rand is more of a "cautious and wary skeptic" than an absolutist, like his dad, on foreign policy. The difference seems to be that Ron is thought to believe that intervention is always wrong, while Rand stresses the practical problems raised by Afghanistan and Iraq. Antle adds:
To some purists, [Rand's stance] is cause for concern. But perhaps what they take to be wobbliness about war with Iran is actually an argument for restraint articulated in a way Bill O'Reilly's viewers can understand....Today, there are millions of ordinary Americans who will be turned off by academic discourses on blowback but might be persuaded by the argument that Hamid Karzai and Nouri al-Maliki are the new welfare queens.

Antle thinks that Tea Partiers can be educated further.
Once they have entertained these arguments, they may prove receptive to others. Conservatives have long accepted that welfare can hurt the poor, affirmative action can harm minorities, bilingual education can be injurious to immigrants, and economic stimulus can damage the economy. Why is it 'blaming America' [as critics of Ron Paul claim] to point out that a national-security policy makes our country less safe?

Suspecting that the antiwar paleocons have given up on the TPs too soon, Antle writes that the movement remains "a promising place to look for conservatives who want a strong national defense without bankrupting America." Perhaps because he is a conservative himself, Antle is less likely to consider that the presumed pro-war stance of the Tea Partiers may be rooted in factors less amenable to reason than he thinks. He would probably be unwilling to concede that their support for the War on Terror is motivated by hatred of Muslims, of "Arabs" (interchangeable terms, perhaps, in these circles), or of foreigners in general. Some may well think that no expense should be spared, as none was presumably spared in the "good wars," to destroy utterly what neocons call the "existential threat" to their way of life. If so, then some pragmatic conservative arguing that we can't afford to crush our enemies will probably prove unpersuasive. Still, it would be interesting to see Antle and anyone inspired by his article make an honest try to change the TPs' hearts and minds. I wish them luck.


Anonymous said...

Judging by what I've seen in passing, online and on tv, tea-baggers may claim fiscal conservatism with some truth, but in the main, they seem to be a party of hate. Not all of them hate the same things in the same ways, but all of them seem to hate. They hate muslims. They hate hispanics. They hate those on the left. They hate those who are "wealthy elitists" or "intellectual elitists". They hate immigrants or gays or atheists. They are a party formed by the bonds of hate.

Anonymous said...

I think the thing that worries me about people like Rand is when he makes a statement like:
"...the budget might well be 80 percent national defense."
If we are to work towards a goal of ending war, then the first thing we need to do is lower the amount of money wasted on war and the pursuit of war.