May 13, 2009

Someone once told to me that at a John Randolph Club meeting back in the “€˜90s, a man in the audience asked Sam Francis whether a recent GOP initiative, a big new social program or backdoor amnesty or some such thing, spelled the death of the party. Sam’s retort, “€œWell, I sure hope so!”€ The crowd erupted. If the Democrats were Evil, then perhaps there was kind of virtue to the Republican’s status as merely Stupid. But by the end of Sam’s career, he was convinced that the GOP was both and should be dispensed with entirely.        

This anecdote came to mind while I was reading my friend Jim Antle’s latest piece for The American Conservative. Not that it was stupid, or evil, but it did make me think that dedicating our energies towards rescuing the GOP from defeat (or itself or whatever) is a strategy that promises few rewards for the Alternative Right.  

In “€œBeyond the Paleos,”€ Jim offers some cautious optimism about the prospects for “€œa flinty, sober Republicanism, socially conservative but not preachy, pro-defense but not hyper-interventionist, [which] could win in places where the GOP is losing, like New Hampshire and the Interior West.”€ Antle’s advice is that the GOP adopt some paleo-ish positions on immigration, spending, and defense, while avoiding the cantankerousness and traditions of infighting and grudge-holding of the actual paleoconservatives. This strategy, according to Jim, wouldn”€™t just “€œbuild a conservatism that can win again,”€ but might allow us in the Alternative Right to actually vote for the GOP without desiring to scrub ourselves down with Lava soap immediately afterwards.    

Would such a scheme work? Perhaps. It’s certainly been tried before. George Bush and Condolezza Rice got a long way in 2000 promising a “€œhumble foreign policy”€”€”almost as if they were cribbing talking points from Srdja Trifkovic“€”and goodness knows how much Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani helped themselves with the GOP base by promising to get tough on illegal immigration. And then there was Sarah Palin’s channeling of Chilton Williamson as she stood up for “€œthe real America”€ at the GOP convention (a position Governor Youbetcha found perfectly compatible with the Wall Street bailouts and increased federal funding for children with autism.) And who could forget Newt Gingrich’s radical “€œrEVOLution”€ in 1995… Come to think of it, it seems that for quite some time, the GOP has been pursuing a “€œpaleo”€ strategy on the campaign trail.  In retrospect, all that “€œforce of history”€ and “€œexpansion of freedom in all the world”€ nonsense amounted to a rhetorical blip, a discourse that worked well from 2003 to 2005, began to sound flat in 2006, and by 2009 was abandoned almost entirely. And since Obama is now the one spouting globalism, one can expect the GOP to return to the tried-and-true paleoism for at least the next decade. (Someone should probably bring up this classic campaign tactic at a meeting of the GOP “€œlistening tour“€ coming to a pizza parlor near you.)  

Anyway, instead of focusing on rhetoric, perhaps we should inquire into exactly what we”€™d get if the Republicans somehow pull themselves together and eke out a Romney-Palin victory in 2012 using the language of faith, family, and small-town values? I can”€™t tell the future, but I imagine we”€™d see something on the order of an incoherent and expensive, if slightly less “€œredemptive,”€ foreign policy, a moderately smaller and less inflationary “€œstimulus package,”€ interest rates at 0.0001 percent”€”as opposed to the reckless 0″€”and a new healthcare expansion with lots of “€œfree-market”€ incentives. Yippee! And, of course, the conservative hardliners would be placated with lots of allusions to the “€œCulture of Life“€ (with a ban on preachiness strictly observed, of course). We also might want to look at the last extended period of Republican rule in Washington (2000-2006) to get an idea of what delights we”€™d have in store. 

Perhaps we should also inquire into whether America’s total screwed-up-ness is best understood on the level of rhetoric. Put another way, in arguing that the paleos might achieve something with a shift in the GOP’s rhetoric, Jim presumes, in a sense, a kind of “€œprimal scene”€ in which GOP and movement Big Wigs met in a haunt in Arlington, Virginia, and all deferred to a guy who said something like, “€œListen dudes, the way to achieve a lasting victory is to promise the American people that we”€™ll engage in foreign wars without end, expand the government to the point of insolvency, support the Israelis unconditionally, and at one point, get the Fed to print up trillions of dollars and then hand them out indiscriminately to our friends on Wall Street. Now, granted, at some point, we”€™ll have to follow through with these promises, and this might lead to the downfall of our once-great country, but hell, it”€™ll be worth it. Winning is everything!”€ 

Obviously, politics doesn”€™t work this way”€”alas, for if it did, we might be able to rescue our country from decline by crafting a super new GOP campaign strategy. Moreover, if we don”€™t want to just interpret the world, but actually change it, then we need to grasp that what’s wrong with America has some very specific, concrete causes that can”€™t be countered by increased uses of the words “€œdecentralism,”€ “€œrealism,”€ and “€œprudence”€ on the campaign trail and at various assemblies of the American Conservative Union.

Over the past few years, scholars like John Mearsheimer, Stephen M. Walt, and Stephen Sniegoski have brought to light the influence the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee enjoys in Washington, regardless”€”and many times in spite”€”of the opinions of the Republican and Democrat voters. I actually think that the neocons “€œbelieve their own stupid bullshit,”€ so to speak, about the equation of American power and global democracy yadayadayada; however, there’s no doubt that any potential war with Iran, China, or Russia would take place along monetary, economic, and imperial battle lines. Tehran’s decision to price oil in Euros, Beijing’s dumping of its dollar reserves, or Moscow’s resumption of its hegemony in the caucuses might all spark military conflicts. And though America’s involvement would invariably be explained away using the language of “€œhuman rights”€ and “€œnational security,”€ the reasons why the state would be at war would have little to do with a politician’s relative “€œhawkishness”€ while campaigning. Moreover, in a mass democracy, demography is political destiny, and one need look no further than to the expansion of the underclass through third-world immigration and immiseration”€”and the empowerment of bureaucratic and corporate elites who seek to be the lower order’s enlightened managers”€”to understand why government will continue to grow and grow and grow unrelentingly. To think of the expansion of the state only in terms of whether welfare is or is not a winning campaign issue (à la Ross Douthat & Co.) is to miss the point entirely.       

Turning back to the question of campaign rhetoric, I”€™m not so sure that, as Jim argues, a willingness to prudently compromise”€””€œa successful GOP candidacy along these lines would be more hawkish, more government-friendly, and less directly critical of Bush than I would prefer”€”€”is actually a particularly effective strategy. And conversely, I find there’s a certain virtue to being horribly impractical, stubborn, and a bit craaazy. For years, people thought Ron Paul’s criticism of the Federal Reserve”€”and, worse, his advocacy of something as barbaric as the gold standard”€”were what kept him from mainstream legitimacy. Well, Dr. Paul stuck with these positions, and though I doubt we”€™re going to end the Fed any time soon, his latest “€œaudit the Fed”€ bill (HR 1207) has 149 co-sponsors to date “€”including 19 Democrats. This is much more than one could say for any other piece of legislation introduced by a Republican in the age of Obama. Moreover, though the Ron Paul grassroots “€œRevolution”€ isn”€™t perfect, its fund-raising capacity and mass appeal overpowers the collection of moderate prigs David Frum has assembled at “€œNew Majority.”€ A successful Alternative Right strategy might be to accept no compromise whatsoever on a constellation of key issues”€”mass immigration, monetary, fiscal, and foreign policies being key”€”and wait patiently for objective conditions to change in a way that these matters are thrust to the fore. What can”€™t go on forever won”€™t, and as we”€™ve seen with the monetary issue, an opportunity in the form of a major crisis shall come.  

Regardless, the Alternative Right should aim for something bigger than a marginally-less-horrible Republican Party. Indeed, I wonder whether we should actually give a fig about the electoral health of the GOP. As Zarathustra teaches, that which is falling”€”decaying, weakening, dying”€”should also be pushed. Let’s hope that one day, with its corruption, failure, and cowardice foaming up about its waist, the GOP will look up to the Ron Paul movement and shout “€œSave Us!”€ And the movement will look down and whisper “€œNo.”€ 

UPDATE: Daniel Larison responded to my article, and I responded to his response, which elicited another response.        


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