Monday, July 23, 2007

Ron Paul, Iraq, and the Political Future

Over drinks on Saturday night (perhaps too many to make the conversation illuminating), friends and I were discussing the long-term impact of the war in Iraq. I remain of the opinion -- more than ever, in fact -- that the more the war is seen as a disaster, the more it will help traditional conservative thinking. As an independent, I'm not much concerned about the fate of either major party, but I think Democratic strategists would be wise to focus on the first three letters in "neocon." If it's true that current policy can be attributed to the ascendancy of a group of Republicans (Cheney, Wolfowitz, et al.) who subvert traditional conservative thinking (regarding interventionism, nation-building, etc.), then it's by no means certain that a reaction to that necessitates voting for Democrats. In fact, the long-term fallout might just benefit stricter, more traditional conservatism. And perhaps more to my point, the fallout also makes liberals sound a lot more like isolationists, which is a fascinating turnaround.

As the profile of him in yesterday's New York Times Magazine argues, Ron Paul almost certainly won't be the next president. But as the candidate himself smartly says, "Politicians don’t amount to much, but ideas do.” And his campaign says a lot about the shifting ground of political ideas and allegiances. Take this:
(Paul) is particularly popular among the young and the wired. Except for Barack Obama, he is the most-viewed candidate on YouTube. He is the most “friended” Republican on
This is the strange bedfellows part. It seems unlikely that a libertarian from Texas would be connecting with so many young people if his opposition to the war didn't provide him with a large issue to distract from many of his more radical views.

But more than the youth angle, Paul's popularity, no matter how fleeting it might prove, reflects the ways in which philosophical conservatism (the kind that Andrew Sullivan writes about daily) will likely benefit from the Bush administration. Maybe not in '08, but eventually. Again, from the Times article by Christopher Caldwell:
Paul represents a different Republican Party from the one that Iraq, deficits and corruption have soured the country on. In late June, despite a life of antitax agitation and churchgoing, he was excluded from a Republican forum sponsored by Iowa antitax and Christian groups. His school of Republicanism, which had its last serious national airing in the Goldwater campaign of 1964, stands for a certain idea of the Constitution — the idea that much of the power asserted by modern presidents has been usurped from Congress, and that much of the power asserted by Congress has been usurped from the states. Though Paul acknowledges flaws in both the Constitution (it included slavery) and the Bill of Rights (it doesn’t go far enough), he still thinks a comprehensive array of positions can be drawn from them: Against gun control. For the sovereignty of states. And against foreign-policy adventures.
Remember when Bush was emphasizing his stance against nation-building during the 2000 debates? At the time, based on broad truths about the major parties, that made perfect sense. He's since turned that sense on its head (and dunked it in the toilet and stolen its lunch money), which makes the future of American politics more complicated, not less, even if the current (dis)approval ratings make things look crystal clear.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ron Paul thinks 9/11 was an inside job. He's also said that America is in "great danger" of a "Gulf of Tonkin" style provocation for war. He's a crank. If he's the future of the Republican party, then the Republican party is doomed.

I have no great allegiance to the Republican party, but if he's the future of half of the political parties in this country (as well as an astonishing 35% of Democrats who believe that Bush knew in advance about the 9/11 attacks, and another 25% of Dems who haven't made up their minds on the issue), then we're all doomed to a government of tinfoil hatted tomfoolery.

Bush opposed an interventionist foreign policy prior to 9/11. He has said again and again that everything changed on that day. After 9/11, Bush said that we couldn't wait on terrorists or rogue governments to attack us because the cost was too great; we had to take the fight to them. And he began to support nation-building because leaving Iraq in chaos would turn it into a breeding ground for exactly the type of attacks on America that he was seeking to avoid.

Bush's low approval ratings are not due solely to Iraq. Lots of people oppose the way the war and rebuilding in Iraq has been accomplished (or not accomplished), but still support the philosophy underlying the invasion.

His approval ratings are historically low because he's lost support from the left (that he never had) and also lost it on the right. Some people support the war in Iraq, but think Bush has sold out conservative principles on other issues. See, e.g., immigration. So he has a terrible approval rating, but that doesn't mean that future preemptive wars like Iraq are off the table.

It's also worth noting that Bush's approval rate is around 34%, but the Democratic Congress's approval rating is even more dismal: 24%. That's a fall of 11% in the last two months. In light of that, it's difficult to say that people favor either party's approach to Iraq.

Frankly, I think we're suffering through a period of dissatisfaction with the government in general. It's distinctly possible that much of this has to be laid at the feet of the government's figurehead: Bush. But I think it's distinctly possible that this means our next President is going to be someone with an uplifting message who makes people feel good about their government. Obama vs. Rudy in '08?

-- Comish

10:17 PM  

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