NEW YORK, April 4, 2013 ― “Federalism, even if we misname it democracy, is not adapted or adaptable to the path of empire.” So said Felix Morley, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and founding editor of the conservative newspaper Human Events.
Despite Morley’s credentials as a writer, he was forced out of the paper he helped create because of its militaristic stance against the Soviet Union. However, Morley’s convictions against militarism did not put him out of step with many in the early conservative movement. In his 1975 book, Twilight of Authority, Robert Nisbet criticized militarism as a case where traditional culture and authority had declined and the liberal institutions of government had persevered.
Fast-forward 30 years to the summer of 2005. For many of us, there were two huge political stories in play, and our minds were made up about them: no amnesty for illegal aliens, and opposition to the Iraq War.
But George W. Bush was President, and there was no place for a peacenik in the war party.
Two short years later, many of the Democrats running for the White House were unacceptable to people who cared about illegal immigration because of their support for amnesty. But if you had watched the first GOP debate expecting to only hear war hawks dragging their knuckles, you would have been astonished. That was the debate where Ron Paul faced off with Rudy Giuliani over foreign policy. Ron Paul was a star with anti-war conservatives, and the influence of Liberty Republicans has started to make a difference.
The Republican Party of 2013 is not the party of 2005; American Conservative Magazine editor Dan McCarthy recently published an article, “Why ‘Unpatriotic Conservatives’ Couldn’t Be Written Today.” McCarthy evaluated the movement of the antiwar right from being a mere paleoconservative movement to now being a force of its own, even becoming more well profiled than paleoconservatives. This is true of the Republican Party as there is now a vocal anti-war wing.
Only seven house Republicans voted against the Iraq War in 2003; half were liberal Republicans and the others were conservative. There is now a sizeable minority of house Republicans who vote against most new military spending. Twenty-seven House Republicans voted against military appropriation funds in March, and unlike the original seven who were opposed to Iraq, all twenty-seven were conservatives, fifteen from the South and Texas.
This change from automatic support for anything military is demonstrated not only in floor votes but in tone: House Republicans were staunchly opposed to President Obama bombing Libya; Senator Rand Paul held a filibuster against armed drones that shook the political world; and Senator Ted Cruz in his keynote address to the Conservative Political Action Committee railed against the NDAA and indefinite detention. The party of Bush and Cheney, this is not.
Being a big tent party, we will always need to make room for the neo-cons; antiwar conservatives cannot seek to banish them from the fold. There will always be a need for some sort of coalition to guarantee some sort of electoral victory; politics makes weird bedfellows.
But being a peacenik in the war party has become somewhat more comfortable. We are not the political unicorns we once were. It shouldn’t be surprising, as the Republican Party looks to try to win more elections, they need to better reflect the opinions of the country, and the attitude of the country is with us.