Given then tendency in public discourse these days to either preach the choir on TV or radio shows, or to lob artillery at each other in daily trench warfare (Keith Olbermann vs. Bill O’Reilly feud for example) the art of actually persuading someone that your argument is actually right or makes sense is a lost art these days.
And yet persuasion is exactly what non-interventionists are going to have to do to convince members of the Republican Party, both its leadership and its rank n’ file, that a change to a non-interventionist point of view will be better for the party, better for the nation most importantly, than the one they currently hold right now. Larison thinks it may very well be a lost cause:
“As Millman suggests, support for the Iraq war has become an important part of modern conservative, and I would add Republican partisan, political identity. The Iraq war produced “the most polarized distribution of partisan opinions on a president and a war ever measured,” as Gary Jacobson says. The strong identification of conservatives and Republicans with the Iraq war was at first a point of pride and then a source of increasingly defensive self-justification as the vast majority of the country turned against the war and against conservatives and the GOP. Even if most Republican members of Congress recognize that the war was a “terrible mistake,” they refuse to acknowledge publicly that their support for the war and public discontent with the war were responsible for costing them their majorities in Congress. That tells me that even as a matter of crude electoral calculations the Congressional GOP has learned nothing. As a practical matter, mass Congressional Republican recognition of the error of invading Iraq has not led to any significant political or policy changes. As far as most Republican voters and conservatives are still concerned, “people like us” do not oppose foreign wars, and they especially don’t oppose the Iraq war in any meaningful way, and one reason for this is that the public face of opposition simply does not include mainstream Republicans, much less Republicans in any position of leadership or influence.”
Indeed, when Ron Paul stated clearly what his foreign policy views were at the recent Southern Republican Leadership Conference not everyone was applauding.
“Isolated boos mixed with supporters’ cheers upon these remarks, but as Paul continued, it became apparent that many in the audience were objecting not to Paul’s list of big-government villains, but rather to the congressman himself.”
That’s why Paul generally gets no respect within the media despite the fact he’s at least as well organized as the human bank vault Mitt Romney because nobody in the press thinks he can win the party’s nomination in 2012. There are many reasons for this but the main one is Paul’s views on foreign policy which clash with so many in the party. Among second choices on the SRLC ballot, Paul only won five percent.
How can those who oppose Paul on these issues be persuaded to change their mind? Maybe the trick, at least at first, is not so much changing the mind but changing the degree of opposition before changing the viewpoint.
It may start with two primary elections next month. If John Hostettler in Indiana and Rand Paul of Kentucky can win their respective GOP U.S. Senate primaries, it would be a signal the opposition to an interventionist foreign policy is no long the kiss of death in the GOP (Hostettler and GOP opponents of the war like Jim Leach and Wayne Gilchrist were defeated at the polls). Now, one cannot take the leap to say that such victories are automatically an endorsement by the primary electorate of such views (Rand does differ from his father on some question and in tone). But it would go to show that a candidate can put together a winning coalition with such views. Finding common ground on other issues and perhaps minimizing one’s stand compared to others may be the way at this point towards electoral success. At least then such candidates would be in a position never to allow U.S. military ever to be used in such a cavalier manner again which may be the best one can hope for instead a full repudiation of the party’s previous support for the war. I doubt if very many Republican politicians, many of whom represent districts with military bases or large concentration of military personnel both active and retired, want to be in a position to tell their constituents they fought and died for a mistake. One that they endorsed.
And now that it’s a Democrat that is Commander-in-Chief instead of George Bush II, enthusiasm for such ventures may very well wane in GOP circles, which would also reflect back on the politics. This is not true as of right now, but it’s hard to imagine COIN operations that amount to little with U.S. troops still dying in both Iraq and Afghanistan is going keep such enthusiasm going for much longer, especially when said troops spring from GOP demographics. After all, the Democrat’s enthusiasm for the Vietnam War (at least from the center going left) didn’t much last the Johnson Administration because there was no LBJ to whip them into line. Likewise for Republican politicians at least, there’s no Bush II Administration or Karl Rove with a club hanging over their heads.
History also suggests the GOP’s support for war is not a matter of party identity either. Republicans opposed Clinton’s illegal bombing of Serbia, a GOP ad from the Presidential campaign of 1956 praised Eisenhower for ending the Korean War and Bob Dole estimated that the number of those killed in all the “Democrat Wars” came to 1.6 million. A point he well knows since he was nearly one of them. Ronald Reagan pulled out of Lebanon after making the mistake of sending U.S. Marines to the region and produced an agreement to reduce medium range missles with the Soviet Union.
What these examples show is that party stands on foreign policy, or any issue for that matter, are never cast in stone. They are the products of the times and of the constituencies who vote for those parties and who the politicians respond to. There’s no question that Paul supporters, foreign policy realists and other non-interventionists will still have to work hard to change minds and liberate them from the ideological fantasies of the neocons while convincing the Jacksonians they are not anti-American peaceniks. But they can do so by reciting this past history and showing that their views resonate with voters or at least not disqualify them. For many, politics is a business just like any other and politicians, to be successful, are going to follow paths that ensure election not defeat.
But politics can go hand in hand sometimes with cultural change, especially if a campaign is persuasive to even just a few people. Can one forget Charlton Heston’s famous conversion from liberal Democrat to conservative Republican? Persuasion can happen.