Just as I had begun to believe that the GOP was becoming a small-government party, unsettling statements about foreign policy poured in from Republican presidential contenders. These hopefuls are already surrounded by Bush advisers, a fact they don’t try to hide. The earliest to hit the ground running was Mitt Romney, who provided a book-length exposition of his positions, including what the world would look like under the new American hegemony. Apparently the globe would be divided into “democracy spheres” in which local custodians would help teach the rest of the world democratic values.
The newly elected GOP senators are already on record hoping to stop the arms-limitation agreement negotiated by the present administration with Russia. This bill may come up in the congressional lame duck session in January but is now unlikely to pass. The agreement (with the acronym START) is seen as placing unacceptable restrictions on American deployment of defensive missiles. More general complaints have streamed in from Republican sources about our already weakened military capabilities.
For all I know, these complaints may be true; and I would agree that Obama has been more deferential, perhaps excessively so, in dealing with our would-be adversaries (such as the government of Iran) than the preceding Republican administration. But GOP hopefuls go further. Significantly, presidential contenders, and most recently Tim Pawlenty, former governor of Minnesota, feel impelled to praise the Bush administration’s handling of international relations. Pawlenty lavishly praises Bush for keeping us all “safe,” and he is concerned that American power is not being adequately projected overseas. Note that Pawlenty, before he became a war hawk, was known as a budget-crunching governor, who got high grades from libertarian foundations. Until I heard him go off like a John McCain or John Bolton clone, I thought he would be a sensible choice for president for someone who wished to prioritize the problem of an overgrown public administration. Since I fully share this concern and have no use for Obamacare, which Pawlenty hopes to repeal, I briefly entertained the illusion that this was a different type of Republican from the usual sorts. Clearly I was mistaken.
Unlike the Tea Party idealists, who were screaming “a plague on both their houses,” Republican foundations, journalists, and fundraisers immensely like what they already have. What they have is a party that manages big government, cuts deals for friendly corporate interests, and waves a big stick militarily. The predominance of neoconservative advisers suits the GOP fine. It is the party of the military and like the neoconservatives, Republicans in power talk incessantly about spreading human rights and universalizing the American model of government. A favorite Republican phrase, which I hear repeatedly among their talking heads, is “American exceptionalism.” This means, among other things, that Americans somehow defy the laws of human history. Our form of government, for all its mutations, is not only the best ever devised, but a blessing that we are required to bestow on other people, whether or not they want it.
The problem with such running at the mouth is that it keeps our elected officials from doing more sensible things, such as minding the Constitution and limiting administrative overreach. There is in fact a contradiction between the Bushite priorities of Pawlenty, Rove, Romney, and other Republicans and their publicized promise to address the size and reach of government. I doubt they can do both.
It is doubtful that we can go around the world setting up democracy supervisors and meddling into other countries’ affairs while reducing taxes and slashing government expenses. A not very well-known fact is that increasing military and defense costs is easier for presidents to do than getting rid of departments of government. The military is a welfare state within a larger one, and liberals can live with an expanded military if that means hiring and subsidizing more military personnel. Reducing government is of course another matter, as is the likelihood that the Dems will seek electoral gains from any war the Republicans foolishly plunge us into.
My guess is that if any of the figures now competing for the GOP presidential nomination gets lucky, the Dems will have a field day opposing the sword-waving and calls for global democracy zones. Republicans are unlikely to win the presidential race, if their candidate tries to play back the Bush record on high speed. But perhaps their candidate can make a hard decision. Does he/she (remembering Palin) want to turn the administration’s attention to such mundane things as Chris Christie is doing in New Jersey by taking on public sector unions? Those unions after all spent big bucks defeating GOP senatorial candidates, like Sharron Angle in Nevada, who intended to take them on. Or will GOP presidents and presidential contenders take the beaten path, of strutting around the world in the role of armed democratic missionaries? If so, then the public sector activists have nothing to fear from them.