The reasons for the current protests in Wisconsin are somewhat complex but ultimately represent the need to address an unsustainable status quo versus a deep, although understandable, attachment to it. Naturally, government and union workers don’t want their pay or benefits reduced, just like those in the private sector don’t like it when they are downsized, fall victim to budget cuts or are outright fired. But whether private or public, changing circumstances often mean, well, circumstances must change. Such realignments are almost always controversial, even when they make sense. This is particularly the case when any such reform proposals target longstanding assumptions or deeply held, status quo attachments.
Virtually every story you read about Senator Rand Paul’s plan to cut foreign aid mentions Israel first and foremost. Never mind that Paul has proposed that we cut all foreign aid—which means literally every single country we currently subsidize. Never mind that Paul points out that although we give $3 billion to Israel annually, we also inexplicably give about $6 billion to countries that surround Israel, many of them antagonistic toward the Jewish state. Never mind that Paul has said explicitly “I’m not singling out Israel. I support Israel. I want to be known as a friend of Israel… but not with money you don’t have. We can’t just borrow from our kids’ future and give it to countries even if they are our friends.”
Yet Paul’s fairly common sense, budget-conscious points concerning foreign aid haven’t even been considered and are obfuscated due almost entirely to the establishment’s focus on Israel. Senate Democrats wrote Paul a letter stating: “These remarks are alarming and aim to weaken the decades-long bipartisan consensus on U.S. support for Israel…” Republicans like Sen. Jim DeMint, who is usually a reliable fiscal hawk and generally an ally of Paul, responded that it would be a “real mistake to suggest we might reduce support to Israel.” Sen. Lindsey Graham was even more blunt, saying of Paul’s proposal: “Over my dead body!”
At The Washington Post, neoconservative columnist Jennifer Rubin tried to calm everyone down, reassuring readers that “Paul is outside the mainstream of elected leaders and the American public.” But Rubin is only half right. Paul is certainly outside the mainstream of Washington leaders who consider Israel’s most-favored-welfare-queen-nation status sacrosanct, as evidenced by not only Graham’s willingness to fight to the death in rejecting Paul’s proposal but DeMint’s refusal to even consider it. But is the American public as attached to foreign aid as the political class? A Reuter’s poll in January showed that 73% of Americans support eliminating all foreign aid—which is exactly what Paul now proposes, despite his critics’ Israel fixation.
As many conservatives now look at the protesters in Wisconsin as the sort of folks who are simply not willing to accept current, dire economic realities, the same sort of protests have been on full display by Washington’s political class—including most conservatives—in their mostly emotional response to Paul’s proposal. Paul is simply saying that much like Wisconsin’s budget problem, America’s budget problems now dictate that the status quo has to change, including ending the insane practice of borrowing money from China simply to subsidize other nations—and yes, by God, Israel is one of those nations. Paul isn’t “against” Israel anymore than Wisconsin’s governor is against teachers and government workers.
The irony here is that Israel probably needs our help the least, or as The American Conservative’s Philip Giraldi explains:
“Considering that Israel is one of the wealthiest countries in the world (with a per capita income at the same level as Great Britain) and is alleged to be going through an economic boom, there is little justification for continuing the largesse… The argument that Israel needs the money to maintain its military edge is also a red herring as Tel Aviv currently enjoys complete military superiority in all areas over all of its potential opponents. It also has the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal.”
When conservative giant Russell Kirk said during a speech to The Heritage Foundation in 1988 that “not seldom it has seemed as if some eminent Neoconservatives mistook Tel Aviv for the capital of the United States,” he was simply noting the same, long established, sometimes nonsensical, financial and political attachment to Israel that Paul now confronts in the wake of his foreign aid suggestion. Paul’s question is not even whether we should be attached to Israel in some manner—only to what degree and if it is in sync with what we can afford. This is a perfectly reasonable proposal and it is Paul’s critics who are being completely unreasonable—and that they represent the “mainstream” should give Americans a pretty good indication of why this country is in the shape it’s in.
As in Wisconsin, reversing America’s course will necessarily require attacking sacred cows. Considering our massive debt, we must now ask: Should we support every other nation first and America second—or America first and other nations second? Unlike his critics, at least Rand Paul has taken the obviously correct stand.