In a town-hall debate during the 1992 presidential campaign, Denton Walthall — better known as the “ponytail guy” — asked George Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot how they would “meet our needs” if elected. In Walthall’s telling, the American people are “symbolically the children of the future president.”
My own aspirations for the next president are somewhat less comprehensive. In casting my one little vote this November, I will be looking for two things: someone who will back the repeal of the incumbent president’s health care monstrosity and a commander in chief who will avoid a replay of the Iraq fiasco in Iran.
This shouldn’t be too much to ask, but sadly it appears to be. Barack Obama is marginally less likely to initiate a preventive war with Iran, Mitt Romney marginally more likely to sign Obamacare repeal into law. But with Mr. Libya running against Mr. Romneycare, in neither case are we certain to be spared the twin disasters of interventionism run amok at home and abroad.
Call it the antiwar conservative’s dilemma. Some of us have the temerity to expect more of our elections than a choice between dead foreigners and dead fetuses. We don’t believe peace is just a recruitment tool for ACORN or whatever’s the latest progressive fad. We don’t believe the Constitution gives the federal government jurisdiction over schools, in either Boynton Beach or Baghdad.
This dilemma is particularly acute this year. Let’s just go back to 2008, when the two major party candidates were Obama and a far more committed hawk than Romney in John McCain. At least the Constitution Party nominated Chuck Baldwin, a candidate who had opposed the Iraq War from the beginning. The Libertarian Party nominated Bob Barr, a former Republican congressman who had turned sharply against the war. Both men were fairly decent choices for the antiwar conservative.
Four years later, the Constitution Party nominee is a former Republican congressman who (like Barr) voted for the Iraq War but (unlike Barr) hasn’t had much to say about his second thoughts since. In his acceptance speech, Virgil Goode apologized for his support for the Patriot Act but not Iraq. In an interview with this writer for the print edition of TAC, Goode seemed not to have gotten the memo — or the Duelfer report — on Iraqi WMD.
The Libertarians have nominated Gary Johnson, the former Republican governor of New Mexico, for president. Johnson opposed the Iraq War. He wants out of Afghanistan and never wanted into Libya. Johnson hasn’t exactly been humming McCain’s catchy tune “Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran.”
But Johnson is much less conservative than Goode on issues like immigration (he’s as close to open borders as anyone this side of the Wall Street Journal editorial page can be) and abortion. His eagerness to dispatch U.S. troops to fight the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda while talking cheerfully about a 40 percent cut in military spending could be a forgivable bit of third-party incoherence, but it sounds like a prescription for disaster.
Of course, Johnson and Goode are only slightly more likely to occupy the Oval Office than you or me. Thus a vote for either of them wouldn’t be a vote for war in any direct way. Not so the Democrat and Republican. Obama is the “antiwar” president who had to be kicked out of Iraq by our newly created democracy and who presided over twice as many American deaths in Afghanistan as George W. Bush. Unlike Bush, he launched a war of aggression — or “kinetic military action” — without even consulting Congress. Domestically, he has commenced a spending spree that makes Dubya look like Calvin Coolidge.
Romney is a temperamentally risk-averse politician who seems unlikely to want to risk his poll numbers, much less his presidency, on some unpopular foreign war no matter what his neoconservative foreign policy team says. Yet at some point, personnel could become policy. According to the Nation’s Ari Berman, 70 percent of Romney’s foreign policy advisers worked for Bush and nearly a dozen of them have urged an attack on Iran. What if Romney isn’t just telling uberhawks what they want to hear?
There is the silver lining of Ron Paul. He has already received more than 1.6 million votes, even ahead of primaries in Texas and California. More importantly, Paul admirers from Justin Amash in Michigan to Thomas Massie in Kentucky are making real strides in down-ballot races. There are actual antiwar conservatives on the ballot, securing major-party nominations—and even general election triumphs.
But once the Good Doctor finally calls it a campaign in Tampa, can’t we have one serious antiwar conservative vying to be commander in chief?
W. James Antle is associate editor of The American Spectator and a contributing editor to The American Conservative.