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Rumblings From the Conservative Street

Shortly after Rand Paul’s talking filibuster unexpectedly seized national attention, Bill Kristol came back with his normal comedy routine [1]. The junior senator from Kentucky was dismissed as an emblem of “kookiness” and “fearmongering,” “waxing semihysterical” as a “spokesman for the Code Pink faction of the Republican party.”

John McCain and Lindsey Graham were Kristol’s opening act. McCain grumbled about “wacko birds” and the dang libertarian kids who need to get off his lawn. Graham dismissed Paul’s questions about the limits of presidential power as undeserving of a response, in keeping with his now-infamous quotation [2], “Shut up, you don’t get a lawyer!”

But for the first time in a long time, the GOP rank-and-file wasn’t laughing along. Redstate.com editor and conservative commentator Erick Erickson asked [3] if McCain and Graham simply resented Paul and his Republican allies for generating more media attention.

The top two Republicans in the Senate and the chairman of the Republican National Committee weighed in to support Paul. The National Republican Senatorial Committee was quick to try and capitalize for fundraising purposes [4], as did various Tea Party groups.

No less a barometer of conservative opinion than Rush Limbaugh stated flatly [5], “The neocons are paranoid.” Someone soon called in from Ventura, California, and added that McCain owed Paul a public apology.

“I’m calling about Lindsey Graham and John McCain,” the caller told Rush. “I am really ticked off as a veteran the way John McCain and Lindsey Graham have basically sold out somebody that they should have supporting.”

To be sure, some opportunists hopped aboard the “I Stand with Rand” bandwagon. Relatively few of the Republican senators who joined the filibuster had expressed much concern about drones before, and some had voted for [6] legislation that could be construed as friendly to the drone status quo.

Many were happy to watch a Republican win a messaging war with the Democratic administration, as the Obama administration mostly backed down from a public fight.

But suddenly those who were in the position, as recently as the Chuck Hagel confirmation hearings, to read “unpatriotic conservatives [7]” out of the party were themselves being derided as RINOs.

Kristol hasn’t been in such a position since his magazine editorialized against congressional Republican reluctance to intervene in the Balkans, saying, “When the ‘conservative street’ is wrong, it should be corrected—or ignored.” Kristol himself later recalled that when the Weekly Standard backed Bill Clinton’s involvement in Bosnia “a not insignificant chunk of our original subscribers immediately canceled out on us.”

What happened? The first is that Paul has generally picked battles where the non-interventionist argument is consistent with the anti-Obama side of the argument. From Libya to foreign aid to domestic drones, this has made his task much easier. Where that framing is difficult or impossible, he tends to vote his conscience but assume a lower profile.

The second is that Paul’s “conservatism” is unimpeachable. He ranks at or near the top of the ratings compiled by the American Conservative Union, Club for Growth, and Heritage Action. He has been reliable on causes dear to the hearts of many movement conservatives that nevertheless escape the attention of most Republican politicians. Unlike Jon Huntsman—or at times even his father—he does not hide this light under a bushel.

Finally, Paul has attacked the bipartisan consensus on foreign policy and civil liberties at its weakest rather than strongest points. Pace his detractors, Paul wasn’t making a demagogic or hysterical case against the status quo. He repeatedly said that he suspected President Obama agreed with him on the merits of the issue but was like most executives afraid to surrender even theoretical powers.

What Paul repeatedly asked for were lines, limits, and some degree of public transparency. The true demagogues are those who try to twist those requests into a call for dismantling the military or denying terrorism. During his Heritage Foundation speech, Paul conceded that even with a more restrained foreign policy some practitioners of terror and adherents of violent strains of Islam would not “go quietly into the night.”

Paul’s critics are unnerved precisely because he is pointing out the obvious: when most Americans—and even most conservatives—signed up for the war on terror, they meant retaliating against those attacked us on 9/11 and taking greater care to prevent future attacks.

They did not sign up for routine presidential military interventions in a growing number of countries loosely based on a decade-old authorization of force. And they definitely did not believe they were consenting to live under the laws of war at home in a conflict without geographic or temporal limits and a somewhat nebulous [8] enemy.

For the idea of America as a permanent battlefield is ultimately incompatible with limited government in any meaningful sense. It is bizarre to claim American liberty is so fragile that it cannot survive the existence of tyranny in any corner of the world but so robust that it is totally unthreatened by unchecked executive power at home. Odder still is the notion that a government most conservatives don’t trust to set up a health care exchange should be entrusted with secret lists and secret evidence.

Limbaugh again: “[Neoconservatives], I think, are worried that Rand Paul might be skillful enough to move the Republican mainstream away from the McCain, Kristol, neoconservatism view of the world and toward a position that is not as extreme as his father’s, but is suspicious of interventionism, suspicious of Islamic democracy building, suspicious of financial and military support for dubious regimes.”

That remains to be seen. But in the meantime, some pundits might be bothered once again by the rumblings from the conservative street.

W. James Antle III is editor of the Daily Caller News Foundation and author of the forthcoming book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? [9]

Follow @jimantle [10]

37 Comments (Open | Close)

37 Comments To "Rumblings From the Conservative Street"

#1 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 12, 2013 @ 4:29 am

“not believe they were consenting to live under the laws of war at home in a conflict without geographic or temporal limits and a somewhat nebulous enemy.”

Ohhhh really? I would have thought that a requirement to pledge allegience to the US for employment after showing citizenship would have been a warning. Or was I the only who listened to the Patriot Act vote at the elevnth hour?

No the publec does not get a pass on what they themselves supported. They did sign up for just that. The number of arrests around the country in violation of all due process protections, the over charging, the manufacturing of charges, the use of terrorism to codify everything from raising one’s voice to challenging authority without violence —–

Ohh no, the public signed up for just such service and participated gladly. And I am going to continue to mount an offensive, that our fairer sex, whose inclusion into the discourse was to have made policies more humane, were all to happy to subvert the law in favor of some misguided notion of security.

I may very well be blowing in the wind . . .but blow I shall.

#2 Comment By spite On March 12, 2013 @ 5:59 am

If he is labeled “Code Pink faction of the Republican party” by some, then I can also label people like McCain the Genghis Khan brigade of the Republicans. You want less enemies, then stop trying to make them all the time, and please don’t label me a hippie for stating the obvious truth that even the most hardened warrior should accept.

#3 Comment By Mike On March 12, 2013 @ 9:26 am

Kristol is clearly nervous about, and doesn’t trust, Rand Paul.

#4 Comment By Mightypeon On March 12, 2013 @ 9:54 am

Oh my god, I agree with something Rush Limbaugh said…
Or the republican Neocon right has moved even further, while Rush didnt which gets him a “local sanity island status”.

#5 Comment By KenI On March 12, 2013 @ 11:54 am

Nice column. Am very excited about the prospects of neocon influence on the GOP diminishing, and this is exactly the type of debate that needs to happen for the good of THIS country. Amen, Mightypeon. Was shocked to see Rush say that as well. It seems deficit hawks might someday outnumber chicken hawks in the party again.

#6 Comment By jamie On March 12, 2013 @ 12:25 pm

Domestic drones are the new Black Helicopters.

You know things are at a very bad pass when the perpetrator of a talking filibuster is lauded as a hero, despite his accomplishing nothing or even cogently representing his objective in the media.

On the plus side, Paul’s discourse provides hours of examples of his casual ignorance and compete absorption in right-libertarian counter-reality– a world where Hitler was “elected democratically”, our governent hunts us for sport, and our freedoms hinge on wether or not we properly incant “constitutional” holy words.

#7 Comment By Sean Gillhoolley On March 12, 2013 @ 12:39 pm

The ideological fractures within the Republican party are widening, and soon groups will splinter off. The Tea Party is clearly at odds with the Religious Right who is at odds with the Financial Wing who is at odds with the Neocons who is at odds with the Tea Party…ad nauseum. Perhaps one of these groups will retain the name, but the Republican party is dead already. It is just too big to realize it quite yet.

#8 Comment By spite On March 12, 2013 @ 12:50 pm

jamie
You don’t need quotes for “elected democratically”, he really was. Nor do you need to equate drones with strange conspiracy theories, the drones are real.

#9 Comment By Michael N Moore On March 12, 2013 @ 1:06 pm

I think on this one Wylie Coyote finally got a bite out of the Obama roadrunner, while the old guard stands around waiting to drop their Acme anvils for the hundreth time.

The attorney general is known for his tin political ear and Paul honed in on him like a master. We haven’t seen capework like this in the DC bull arena for some time.

#10 Comment By cfountain72 On March 12, 2013 @ 1:22 pm

@jamie:
“a world where Hitler was “elected democratically”, our governent hunts us for sport, and our freedoms hinge on wether or not we properly incant “constitutional” holy words.”

Sorry, but could you elaborate on what your source material is for any of these statements, specifically how they are associated with libertarianism or, more specifically, Senator Paul?

Peace be with you.

#11 Comment By truly On March 12, 2013 @ 2:05 pm

The rumblings extend beyond “the conservative street”.

The lead editorial in today’s Harvard Crimson is titled “We Stand With Rand”.

[11]

It’s signed by “The Crimson Staff” and no, it’s not an ironic Ivy League smirk-job. They even express “pride” in Paul’s action.

Another op-ed piece on the same page is titled “Don’t Drone Me, ‘Bro”. In the same issue Obama is harshly criticized for failures on civil liberties, the assassination program and drones.

By contrast, Eric Cantor’s visit to the Harvard campus yesterday was met with tepid attendance and protests.

Straws in the wind.

#12 Comment By Mia On March 12, 2013 @ 2:24 pm

The success of Rand Paul’s filibuster was that he made an important argument without throwing in the seemingly obligatory anti Obama rants. I wonder if new movement conservatives are prouder that they found a criticism against Obama that actually sticks and resulted in a stand down from the administration, or if they are prouder that Rand found an issue that rings true regardless of who is in the Oval Office. If they are hitching their wagons to the first, I wouldn’t call it progress at all. If it is the second– well it looks like rhe new GOP may have finally found the pulse of America.

#13 Comment By William Dalton On March 12, 2013 @ 2:29 pm

“… Paul’s “conservatism” is unimpeachable. He ranks at or near the top of the ratings compiled by the American Conservative Union, Club for Growth, and Heritage Action. He has been reliable on causes dear to the hearts of many movement conservatives that nevertheless escape the attention of most Republican politicians. Unlike Jon Huntsman—or at times even his father—he does not hide this light under a bushel.”

The same was true of Chuck Hagel when he initiated and then aborted a run for the Presidency in 2008. We will have to see whether the Republican Party’s thirst for war has slackened considerably by 2016 to see how well these credentials can buttress a Rand Paul campaign.

#14 Comment By William Dalton On March 12, 2013 @ 2:49 pm

“What Paul repeatedly asked for were lines, limits, and some degree of public transparency. The true demagogues are those who try to twist those requests into a call for dismantling the military or denying terrorism. During his Heritage Foundation speech, Paul conceded that even with a more restrained foreign policy some practitioners of terror and adherents of violent strains of Islam would not ‘go quietly into the night.'”

Respect for the Constitutional limits upon the Presidency, particularly with respect to the power to go to war, had become a matter of surprising debate within the Republican Party, what with the Federalist Society’s misbegotten campaign to establish the theory of the “Unitary Executive”. What with four years of a Democrat in the White House and another four facing the GOP, that tide seems to have turned in Paul’s favor. The only way that tide won’t succumb, like the oceans to the revolving of the Earth and the orbit of the moon, to the election of another Republican President is if that President is Rand Paul and if, unlike Obama, he isn’t persuaded to keep open the options that violate his declared principles.

Neither Paul pere nor fils ever argued that terrorism wasn’t a threat to the United States. The father’s argument was always that going to war in foreign lands, opposing ourselves to the public will of other countries and offending their sensibilities and morals, especially when accompanied by indiscriminate killing which has negated the concept of “just war” since the invention of carpet bombing, only magnified by the advent of lethal drone technology, does less to control and deter such acts of terrorism than it does to inspire and encourage them, setting aside the fact such warfare makes more enemies for our country throughout the world. If the son does not continue making that argument and ultimately persuades his party of it, any campaign by him for the Presidency will make even success in gaining election a Pyrrhic victory. He will find himself hemmed in by powers greater than his own, even as has Obama.

#15 Comment By Confetti On March 12, 2013 @ 3:02 pm

I expect this non-interventionist mood the GOP appears to be embracing may shrink the neocons to fringe status. I expect the writers who have been out ahead of this for years, The American Conservative, will have a vastly larger readership and influence in American politics for years to come.

#16 Comment By William Dalton On March 12, 2013 @ 3:20 pm

“The ideological fractures within the Republican party are widening, and soon groups will splinter off. The Tea Party is clearly at odds with the Religious Right who is at odds with the Financial Wing who is at odds with the Neocons who is at odds with the Tea Party…ad nauseum. Perhaps one of these groups will retain the name, but the Republican party is dead already. It is just too big to realize it quite yet.”

There is nothing in the social conservative platform of the Religious Right which is incompatible with the small government, balanced budget, strict constructionist platform of the Tea Party, particularly when it is agreed that social issues must be decided in each state and not in Washington. It was Ron Paul’s dedication to the “states’ rights” platform of Barry Goldwater, too frequently abandoned by Ronald Reagan and forgotten by the Bushes, paired with his devotion to sound money, non-intervention and liberty from government restraint, together with a career proven by having lived up to his principles, that made him a champion for thoughtful conservatives and libertarians alike. The “Financial Wing” of the Republican Party has never exerted itself for any principle, not even lower taxes or fewer regulations, so long as there was predictability as to what a government will do and they can thereby make plans to profit accordingly. That leaves only the baneful influence of neoconservatism to be excised. If the Religious Right can be moved to give up its heretical devotion to the State of Israel as a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, and the Tea Party persuaded to cease its schizophrenic abandonment of the principles of restrained, small government whenever government shows up in uniform, we might have a Republican Party once again, a party which Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater, as well as Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, would recognize as their own.

#17 Comment By William Dalton On March 12, 2013 @ 3:48 pm

“Hitler was ‘elected democratically'”

“You don’t need quotes for ‘elected democratically’, he really was.”

Hitler’s party achieved a plurality, not a majority, in the elections of 1932. Through a course of political wheeling and dealing familiar in any parliamentary democracy, with much to be debited to the declining faculties of his old age, President von Hindenburg was persuaded to ask Hitler to form a government. In this sense, Hitler was given a “democratic” license to run the German government as Bibi Netanyahu is being given such a license in Israel today.

But Hitler did not become the “Fuehrer”, the unquestioned “Leader” of his “Homeland”, until the Reichstag fire, Germany’s “9/11”, if you will, when a frightened populace was moved to press its lawmakers to abandon their Constitution and turn over absolute power to him.

#18 Comment By AC On March 12, 2013 @ 4:15 pm

Comedy act is right. Is there anything more ridiculously comical than being lectured to about “constitutional conservatism” by Kristol, or the lovingly-quoted by Bill and equally absurd David Frum? I think not. Kristol, that paragon of conservatism, who, let us remember, famously said he’d happily vote for a John Kerry over a Pat Buchanan for prez. Yes, THAT’S a man I want to listen to about “constitutional conservatism”.

It may not have changed the GOP yet, but, make no mistake, these guys are nervous. The Kristols, Frums, Gersons, Lowrys, the whole lot of neo-phonies occupying planet Conservatism Inc. It’s great entertainment, that’s for sure.

#19 Comment By Clint On March 12, 2013 @ 4:16 pm

@ Sean Gillholley,

Our Tea Party has members who are Religious Right, Financial Wing and Neocons, as well as Constitutional Conservatives and Libertarians. Many are combinations of certain of these sub-groups.

Apparently, you aren’t a member of The Tea Party.

#20 Comment By bill wicks On March 12, 2013 @ 4:35 pm

I find it very hard to consider Limbaugh a Libertarian, he is and has been much more of a NeoCon. He still wants government intervention where it is not needed nor wanted.

Sen. Graham has lost his standing with his recent comments on needing some gun control and his immigration plan including a national biometric ID card.

The founders of the country believed rebellion against the government, keeps the government honest. Sen. Graham should not seek re-election and instead support Gov. Sanford to represent the state as a true Libertarian.

#21 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 12, 2013 @ 4:57 pm

Must have missed posted my initial response:

ten years too late and several trillion dollars short.

#22 Comment By Brian On March 12, 2013 @ 6:17 pm

Aside from Rand, I have a hard time believing that this supposed new Republican skepticism of unlimited executive power is based on anything other than bashing Obama. Do we really believe that if it was Mitt who was pulling these stunts, we’d a.) be seeing a filibuster from the Republican side, and b.) even if Rand was courageous enough to go against a sitting president of his own party, he’d have any support whatsoever?

Sadly, I have concluded that with Ron Paul’s retirement, there is absolutely no such thing as a “principled stance” anymore on Capitol Hill. It’s all about the eternal tribalism– rewarding your friends, sticking it to your enemies, and honoring wealth and power no matter the cost.

There are no solutions to be found in politics. Buy gold, learn how to grow your own food, be handy, and be prepared for the inevitable collapse.

#23 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 12, 2013 @ 7:01 pm

I prefer to be optimistic, idealistic and committed to change and change within my party for our principles and saneness in governnance.

9/11 sidesteps notwithstanding

#24 Comment By Scott On March 12, 2013 @ 7:02 pm

Brian-

No, if President Romney had sent his AG to the Hill regarding drones, no-one with a -R after their name would have blinked, let alone stood up.

What Senator Paul did was a (well) calculated political stunt to raise his profile re a 2016 run without having to slam Rubio. He got crazy amounts of news coverage and a ton of GOP love, and all he had to do was yell about Obama for a few hours. In the end, all the White House said was “I’d never do that…” and everyone walked away. Paul gets his name recognition, Obama continues to prosecute the war on terror how he sees fit.

#25 Comment By Patrick On March 12, 2013 @ 9:22 pm

Although, I understand the desire to inflate the importance of this event, I remind everyone be conservative. This is Rand Paul, nothing has changed.

#26 Comment By tommythegrouch On March 13, 2013 @ 12:07 pm

“The success of Rand Paul’s filibuster was that he made an important argument without throwing in the seemingly obligatory anti Obama rants. I wonder if new movement conservatives are prouder that they found a criticism against Obama that actually sticks and resulted in a stand down from the administration, or if they are prouder that Rand found an issue that rings true regardless of who is in the Oval Office. If they are hitching their wagons to the first, I wouldn’t call it progress at all. If it is the second– well it looks like rhe new GOP may have finally found the pulse of America.”

Spot on, mia. My suspicion is that Rush and others simply see this as Hitler invading Hell, and are using it as an opportunity to bash Obama first with drone opposition at best a distant second. I hope I’m wrong because a consistent commitment to civil liberties and executive & military restraint, no matter who is in the White House, is sorely needed in this country.

#27 Comment By Mike On March 13, 2013 @ 12:12 pm

It was, in fact, precisely because of the broad and open-ended powers granted the executive that many of us decried the adoption of often draconian “anti-terrorism” laws in the wake of 9/11. But it’s worth noting the Bush Administration did nothing but fan the flames of a wildfire of hysterical and panicked public opinion.

#28 Comment By cstahnke On March 13, 2013 @ 1:41 pm

Rand Paul’s move was a shot across the bough of the Washington foreign policy elite currently in power–who are not just neocons but also what we on the left call neoliberals. What these neos have in common is a solidly imperial agenda.

Senator Paul is going to, I believe, along with others in the Republican Party, provide a way to debate the wisdom of Empire a discussion that we desperately need. Just forcing people into going along with an imperial agenda just makes for a demoralized and angry public.

I believe the chief culprit of our situation is the mainstream “liberal” media (they are even worse than Fox) and they must be encouraged to: a) agree that this is an important issue (aside from drones etc.) and has a very important Constitutional component; and b) provide a real diversity of opinion on national security matters that isn’t just neocon v. neoliberal but that encompasses the full spectrum of views on the center, right and left. Right now the fact the mainstream media have become official government spokesman is doing even more harm than the financial crisis, debt, ect. to our disappearing Republic.

#29 Comment By Nick K. On March 13, 2013 @ 3:11 pm

Another good column from Mr. Antle.

#30 Comment By David McCarthy On March 14, 2013 @ 4:21 am

McCain is deranged, Graham is just a lap dog, neoconservatism is and always was diabolical and the country is forever worse off for having suffered through it.

As for Kristol? Well anyone who cares the slightest bit about what someone like Bill Kristol thinks deserves what they get.

Have a nice day!

#31 Comment By the colonel On March 14, 2013 @ 9:15 am

cstahnke – “neoliberal” is not a counterpart to “neoconservative.” nor is it a term coined or in common usage by “we on the left.”

while i understand and appreciate the point you’re trying to make, the misapplication of the term here only helps to confuse the matter.

#32 Comment By Vivian On March 15, 2013 @ 6:09 pm

I know I do not want a 3rd party, so we best fix our GOP.. The young gun conservatives are doing a fine job..

McCain, Graham… not so much.. sort of like “wackos” 🙂

#33 Comment By Vivian On March 15, 2013 @ 6:10 pm

Liberalism is a religion. A disease….

We need to get back to the constitution, back to morality, and back to PROSPERITY..

STOP THE SPENDING.

#34 Comment By mixplix On March 15, 2013 @ 8:26 pm

Paul is what we in the GOP have been waiting for because we are tired of hearing the Republican Vienna Choir Boys drone the same old no nads song.

#35 Comment By jLizard On March 15, 2013 @ 11:03 pm

Even Laura Ingraham is starting to turn away from neo-conservatism. She was quite a cheerleader for Bush’s Wars, but even she has realized that Bush’s Wars have hurt the Republican Party’s standing with American voters. There is hope.

#36 Comment By deedeemao On March 17, 2013 @ 6:28 am

I only wish that Rand Paul had filibustered the Hagel nomination instead of Jumping ship and caving in to Obama.

#37 Comment By Fair and Balanced On March 19, 2013 @ 10:46 am

I only wish that Rand Paul had filibustered the Hagel nomination instead of Jumping ship and caving in to Obama.

Hmmm. Do you cave to those who were wrong on Iraq and wrecked GOP credibility on foreign policy (i.e. McCain, Graham, Kristol et al.), do you cave to the man who benefited from that wreckage at the polls but perpetuated failed GOP policies (Obama), or do you give a combat veteran who was right about Iraq and who represents what used to be the winning Republican foreign policy consensus a chance to serve his country in a job where it might count?

Not a very tough call, really. Rand Paul made the right one.