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Our Emperors and Their Empire

When conservatives used to bash Bill Clinton their arguments usually centered on one thing — Monica Lewinsky. He lied to the American people! Clinton disgraced the office of the presidency! “Slick Willie!” Much like the popular culture they often claim to abhor, conservatives tend to focus on the personalities in politics rather than policy.

I never cared much about Clinton’s relationship with Lewinsky. My greatest problem with our 42nd president was that he wasn’t much different from the 41st or 43rd. Under Clinton, the size of government grew, our worsening illegal immigration problem was ignored, the U.S. needlessly punished the citizens of Iraq with sanctions and bombings and we foolishly intervened militarily in places like Kosovo, Somalia, and Haiti. Like his predecessor and his successor, Clinton simply maintained and expanded the already established American empire he inherited.

And yet in 2000, conservative reaction to the Clinton administration had the Right singing a much different tune on foreign policy.

Consider the language then-candidate George W. Bush thought necessary to appeal to his GOP base and voters-at-large during the 2000 presidential campaign. Attacking Clinton’s military adventures, Bush said during a debate with Al Gore: “I’m not so sure the role of the United States is to go around the world and say ‘this is the way it’s got to be… I think one way for us to end up being viewed as the ‘ugly American’ is for us to go around the world saying ‘we do it this way, so should you.” Criticizing Clinton’s military debacle in Somalia, Bush said “I don’t think our troops ought to be used for what’s called ‘nation building.” When asked how people around the world should view the US, Bush responded “It really depends upon how our nation conducts its foreign policy. If we’re an arrogant nation, they’ll resent us. If we’re a humble nation, they’ll respect us.”

And Bush wasn’t alone. Consider the words of conservative talk host Sean Hannity toward Clinton’s foreign policy. Said Hannity in 1999 concerning Kosovo: “It seems that we’re talking about a very ill-conceived military action here. And now the question is, do you go in further and deeper, or do you pull back and rethink what the strategy’s going to be here, because there has really been no stated goal, mission, or objective… I say, back out of it, because innocent people are going to die for nothing. That’s why I’m against it.” When Clinton compared Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to Adolph Hitler, Hannity asked “Is the president purposefully using propaganda and hyperbole to garner the American public for support?”

After 9/11, warnings from the Right about “nation building,” or support for a more humble foreign policy evaporated, along with any concern for limited government. Being the world’s policeman, or what Bush once called being an “arrogant nation,” “around the world” would come to define the Bush presidency. Even worse, for most of the last decade, being a conservative simply meant being pro-war and Bush ended his second term as the biggest big government president since Lyndon Johnson, much less Bill Clinton.

As Obama continues to spend even more than Bush and steps up US efforts in Afghanistan, the political environment on the Right is far closer to 2000 than 2003. In 2003, conservatives quickly became comfortable with Bush’s statist agenda because they were so enthusiastic about his invasion of Iraq. As this decade ends, conservatives are outraged by Obama’s spending and many are beginning to voice serious reservations about his end game in Afghanistan. Conservative columnist George Will, who was once one of Bush’s greatest supporters on Iraq is now one of Obama’s greatest critics on Afghanistan. Lest anyone think this hypocrisy is unique to Republicans, Democrats who once despised the belligerent neoconservatism of Bush-Cheney have now largely embraced that exact same foreign policy, only repackaged as Obama-style, liberal internationalism. When it comes to being antiwar under Obama-the Left is now completely useless.

And the Right may be as well. But conservative skepticism about Obama’s war coupled with widespread grassroots outrage over spending, makes the possibility of a genuine and comprehensive anti-government, anti-empire, “America first” movement, once again, at least tenable. The ingredients are there. What good did it do conservatives to elect George W. Bush, who was worse on both domestic and foreign policy than Bill Clinton? Obama is already proving to be worse than Bush. With each successive administration, government keeps getting bigger, our debt gets larger and our military stretched greater, for reasons that are vague at best. Americans may indeed be ready for a serious “change,” especially as they begin to realize Obama ain’t it.

It does not take a genius to figure out that railing against big government at home while championing it abroad doesn’t make much sense — one cancels out the other. But it might take a Democratic president, as it did a decade ago, to convince conservatives to question — and finally reject — both the welfare state and the warfare state for good.

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The Constitution or the Culture War?

Explaining the need for his “Stand Up for Christmas” resolution, Congressman Henry Brown of South Carolina released the following statement:

“I am troubled by the growing sentiment that the phrase ‘Merry Christmas’ is not appropriate and I am worried that attempts to celebrate a ‘politically correct’ holiday season may cause the loss of some of the traditions sacred to this widely celebrated holiday.”

For this stance, FOX News pundit Bill O’Reilly declared Brown a “patriot.”

Many have debated whether there actually exists a “war on Christmas,” with many conservatives answering in the affirmative and many liberals insisting that the whole thing is a manufactured seasonal ruse, exploited by opportunistic Republicans like Brown. While there is no doubt an increasing reluctance to use the word “Christmas” in public, especially within government and corporate institutions, liberals are right that the “war on Christmas” is often nothing more than an excuse to engage in cheap political opportunism and Brown’s “Stand Up for Christmas” legislation is a perfect example.

Brown is an archetype of the conventional Republican–a big spending, big government politician who constantly appeals to his base with ineffectual, conservative sounding rhetoric about peripheral social issues. It’s not that issues like abortion, gay marriage, and the 2nd amendment aren’t important–it’s just that most Republican politicians’ stances on these issues rarely produce anything that actually advances any conservative agenda. There is never a grand strategy–but always plenty of grandstanding.

For example, when Brown’s fellow South Carolinian, Lindsey Graham was attacked by his constituents for his big government record during a town hall meeting in October, the senator immediately touted his pro-life, pro-gun record instead, as if his position on those issues should excuse his support for spending trillions of taxpayer dollars. Likewise, Republicans like Brown supported every bit of President Bush’s spending, including the monstrous TARP, but by God, such Republicans want you to know those baby-killin’, gay-lovin’, gun-hatin’ liberals are going to hear “Merry Christmas” whether they like it or not!

For decades, such posturing on social issues has kept the biggest, big government Republicans in office and similarly, Brown’s supposed concern for the “traditions,” “sacred” to Christmas come off as grandstanding precisely because he is. Even many of those who agree with his sentiments concerning the loss of Christmas and its traditions, including this writer, can still see right through the opportunistic Brown.

And yet who can blame Henry? Grandstanding is often all it takes. When Brown’s fellow South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson yelled “you lie!” at President Obama during his speech on healthcare in September, Wilson became an instant celebrity amongst conservatives, and Republicans across the country swelled his campaign coffers. Yet, few have stopped to recall that Wilson supported every bit of Bush’s spending, including TARP, making him little different from Brown and the rest of the usual suspects up on Capitol Hill. But still, say many conservatives, Joe Wilson sure told that Obama!

And now Brown wants to tell you “Merry Christmas.” Let’s face facts: social issues conservatism has been a tragedy since day one, never producing anything of value to social conservatives while at the same time giving cover to an entrenched Republican establishment hellbent on doing their fiscal worst. It’s hard to believe that most pro-life Republican politicians have ever had any real intention of overturning Roe v. Wade precisely because it is not in their interest to do so–simply opposing the law of the land on abortion has long served GOP politicians far better than if that particular Supreme Court decision had never been made.

If Congressman Brown or any of his Republican colleagues truly wanted to preserve “sacred traditions,” they could quit insulting their constituents intelligence with their feigned concern for life, marriage, guns and Christmas, and revisit the U.S. Constitution, something they took an oath to uphold upon entering office-and have taken a “happy holiday” from ever since.

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Person of the Year: Ron Paul

People often mistake being named Time‘s “Person of the Year” as an honor, but that men as sinister as Adolph Hitler, Josef Stalin and Rudy Giuliani have all been given the title suggests otherwise. According to Time, the award is primarily a recognition of influence and by that measure the 2009 selection of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke makes sense. Explains Time, the Fed is “an independent government agency that conducts monetary policy, which means it sets short-term interest rates – which means it has immense influence over inflation, unemployment, the strength of the dollar and the strength of your wallet.” Powerful and influential indeed.

But using Time‘s reasoning, the same award could have been given to Alan Greenspan, Paul Volcker or any other chairman in the history of the Fed. It is amusing that if simply being in charge of the powerful institution warrants such recognition, a Fed Chairman has now received it during a time of serious economic downturn and Bernanke likely won the award because his celebrity had been elevated due to the economy going south. It’s sort of like giving special recognition to Tiger Woods for making so many headlines recently, while ignoring that it is his personal recklessness and infidelity that has contributed most to his career and marriage going south.

So instead of giving props to Fed chairman who’ve screwed up the economy, why not praise someone who’s spent his entire career opposing the central bank, not to mention being ahead of the curve-often alone–on some of the most pressing political issues of our day? In terms of elevated profile and increased influence, it’s hard to imagine a better candidate worth recognizing as “Person of the Year” than Texas Congressman Ron Paul.

For starters, Paul agrees with Time that Bernanke should be “Person of the Year,” because he truly is “the most powerful man in the world.” Paul notes that Bernanke can “create a trillion dollars in secret without any monitoring of the Congress, so there’s no transparency, and I think he’s more powerful than the president.” And yet for years, decades even, Paul was virtually alone on Capitol Hill in calling to rein in the Fed. Today, the once “extreme” notion of auditing the Federal Reserve has become mainstream amongst Republicans and more than a few Democrats, due in no-small-part to Paul’s lead. Reports the Houston Chronicle: Read More…

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A Christian Holiday for All Americans

Imagine if every Thanksgiving, displays of Pilgrims were increasingly forbidden, retailers refrained from making references to the Mayflower or Plymouth Rock in their advertising, and schoolchildren were no longer allowed to draw turkeys by outlining their hands. After all, Thanksgiving offends some, particularly native Americans. Also, not everyone has reason to be thankful.

Imagine if every 4th of July, displays of the Founding Fathers were increasingly forbidden, retailers refrained from displaying the American flag or the Liberty Bell, and schoolchildren were no longer allowed to sing “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” After all, American independence in 1776 did not necessarily mean liberty for everyone. Even today, not every American feels as if they are truly free.

It’s hard to imagine many Americans conceding Thanksgiving or the 4th of July to please an objectionable minority, however vocal or significant. And yet for America’s biggest holiday, not calling December 25 its most widely recognized name has now become a common, politically-correct standard. This Christmas season, one Charleston, South Carolina school will be holding a “Winter Reflection Afternoon,” barring any complaints from students raised in tropical regions or the reflection-disabled.

Though most American holidays, including Thanksgiving and the 4th of July, have come under attack in recent years from the PC crowd, Christmas has long been put in a special kid glove category because of its religious origins. But even by the ridiculous standards of political correctness, should a holiday with explicitly religious roots be exceptionally disqualified from being celebrated publicly more than secular holidays like Thanksgiving or the 4th of July?

At the risk of giving liberals some not-so-bright ideas, how about raising objections to our calendar, a timeline based around the birth of Christ? How about our wedding and funeral rituals, where even non-Christians and atheists often steal or mimic Christian ceremonies? Many attempts to secularize Christmas are futile, as happy “holidays” is simply a combination of the words “holy” and “day.” Every child’s favorite holiday fat man, Santa Claus, is the Catholic Saint Nicholas. We even swear in Christian, where “Jesus H. Christ” or “for Pete’s sake” (a reference to Saint Peter) has been muttered by believers and nonbelievers alike for generations. Read More…

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Return of the Antiwar Right

For eight long years under George W. Bush, conservatives endorsed a don’t ask, don’t tell foreign policy–they did not really ask why their country was at war and Republican leaders did not tell, or bother, Americans with any of the gory details. Missions were accomplished, we fought them over there so we didn’t have to fight them here and troops were supported by simply supporting the wars they fought, with little to no dissent. But why were we fighting? What was “victory?” How many had to die? What was the cost? Conservatives did not ask-Republican politicians did not tell.

But some Republicans are finally asking. Regarding President Obama’s decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan, columnist Reihan Salam writes: “Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican known for his independent streak, has made a conservative case for withdrawal.” Says Chaffetz: “Our military is not a defensive force for rough neighborhoods around the world. They are trained to be an offensive, mission-driven military force to protect the United States of America. They are not trained to be nation builders or policemen… If our mission in Afghanistan is simply to protect the populace and build the nation, then I believe the time has come to bring our troops home.”
Is Chaffetz’s position on Afghanistan a sign of things to come? Salam thinks so, writing: “my guess is that by the 2010 congressional elections, dozens of Republican candidates will be doing the same across the country.”

We can only hope. As a conservative, I have long found it perplexing that to a large extent the American Right has been defined by its enthusiasm for going to war virtually anywhere, for virtually any reason and often for no good reason.

The notion of defending one’s country is something patriots of all political stripes can subscribe to. But that every military action our government commits to should automatically be considered righteous and unassailable is a bizarre position for conservatives, given their natural distrust of government in every other sphere. The Wilsonian idea of “making the world safe for democracy” has never been the language of hard-headed conservative realists, but maniacal ideologues, and yet the liberal dispensation and celebration of such utopian rhetoric by the last Republican president, his party and most self-described conservatives, left the Right a confused mess. Read More…

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Weather of Mass Destruction

When our government was insisting that we go to war with Iraq, I told anyone who would listen that it didn’t make any sense, that Saddam Hussein did not pose any threat to the US and our leaders were simply up to no good. My conservative friends angrily disagreed, almost in unison, declaring that the evidence supplied by the Bush White House concerning WMDs was comprehensive, concrete and that the terror “crisis” was far too dire to entertain any dissent from some blind ignoramus like me.

Now the liberals have their own “crisis.”

Global warming, or to use the latest fashionable phrase, “climate change” has quickly become an article of faith for the Left. Heralding the importance of this week’s Copenhagen Climate Summit, the UK Guardian published the following: “Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.”

This is not the first time the media has aided the scientific community in an effort to warn the world about atmospheric Armageddon. Writes Gary Sutton at Forbes.com: “Many of you are too young to remember, but in 1975 our government pushed ‘the coming ice age’… Random House dutifully printed ‘THE WEATHER CONSPIRACY … coming of the New Ice Age.’ This may be the only book ever written by 18 authors. All 18 lived just a short sled ride from Washington, D.C. Newsweek fell in line and did a cover issue warning us of global cooling on April 28, 1975. And The New York Times, Aug. 14, 1976, reported ‘many signs that Earth may be headed for another ice age.” Read More…

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Obama Adopts the Bush Doctrine

With his speech on our war in Afghanistan this week, the president who once preached “change” fully embraced his predecessor’s most dangerous idea: The Bush Doctrine. Describing this doctrine at West Point in 2001, said then President George W. Bush: “If we wait for threats to materialize, we will have waited too long. The war on terror will not be won on the defensive. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans and confront the worst threats before they emerge.”

At West Point eight years later–President Obama reaffirmed the Bush Doctrine. Read More…

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“Maverick” Lindsey Graham

When the Charleston County Republican Party censured South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham last month, the official statement read that Graham: “in the name of bipartisanship — continues to weaken the Republican brand and tarnish the ideals of freedom, rule of law, and fiscal conservatism.” That some Republicans-any Republicans-would dare treat Graham as a traitor for his bipartisan efforts, was portrayed by the national media and liberal pundits as yet another example that “fringe” elements were taking over the GOP.

When Connecticut Democrats sought to censure Joe Lieberman in 2008 they cited the senator’s “extraordinary disloyalty to countless Connecticut Democrats without whom his career as an elected official would never have been possible.” That some Dems would seek to censure Lieberman for his support of John McCain’s presidential campaign was not portrayed by the national media and liberal pundits as the intolerance of a small Democratic fringe, but a reasonable response to an unreasonable, if not traitorous, Lieberman. To the Left, the censuring of Graham by Republicans was absurd, but that Lieberman would transgress against the Democrats? Completely unacceptable.

If Lieberman remains a villain to liberals for his “maverick” behavior, Graham has quickly become the Left’s GOP hero for doing the exact same thing. Yet, by no stretch of the imagination is either man a true maverick, rebel, reformer or any other wannabe-revolutionary label politicians often like to ascribe to themselves.

Constantly doing the bidding of the Washington establishment and ignoring voters’ wishes-as both Lieberman and Graham have done consistently for both Republican and Democratic administrations-doesn’t make them mavericks; it makes them a menace. Despised by significant portions of their own constituents, that both men have managed to hold onto their senate seats this long is more indicative of the corrupt and impenetrable nature of big-monied politics than any accurate reflection of the popular will. Lieberman had to declare himself an independent simply to escape the wrath of his Democratic base in his last election. Graham, with a campaign war chest of millions of dollars, could only garner 58% against his 2008 challenger, a no-name newcomer who only had about $10,000 in small donations and received zero support from the state and national Democratic Party. Somehow, curiously, so-called “mavericks” like Lieberman and Graham always seem to have lots of money–especially around election time–even as they expect us to believe they’re not beholden to any government, corporate or political special interests. Read More…

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