The annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which has been going on for many years, is a bellwether of where the action is on the right side of the political spectrum — and the news from the latest gathering has both the traditional Buckley-style right and the Obama-ite liberal-left in shock. The CPAC presidential polls are a conference tradition, and the winner is often hailed as not only the up-and-coming champion of the Republican "hard" right but also a serious presidential contender. The winner of the previous three CPAC polls, Mitt Romney, was accorded such status early on in part because of his CPAC victories, but this time he was left in the dust by congressman Ron Paul.
Headlines reported Paul’s win as a "surprise," but early indications of the Paulian domination of CPAC this year included the ubiquitous presence of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) activists and the rock star reception given to Rep. Paul himself.
The former — and perhaps future — Republican presidential candidate gave a half-hour peroration that boldly stressed anti-interventionist foreign policy as the key to reining in big government on the home front. Invoking the shade of Robert A. Taft, and wondering aloud how we’re going to pay for our empire, Paul traced the roots of our dilemma back to Woodrow Wilson, the quintessential "progressive" of Glenn Beck’s worst nightmares. Unlike Beck, however, whose anti-progressive polemics only mention World War I in passing, Paul realizes that the whole kit-n-kaboodle of progressivism — the income tax, the Federal Reserve, and the philosophy of government as an instrument of moral uplift —all culminated in US involvement in the Great War.
As Murray Rothbard pointed out, the war — portrayed by its advocates at The New Republic and among the nation’s intelligentsia as a crusade for moral and spiritual uplift on a global scale — was the apotheosis of the progressive project. The term "Wilsonian," in foreign policy lingo, refers to the view that democracy and human rights can and should be advanced abroad at gunpoint.
We didn’t hear Beck, at this conference, where he was the featured speaker, or during one of his televised tirades, own up to the essentially Wilsonian foreign policy of the Bush administration, which he fulsomely supported. Beck is the perfect right-wing populist archetype, who, armed with a little knowledge, manages to miss the essential lesson of the Bush years — that an interventionist foreign policy with globalist pretensions is incompatible with the desire for limited government.
Nor does Beck, in his many disquisitions on the evils of progressivism, mention the worst depredations of the "progressive" Wilson administration, which Ron Paul surely did: it warmed the cockles of my libertarian heart to hear, at a CPAC conference, the name of Eugene Victor Debs raised as a martyr to the cause of individual rights, on account of his being jailed for speaking out against World War I. Yes, and it was a Republican, Paul reminded his audience — Warren G. Harding — who finally freed Debs. Ron truly is the anti-Cheney.
Too many conservatives, averred Paul, take a piecemeal approach to liberty: they don’t understand that freedom is indivisible, and that you can’t have constitutional and strictly limited government while engaging in endless wars.
Beck, in his CPAC speech, likened the Republican party to a substance-abuser: the first thing you’re supposed to do, he said, is recognize that you have a problem. Beck would do well to follow his own advice: he should go on television and admit that he and his fellow "movement" conservatives are addicted to war, and warmongering.
Paul’s CPAC victory is a stunning repudiation of the War Party’s long-standing dominance of the GOP, and is bound to ramp up the already quite active campaign to smear and destroy him. Neocon Dorothy Rabinowitz, in the midst of a jeremiad ostensibly aimed at Sarah Palin, points out that the liberals may hate Sarah for all the wrong reasons, but there are perfectly good neoconservative reasons for joining in the media pile-on, beginning with:
"The unsavory echoes of her regular references to ‘the real America’ as opposed to those shadowy “elites,” now charged with threats to the life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness of all real Americans. Neither does she seem to have any idea of how that low soapbox oratory — embracing one kind of American as the real kind, those builders in the towns and cities across America — rings in the ear today. It is not new."
Neocons hate people who talk about the elites in less than reverent tones, because they think you’re talking about them — which is often the case. They hate any sort of populism, whether of the right or the left, because they see in it the seeds of revolution, and, of course, anti-Semitism. Most of all they hate Ron Paul, because he and his followers embody the Jeffersonian values and culture of the American heartland, the old America of Bob Taft, America First, and a Republican party that was skeptical of overseas adventurism. They are the "real Americans" Rabinowitz hates and fears, and, this year, they came to CPAC in droves.
Justin Raimondo [send him mail] is editorial director of Antiwar.com and is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard and Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement.