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True conservatism goes back to the pre-William F. Buckley days, where conservatives believed in small government and staying out of the affairs of foreign countries. It’s not quite libertarianism, but very close.
WaPo has a fascinating take today on this, though I doubt they truly understand what they have uncovered.
Let’s start with an understanding of the Old Right
In 1994, Murray Rothbard explained the Old Right:
The original right of which I speak, and of which I am one of the few survivors, stretched from 1933 to its approximate death, or fading away, upon the advent of National Review in 1955. The Old Right began in 1933 in response to the coming of the New Deal. It was "reactionary" in the best and most generous sense: it was a horrified reaction against the Roosevelt Revolution, against the Great Leap Forward toward collectivism that enraptured socialist intellectuals and enraged those who were devoted to the institutions and the strict limitations on centralized government power that marked the Old Republic…
The Old, original, Right realized the horrors of the New Deal and predicted the collectivist road on which it was setting the nation. The Old Right was a coalition of ideologies and forces that did not have one single, common, positive program, but "negatively" it was solidly united: all opposed the New Deal and were committed to its total repeal and abolition – lock, stock, and barrel. The fact that its unity was "negative" did not make it any less strong or cohesive: for there was total agreement on rolling back this collective excrescence and on restoring the Old Republic, the true America…
The Old Right experienced one big sea change. Originally, its focus was purely domestic, since that was the concentration of the early New Deal. But as the Roosevelt administration moved toward world war in the late 1930s, the Old Right added intense opposition to the New Deal’s war policies to its systemic opposition to the domestic New Deal revolution. For they realized that, as the libertarian Randolph Bourne had put it in opposing America’s entry into World War I, "War is the health of the State" and that entry into large-scale war, especially for global and not national concerns, would plunge America into a permanent garrison state that would wreck American liberty and constitutional limits at home even as it extended the American imperium abroad. As anti-foreign interventionism was added to the anti-New Deal mix, the Old Right lost some adherents and gained even more. For Eastern Establishment anti-New Dealers, such as Lewis Douglas, William L. Clayton, Dean Acheson, and the Morgan Bank, embraced the entire New Deal package once it came wrapped in the enticing trappings of American Empire. On the other hand, antiwar progressives, originally New Dealers, men such as Senators William Borah and Gerald Nye, intellectuals and writers such as John T. Flynn and Harry Elmer Barnes, began to realize that there was something very wrong with a strong state that could expand into foreign adventures, and so they gradually became anti-New Dealers in every sense of the word.
World War II added foreign policy to the mix, so that by the end of the war, the Old Right was opposed to big government on every front, foreign and domestic. All parts of the right were opposed to global crusading, to what Clare Booth Luce wittily labeled "globaloney." They were opposed to what the former New Deal historian-turned-noninterventionist Charles A. Beard labeled the foreign policy of "perpetual war for perpetual peace."
This, of course, has to be contrasted with the current day neo-conservatives, or media conservatives. For these conservatives, it’s all about more and more foreign entanglements. The more, the better. This is the exact opposite of the Old Right.
So when WaPo says that Ron Paul is the "true conservative", and this is what they are saying: That most conservatives are not neo-cons and that they are anti-war, small government conservatives, that is, Old Right conservatives.
Here is Aaron Blake in WaPo this morning:
Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum are fighting for the right to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney.
But they both lost that battle in Nevada – to Ron Paul.
Entrance polls from Saturday’s Nevada caucuses show Romney racking up huge wins among the vast majority of demographics, which isn’t surprising given that he took about 50 percent of the vote.
But the one demographic that is supposed to be Gingrich’s and Santorum’s bread and butter – people looking for the “true conservative” in the race – didn’t go for either one of them.
Which begs the question: Just what is the argument for their candidacies right now?
The entrance polls show about one in five voters said the most important attribute they want to see in a candidate is that he is a “true conservative.”
Among those voters, Romney took just 4 percent – a showing that lends credence to the idea that there is room for a true conservative alternative.
But those voters didn’t spurn Romney for Gingrich or Santorum; instead, they went for Paul, who won the demographic with about 40 percent.
Now, it’s fair to point out that Nevada is one of the more libertarian states in the country, so it’s not surprising that Nevada Republicans’ idea of a “true conservative” might be different from other states.
But this is really a must-have demographic for Gingrich and Santorum, and the fact that neither of them tapped it is bad news for their campaigns and their cases for pressing forward.
Exit and entrance polls give voters four options for their top priority in picking a candidate – that they can beat President Obama, that they have the right experience, that they have strong moral character and that they are the true conservative in the field.
With the exception of South Carolina, where Gingrich won, it has become clear that Romney is viewed as the candidate most prepared to beat Obama; he has won this demographic with huge majorities in every state except the one, and this is easily the most popular priority with GOP voters so far.
Romney has also shown himself to be strong enough in both of the other two most-important demographics: moral character and experience.
The “true conservative” vote, then, is really the only one where he is going to cede big votes. It’s a necessary – if not sufficient – demographic for any would-be anti-Romney candidate.
But if a significant amount of these voters are going to Paul, then Gingrich and Santorum have no chance.
Whoa baby, the Old Right is alive and kicking, and WaPo has discovered it!
Reprinted with permission from Economic Policy Journal.