Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Identity Politics

I'm thinking seriously, to my own bemusement, about subscribing in one way or another to The American Conservative, which has so many smart articles on its site that I think it deserves my (limited) substantial support.  Sure, it also has a lot of dumb articles, but so do the lefty-liberal magazines I subscribe or have subscribed to.   The quality of the good stuff at TAC is high enough to make me think they've earned some of my money.  I'll think about it some more, and I should at least put Daniel Larison on my blogroll.

Today I read an article (posted yesterday) at TAC, "Recovering the Founders' Foreign Policy," by Philip Giraldi, identified at the end of the post as "a former CIA officer" and "executive director of the Council for the National Interest."  Those wanting to recover the Founders' foreign policy might very well want to begin by abolishing the CIA, and I don't think I trust any non-profit whose name invokes the National Interest, just as I distrust groups like Human Rights Campaign, whose name was deliberately chosen to disguise the fact that it was founded to campaign for gay rights.  But the article is interesting anyway.  For example:
The irrepressible Sarah Palin, much beloved by faux conservatives and the Tea Parties, as well as anyone else willing to cough up her reported $100,000 speaking fee, meanwhile told a National Rifle Association convention audience that those jihadis who are out to get us have to learn that if she were president “waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.” The audience roared. I am an experienced gun owner myself and consider it a fundamental constitutional right, but I would also note that the freedom of all Americans has been under unrelenting attack for the past thirteen years with little or no resistance from the heavily-armed populace, which compels one to ask: “What are they waiting for?” And, more seriously, when handing out assault rifles and chattering about torturing people to produce a laugh come center stage, it is time to stop and consider whether or not we have finally entered the twilight zone.
But then, quite a few conservatives don't like Palin, more I think for class-related reasons than anything else, and I consider that the US entered the Twilight Zone long ago.  I like this passage anyway -- his question "What are they waiting for?" is one that I've asked myself -- and much of Giraldi's discussion is worth thinking about. 

Still, he stumbles a few paragraphs later:
I will largely pass over progressives (as liberals currently refer to themselves since the “L” word has fallen out of favor) because they are now sadly in power in Washington and are demonstrating their utter cluelessness. 
Obama, Clinton, Kerry, Rice, and their ilk are not progressives (even granting the term as a euphemism for "liberal") or liberals.  As Obama himself has pointed out, in any country but the US he'd be categorized as a conservative.  I'd place him farther to the right than that, with his deficit-hawk policies and initiatives and his fondness for Ronald Reagan.  And it has often been noted that those who call themselves "conservatives" nowadays are mostly radical statists like Reagan himself.  I don't think any of the people Giraldi is referring to would call themselves liberals either, let alone progressives.  But I don't dispute the "cluelessness" of those "in power" -- that pretty much seems to go with the territory.

Better if Giraldi followed his own advice about the "tyranny of labels": "for too many of the political class, ideological packaging conditions and ultimately trumps sensible policies."
Ironically there is quite a lot that most Americans would probably agree about if one could get past the ideological divisions and return to the initial organization of the federal government by the Founders. What did they expect from the newly minted War Department and the Department of State? According to the Preamble to the Constitution, the federal government exists “for promotion of the general welfare” of all citizens. Both war and relations with foreigners were seen as instruments that, when needed, were intended to benefit the American people. The tendency to introduce other extraneous agendas and interests through the conflation of defense and foreign policy into a “national security” package is a relatively recent development.
I don't think many people really would want to return to the policies of the Founders, but I do think it could be useful to look carefully at what they thought foreign and other policies should be, reading more of the Constitution than the Preamble, and at what they did when they actually came into power.  "Foreign policy" would have to take into account matters like relations with the American Indians, the Louisiana Purchase, the War of 1812, and the Monroe Doctrine.  All of these, and more, would probably complicate the picture painted by the principles originally set down in the Constitution, especially as Giraldi thinks of them.

Besides, the Constitution doesn't give a complete account of what the new government would have to do.  As Roger D. Hodge wrote a couple of years ago, "there is nothing in the Constitution about banks, since banks were a common subject of political controversy, as was the question of money.  As it happens, banks were popular inside the convention but extremely unpopular outside it; leaving banks out of the document can be seen as a tactical maneuver, to eliminate a potential obstacle to ratification" (The Mendacity of Hope, HarperCollins 2010, p. 106).  That bit about "popular inside the [Constitutional] convention but extremely unpopular outside it" is a reminder that not all the American people have the same interests, and that what is commonly called "the national interest" is really the interests of political and business elites.  That hasn't changed since the days of the Founders.

I also suspect that the Indian threat might have comprised a "conflation of defense and foreign policy into a 'national security' package" from the US' beginnings -- not in so many words, perhaps, but as a useful tool to keep citizens anxious and generate national expansion.  It can be argued that the western expansion benefited "the American people" in numerous ways, but its cost to the people they displaced didn't contribute much to white Americans' security.  And, of course, the Monroe Doctrine was dubious as a policy "intended for the benefit of the American people."  I suspect that like many writers, Giraldi thinks of "foreign policy" as referring to dealings with countries on the other sides of the oceans, not those in our own hemisphere.

So looking at the Founders' foreign policy would certainly be educational, though I'm not sure everyone would agree with Giraldi's evident ideas about what one would learn from it.  All the more reason to do it, then.