I first became a conservative by listening to Rush Limbaugh as a teenager, a habit I picked up from my mother. Those were exciting times, and I remember Limbaugh, the fiery outsider, supporting renegade Republican Pat Buchanan and his presidential challenge to incumbent George H.W. Bush in 1992.
Four years later, I supported Buchanan’s 1996 presidential campaign, which Rush would have no part of, and as the years went by I would continue to support conservatives who challenged the status quo — while my one-time radio hero seemed to become more comfortable with it. For the next decade I spent my time looking for the next Buchanan, while Rush would reflexively defend George W. Bush and constantly praise Donald Rumsfeld. He even broke his no-interviews rule for an hour-long interview with Karl Rove.
In 2007, I found my new Buchanan: Ron Paul. After the GOP presidential debate in Iowa last week, Limbaugh said the following about Paul on his program: “I’m sorry, but this Ron Paul is going to destroy this party … this is nuts on parade …” Limbaugh criticized Paul’s foreign policy and particularly the Texas congressman’s hands-off position towards Iran. But Limbaugh did not criticize the positions taken by the other candidates — many of whom strongly implied that war with Iran would be necessary to prevent its regime from promoting terrorism or producing weapons of mass destruction.
Launching full-scale wars with Middle Eastern nations to fight terrorism or to find weapons of mass destruction? Haven’t we been there before? It was the Iraq War and the foreign policy of George W. Bush that destroyed the Republican Party. Why did Barack Obama try to fashion himself as the “peace candidate” in 2008? Because he knew the war was unpopular with the American people. Now that Obama’s wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya are just as unpopular, why would it destroy the Republican Party to oppose them?
Bush’s foreign policy not only destroyed the Republican Party, it all but obliterated conservatism. Why did Republicans go along with Bush’s big-government agenda, which nearly doubled the size of government and the debt? Because at the time foreign policy was the only thing Republicans cared about: “Bush kept us safe,” we were told. When critics asked why Bush spent so much money, even self-described conservatives would say, “Well, we were fighting two wars.”
Now that “Obama keeps us safe” by fighting three wars, Republican presidential candidates from Rick Perry to Rick Santorum want a fourth war with Iran.
Who, exactly, are the “nuts on parade” again?
The Seattle Times’s Bruce Ramsey explains what Republican sanity might look like:
“I don’t like the idea of Iran having a nuclear weapon any more than I like the idea of Pakistan having one. But Pakistan does have one. India has one. China has one. Russia has one. Israel has one. If Iran has one, maybe it won’t feel so threatened, and it will have a good effect on its government’s behavior. Maybe not. Anyway, if the leaders of Iran want a nuclear weapon the president of the United States is not in a position to guarantee they won’t get one, short of starting a war … Santorum is saying he’ll start a war with Iran.”
Ramsey then notes the soberness of Paul’s position:
“Paul begins by allowing that Iran has militants, but says lots of countries have militants, and the Iranian ones are not much different. Then he says: PAUL: ‘Iran does not have an air force that can come here. They can’t even make enough gasoline for themselves…’ People like Santorum, he said, are ‘building up the case just like we did with Iraq. Build up the war propaganda! There was no al Qaida in Iraq. And they had nuclear weapons, and we had to go in! I’m sure you supported that war as well. It’s time we quit this. It’s trillions of dollars we’re spending on these wars.’”
Like Pat Buchanan, Paul was one of the few conservatives who opposed the Iraq War, saying Saddam Hussein didn’t threaten the U.S., had nothing to do with 9/11 and the evidence for weapons of mass destruction was shoddy at best. Most conservatives called both Buchanan and Paul crazy. Those “conservatives” were quickly proved dead wrong.
Buchanan and Paul now make similar predictions about the supposed threat posed by Iran, and the same Republicans — from Limbaugh to Santorum — are still calling them crazy. Based on what? Certainly not history, experience or facts.
As the Tea Party continues to prove, any genuine move toward substantive limited government necessarily requires a major and even unconventional reassessment of government policy. When Paul notes that “it’s trillions of dollars we’re spending on these wars,” any true fiscal hawk worth his salt would at least give pause to consider whether these expensive wars are really worth it. Cost-benefit analyses are inherently conservative. Blind and reckless wastefulness is not.
But like Democrats’ attitude toward welfare, too many Republicans refuse to be the least bit reflective about foreign policy — even though their reflexive zeal to support any war despite the cost is exactly what enabled the GOP to become the party of big government throughout the last decade.
Limbaugh says listening to Ron Paul will destroy the GOP. But Rush Limbaugh and George W. Bush already did that. If conservatism is to survive, Rush needs to start listening to Ron — and so does the rest of the Republican Party.
Jack Hunter writes at the “Paulitical Ticker,” where he is the official Ron Paul 2012 campaign blogger.