On Wednesday, Dick Morris said Ron Paul is “the most liberal, radical, left-wing person to run for president in the United States in the last 50 years.” Actually, Ron Paul is the most conservative person to run for president in the last 50 years. Understanding this first requires at least a minimal understanding of traditional American conservatism.
Morris made his case for Paul’s “left-wing radicalism” on “The O’Reilly Factor”:
Nobody else wants to dismantle the military, including Obama, but he does. Even Obama doesn’t want to repeal the Patriot Act. But he does. Even Obama doesn’t say that we caused 9/11 and brought it on ourselves. But Ron Paul does. Even Obama doesn’t want to legalize heroin and cocaine, but Ron Paul does. This guy is no conservative. This guy is an ultra, ultra-left-wing radical.
Paul’s Pentagon cuts, which aren’t much different from what Sen. Tom Coburn has suggested, are necessary to streamline our military and tackle our debt problem. Coburn has allies besides Paul in this fight, or as National Review’s Jamie Fly writes:
FreedomWorks, a Washington-based group that purports to speak for the Tea Party movement, issued its own “Tea Party Budget” containing the recommendations of its debt commission. They suggested enacting defense-spending reforms previously proposed by Sen. Tom Coburn that would result in almost $1 trillion in savings over ten years.
There’s a reason that Paul is the only presidential candidate who has been able to offer $1 trillion in cuts. He is the only candidate willing to address the black hole that is Pentagon spending. After entitlements, “defense” spending is the largest part of our budget. Still, Paul allows for a military budget four times the size of China’s and larger than President Bush’s 2005 military budget.
This is what Morris calls “dismantling the military.”
As a constitutional conservative in reality and not just rhetoric, Ron Paul also believes the Fourth Amendment is as important to protect as any other. He opposes the Patriot Act on these constitutional grounds. His son Sen. Rand Paul along with Sen. Mike Lee valiantly fought against the Patriot Act’s renewal in November on the same premise.
Does Morris believe tea party Republicans Paul and Lee are also “radical left-wingers”?
Ron Paul has suggested that constant American sanctions and military interventions in the Middle East contributed to hostility toward the U.S. which created a more potent environment for 9/11. Who else says this? The CIA and the 9/11 Commission Report.
But since we’re discussing conservatism, let’s take a look at what Russell Kirk had to say about this subject. For those unfamiliar with Kirk (pay attention here, Morris), Bill Buckley once said: “It is inconceivable even to imagine, let alone hope for, a dominant conservative movement in America without [Kirk’s] labor.” Kirk is the person most credited with popularizing the term “conservative” with his groundbreaking 1953 book The Conservative Mind. In a speech before The Heritage Foundation in 1991, Kirk had this to say about President George H.W. Bush and the possible future consequences of the Persian Gulf War:
We must expect to suffer during a very long period of widespread hostility toward the United States — even, or perhaps especially, from the people of certain states that America bribed or bullied into combining against Iraq. In Egypt, in Syria, in Pakistan, in Algeria, in Morocco, in all of the world of Islam, the masses now regard the United States as their arrogant adversary …
“Expect to suffer”? Is Russell Kirk “blaming America” here? Or was Kirk predicting 9/11? Either way, Kirk was making a basic conservative observation about human nature (his forte). Conservatives generally agree that any government intervention — taxes, regulations, abusive TSA agents — affect human behavior in multiple ways. But the most intense action any government can take — the decision to wage war — produces no similar human reaction?
The CIA disagrees. So did Russell Kirk.
Morris criticizes Paul for wanting to end the federal war on drugs. Bill Buckley and Milton Friedman also wanted to end the federal war on drugs. Are Buckley and Friedman “radical left-wingers” too?
For basically every position Morris calls “liberal” or “radically left-wing” you can find some of the most prominent and respected names in American conservatism agreeing with Paul.
Morris’s mistake is definitional. What Morris calls “conservatism” is simply the current conventional Republicanism. One does not necessarily equal the other. Ask Barry Goldwater. Ask Ronald Reagan. Ask Ron Paul.
Morris has spent the better part of this election defending his favorite conventional Republican, Newt Gingrich. Apparently Gingrich’s support for individual healthcare mandates, TARP, amnesty, Planned Parenthood funding, gun control, climate change legislation with Nancy Pelosi and education initiatives with Al Sharpton do not disqualify Newt as a conservative in the mind of Morris.
Domestic liberalism is obviously of little concern to Morris, but that Paul would dare challenge current Republican foreign policy orthodoxy — this means Paul is the “most left-wing person to run for president.” Not surprisingly, Gingrich calls Paul “worse than Obama” on similar grounds.
Here’s where Morris and Gingrich really show their ignorance. Writes The Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart:
Washington Republicans and political pundits keep depicting Paul as some kind of ideological mutation, the conservative equivalent of a black swan. They’re wrong. Ask any historically-minded conservative who the most conservative president of the 20th Century was, and they’ll likely say Calvin Coolidge. No president tried as hard to make the federal government irrelevant. It’s said that Coolidge was so terrified of actually doing something as president that he tried his best not even to speak. But in 1925, Silent Cal did open his mouth long enough to spell out his foreign policy vision, and what he said could be emblazoned on a Ron Paul for President poster: “The people have had all the war, all the taxation, and all the military service they want.”
Ronald Reagan’s hero was Calvin Coolidge, who was far closer to the conservatism Paul represents than Morris’s conventional Republican brand. Much has been made about the fact that Paul criticized Reagan in 1988 and bolted to run third party out of disgust with the Republican Party. Yet, Paul’s beef was not that he was against the Reagan Revolution, only that it had failed to live up to its promise in terms of shrinking government. Paul was one of only four congressmen to endorse Reagan in 1976. So Paul was one of Reagan’s earliest supporters — and later his criticism was that Reagan wasn’t “Reagan” enough. To this day, Paul remains to the right of Reagan on government size and scope — hardly a “left-wing” position.
But where Paul did admire Reagan in the mid-to-late ’80s is where Newt Gingrich and other Republican hawks most certainly did not. When Paul says today that we should always exhaust all diplomatic efforts before going to war — with Iran, for example — Paul’s Republican critics call him “weak” or an “appeaser.” They said the same about Reagan. When Reagan met with Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985, Gingrich called it “the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Chamberlain in 1938 at Munich.”
Reagan was obviously a “left-wing radical” appeaser, much like Paul is accused of being today.
It could be reasonably argued that Reagan was the second-most conservative person to run for president in the last 50 years after Paul, whose strict constitutionalism no doubt continues to create controversy. Either way, both Reagan and Paul always agreed wholeheartedly with the man who personified American conservatism for the last half-century, Barry Goldwater, that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”
Dick Morris obviously disagrees with Goldwater. Ron Paul obviously does not. Neither do most conservatives.
Jack Hunter writes at the “Paulitical Ticker,” where he is the official Ron Paul 2012 campaign blogger.