In the real world of domestic politics, Republicans have a tougher
road to hoe than Democrats. So, why do they always want to make it
harder on themselves?
They begin the battle for ideas with several PR strikes against them,
so they have to be just a little bit smarter when it comes to selling
their ideas. The trouble is, they aren’t.
Just think about it. Republicans are always depicted as mean-spirited
ogres, and the liberal press does everything it can to further that
Instead of being properly portrayed as champions of liberty,
Republicans are fraudulently accused of:
- wanting to starve school children and deprive the elderly of
their Medicare benefits;
- condoning violence in society and schools by opposing gun control
- promoting corruption in government by refusing to enact campaign
finance reform measures;
- being racists for opposing affirmative action;
- being uncompassionate towards the poor because of welfare reform;
- increasing the ranks of the homeless through their inhumane
- being intolerant for espousing moral absolutes, traditional
family values and failing to support gay rights legislation;
- being in the pocket of big tobacco companies because they oppose
government-initiated lawsuits designed to circumvent the proper
- sabotaging education and children because they oppose educational
decisions being made by the federal government;
- being insensitive and disrespectful towards women’s rights
because they oppose the murder of babies in the womb;
- being greedy because they advocate lower marginal income tax
rates and abolition of the Federal Estate Tax.
You’ll notice that all of the above positions have to do with
domestic policy. But not long ago, Republicans were considered ogres on
foreign policy issues, too. During the Cold War, Republicans were
generally chastised as warmongers and paranoids for their hard-line
approach to Communism.
But with the Reagan-engineered victory in the Cold War and the
Bush-led triumph in the Gulf War, Republicans have vindicated themselves
and have pretty much owned foreign policy issues.
President Clinton took office with a draft-dodging cloud hanging over
him and with little foreign policy mandate. Since taking office, he has
gutted the military budget while expanding our overseas commitments. He
has rarely met an instance of foreign unrest that he believed was
inappropriate for U.S. intervention.
Clinton’s foreign policy has been as aimless as it has been
ambitious. In very few of his internationalist adventures has he
bothered to articulate a justification for our intervention, least of
all the vital security interests of the U.S.
Last week, Clinton’s national security adviser, Sandy Berger, in a
speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, expanded on a
theme first propounded by President Clinton after the Senate rejected
his nuclear test ban treaty. The theme: Republicans have fallen into a
Well, the charge has been made. Are the Republicans good for it?
Of course not, and Clinton knows better. But “isolationism” has a
negative ring to it. It fits nicely into the portrait Clinton and
liberals always try to paint of Republicans.
The intended implication is that Republican capitalists care only
about themselves and have no compassion for the less fortunate in their
own country, much less for those in other nations.
But the truth is that before Clinton called Republicans
isolationists, Republicans were accusing each other of the same thing.
As I have written before, certain Republicans have denigrated other
Republicans who opposed the Kosovo intervention as Buchananites, meaning
All Republicans, both hawks and doves, believe that U.S. military
intervention in foreign countries is appropriate only when our vital
national interests are at stake, though they don’t always agree to when
Before the Clinton pejorative “isolationists” sticks, Republicans
should try to forge a consensus as to what constitutes our vital
national interests. Do we have an interest, for example, in Serbia but
not in Rwanda? Why?
Those who refuse to ratify nuclear treaties that may result in our
unilateral disarmament or that surrender decisions concerning our
nuclear security to international bodies cannot fairly be called
isolationists. They are patriots.
Republicans cannot prevent Bill Clinton from mischaracterizing their
positions, but they don’t need to aid and abet him. But unless they get
about the business of defining themselves on foreign policy beyond this
nuclear treaty, Clinton will define them by default.