“What was the difference between Nixon and Humphrey on Vietnam?” he asked, referring to the previous Presidential election and the war that was still raging in Southeast Asia and a world that was still awaiting Nixon’s plan for ending it “with honor. ” I was at a loss to tell him. Both were hawks. Both defended essentially the course we had been on in Vietnam for the previous four years.
To show you how little things have changed since my college days, at the end of the fabled decade of the 1960s antiwar demonstrations, Justin Raimondo, editor of Antiwar.com, makes the same complaint today. The antiwar voters have been effectively disenfranchised, he says. He cites, with good reason, the recent special congressional election in District 23 in upstate New York. There, in staunch Republican territory, the Grand Old Party decided to emulate the Democrats by nominating someone who could actually make the Democratic candidate appear the lesser of two evils, assuming there was enough distinction between them to search for a lesser evil. Indeed, it would be hard to tell which was Abomination and which was Abomination Lite.
Both favored the economic “stimulus” and national health care. Both favored abortion “rights” and “gay rights.” To appreciate how hard a time you would have fitting a facial tissue between them, consider that the Democratic candidate, Bill Owens, favors civil unions for same-sex couples, while his Republican opponent, Deirdre Scozzafava, favored marriage for same-sex couples. Neither would think of defending an institution as fundamental as marriage by calling a perversion a perversion. It was the kind of race neoconservative Bill Buckley once likened to a “debate between the Smith Brothers over cough drops.”
So the conservative “base” of the GOP bolted and went to the New York Conservative Party and got a candidate named Doug Hoffman, an accountant. Imagine livening up a political race by bringing in an accountant! But he succeeded in knocking the Republican abomination out of the race. On the weekend before the election, Scozzafava dropped out and showed her true colors by endorsing the Democrat, Owens. Until that point, her candidacy was not only an echo of the left-liberal Democratic Party establishment, it was dividing the GOP nationally. Former Alaska Governor and Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin weighed in with an endorsement of the Conservative Party candidate, Hoffman, as did Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. Both Palin and Pawlenty hope to be formidable candidates for the Republican nomination for President in 2012. So does former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who urged Republicans to support the party candidate and at least pretend that Scozzafava was the lesser abomination and a reason to vote against the Democrat by supporting Suzie Soundalike.
At least Hoffman, who eventually lost to Owens in a close race, gave voters a choice. Except, as Raimondo pointed out, on the war front. All three candidates backed the Bush wars, which have become the Obama wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. All wanted to “support our troops” in Afghanistan by sending another 40,000 of them there, as requested by General Stanley McChrystal. All support the “war on terror.” The antiwar voter had no choice.
Now that probably does not bother a great many Republican voters, who are in the habit of seeing antiwar voters as either appeasers or incurable leftists, and they can go to the Democratic Party. But the Democrats may generally be counted on to support Republican wars and vice-versa. And antiwar voters are not all leftists. Certainly Justin Raimondo is not. Pat Buchanan is not. Ron Paul is not. Nor is Chuck Baldwin, the 2008 presidential candidate of the Constitution Party. Bob Barr, the former Republican congressman from Georgia who ran for president last year as the candidate of the Libertarian Party, has not emerged from the “closet” as a flaming Socialist. But many Republicans and Democrats are oblivious to political nuance.
And many are blissfully ignorant of history. They know not that the right was antiwar when the left was not and the New Left of the 1960s had not yet been born. Republicans wanted to stay out of World War I. So did most Americans. That is why Woodrow Wilson was reelected in 1916 on the slogan: “He kept us out of war!” Then, of course, he led us into war only two months into his second term. After that global conflict, Republicans became even more convinced that we should heed the wisdom of Washington and Jefferson and stay out of the conflicts of the Old World and stick to our knitting in the new. They were ridiculed and derided as “isolationists” or even “copperheads,” an epithet used in the Civil War against those who either sympathized with the seceding states or were thought insufficiently supportive of the union cause. But the “isolationists” harkened back not only to the Founders, but also to later clear thinkers like John Quincy Adams, who said: “America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” He further proclaimed America as “a friend of liberty everywhere, but the champion and vindicator only of our own.”
Yet today the United States sends troops everywhere and we speak glibly about defending our freedoms, seeming not to notice that the nations we invade and the people we kill and give reason to try to kill us were not attacking our freedom and independence when we left this land to fly over oceans and continents to attack theirs.
“We’re not killing civilians, we’re spreading democracy,” said Sarah Palin last year in the debate of the vice presidential candidates. The political ingenue was new to the national stage, but was too old and experienced to be talking such childish nonsense. You could count the bodies of those we were killing a lot more easily than you could number the people who have been persuaded to become democrats by the example of our force, rather than the force of our example. We were and are killing civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere, often with unmanned bombers, called “drones.” And people who had done nothing to us are understandably furious and wonder why we rain down death and destruction on them.
And all of this goes on without a declaration of war by Congress, which is mentally and permanently out to lunch. So we are “spreading democracy” by ignoring our own Constitution. Some voters, including antiwar voters, may have noticed that, even though Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, and the spotted Newt apparently never have — and likely never will.