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How To Judge A Political Candidate

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"The voice of government is saying that if our foreign policy fails we are ruined. It is all or nothing. Our survival as a free nation is at hazard.

"That makes it simple, for in that case there is no domestic policy that may not have to be sacrificed to the necessities of foreign policy -- even freedom."

I love quoting Garrett: he is so modern. His words cited above, although they could have been written yesterday, were set down in 1952, at the height of the cold war. Nothing changes much, as far as US foreign policy is concerned: in Garrett's day, it was the commies who were the Big Threat. Today it is those awful Terrorists -- except, of course, when they're our terrorists.

The NDAA, the "Patriot" Act, the exponential growth of the huge domestic spying apparatus that has grown up post-9/11, and the out-of-control federal budget are all examples of how Garrett's principle of subordination plays out in practice.

Anti-interventionist political candidates are routinely pushed to the margins, both by the party leadership and the media: the classic example is the treatment accorded Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich. The former was deemed an impossible creature, an antiwar Republican, and therefore rendered invisible by "mainstream" media outlets until it became even more impossible to ignore him. Kucinich was simply characterized as a kook, and was finally expunged from Congress by the party leadership after getting redistricted out of his seat and losing a primary.

Of course, no politician wants to be thought of as a warmonger -- unless you're, say, Lindsay Graham, or Joe Lieberman. For all the rest, though, it's important to be seen as being willing to exhaust all measure short of war before pulling the trigger. For while the elites in the political class and the media all adhere to the bipartisan interventionist consensus, which makes no bones about Washington's willingness to go to war at the drop of a hat, the American people require a bit of convincing under normal circumstances.

So the canny politician must walk a fine line between the interventionist party line and the popular desire for peace -- the latter being particularly acute at the moment, after more than a decade of constant warfare. He must find a way to include himself in the bipartisan "consensus" while still paying at least lip service to the anti-interventionist prejudices of his constituents. The way to finesse this is by endorsing economic sanctions -- always the prelude to war, as Bastiat noted, but not involving shooting quite yet.

It's easy to justify this, at least superficially, even from an ostensibly "anti-interventionist" perspective: simply characterize the sanctions as a behavior-modification program, one that will deter the target from pursuing policies deemed detrimental to US interests. As to what happens when the target country continues to defy US diktats, our canny politician will cross that bridge when he comes to it, and not a moment sooner. For by that time, the war fever will be at such a high pitch that his own capitulation will be unsurprising. His own constituents may be swept up in it, as the War Party's propaganda campaign goes into high gear, and the political price he'll pay for going along with the tide will be negligible.

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Aside from that, however, sanctions are in themselves acts of war: economic warfare can be just as deadly as the shoot-to-kill variety, as the hundreds of thousands of victims of Iraqi sanctions testify from beyond the grave.

Another way for a smart politician to finesse the anti-interventionist sentiments of his supporters is to insist, whenever we start (or contemplate) bombing or subverting some country targeted for regime-change, on a formal declaration of war. Now I know Ron Paul has done this, but he has always given voice to this view with the clear intent of wanting the opportunity to vote no. Yet one prominent "anti-interventionist" politician has taken to criticizing Mitt Romney for averring he won't need congressional approval for an attack on Iran -- without, however, noting how he would vote on the war resolution.

Speaking of which, another way to judge a political candidate or sitting officeholder is to see what kinds of alliances and political endorsements he (or she) makes. A good example of how a principled anti-interventionist handles this question is to observe the behavior of Rep. Ron Paul, who has never endorsed an interventionist for any office. He refused to endorse John McCain, last time around, and neither will he endorse Romney this time.

The office of the presidency has become so powerful, especially in the foreign policy realm, that America's chief executive can indeed take the country to war without a vote of Congress, and without the consent of the people. To endorse a candidate for this office who, in advance, advertises his interventionist views, is to take moral responsibility for those policies once they are implemented: it is, in short, to give a green light to mass murder.

And not only that: Since "war is the health of the state," as Randolph Bourne put it, and every war involves a "great leap forward" in the State's power and potency, endorsing such a candidate is to objectively endorse domestic policies -- high taxation, inflation, increased government power on every level -- that are part of the package. This is how an entire generation of "conservative" lawmakers, ostensibly devoted to "limiting government," turned into the biggest spenders in American history, repealed the Bill of Rights, and drove us into bankruptcy.

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We get little or no relief if we turn to the "liberal" side of the political spectrum. For there are only a limited number of "stimulus" projects and other boondoggles that can be initiated and funded by the government. Road-building, child-care centers, free cheese, etc., these programs have a limited constituency, and when the government runs out of projects it turns, in the end, to the ultimate boondoggle -- the military. In the end, what passes for the "left," these days, is happy to trade domestic civilian boondoggles for the overseas military boondoggles favored by conservatives.

In an imperial State, such as we live in today, the political system is biased in favor of more and bigger government, simply because a global empire is not the same creature as a republic of free men and women. The former requires constant infusions of large amounts of tax dollars just in order to maintain its intricate architecture, which needs constant support and re-buttressing so that it doesn't topple of its own weight. Faced with the constant threat of bankruptcy, as well as the permanent threat of rebellion, an empire is always in a state of crisis, one generated by its very nature as an unnatural phenomenon which owes its very existence to violence or the threat of it.

This built-in pro-war bias is why compromise, in the political arena, is the biggest danger to the anti-interventionist movement. With the system already stacked against us, any concessions to the War Party tend to push ostensibly anti-interventionist political figures down the slippery slope to complete capitulation. Having voted for economic sanctions against, say, Iran, one is hard-pressed to come up with a reason to oppose going to war -- or else what threat were the sanctions addressing?

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (ISI, 2008), (more...)

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End all wars.  Employ diplomacy to the grea... by Daniel Geery on Sunday, Jun 24, 2012 at 2:06:02 PM