In a recent interview on Sean Hannity’s show, Ann Coulter zeroed in on Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas) as one of the least conservative candidates in the 2012 Republican presidential primary field. She specifically cited his foreign policy.
For 50 years, the Republican Party, and American conservatism with it, have been moving towards an ever more interventionist foreign policy. Paul, through his focus on individual liberty, has rightfully been an outspoken critic of this penchant for global gallivanting. Because of his non-interventionist foreign policy, Paul is easily the most conservative candidate in the field.
In 1952, Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio challenged the hero of D-Day, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, for the Republican nomination. Taft was narrowly defeated, and Eisenhower went on to occupy his final post on Pennsylvania Avenue. What was truly defeated at the Republican National Convention that year was the idea that it was conservative, and even patriotic, to be skeptical of involving the United States in the affairs of other nations.
Taft was a conservative of the Old Right. He believed the greatest threat to America was overreaching government which he saw exemplified in the New Deal. While others in his party saw the threat of Communism everywhere, he saw the deeper threat as the undermining of traditional American principles during the energetic presidencies of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman.
“Throughout his political career, Taft sought to preserve what he regarded as an ‘American way of life’ in which the liberty of individual Americans would be circumscribed only by the rule of the law,” wrote Michael T. Hayes in a 2004 article for The Independent Review.
In other words, allegiance goes first to the individual and his pursuit of his own goals. This is the only sense in which the American ideal, at least for Taft, can be realized. We are not a nation devoted to a single, common purpose or mission. Rather, we are a collection of individuals pursuing various ends. The political must begin, under this way of thinking, with the individual, not the group or nation.
Until Paul rose to prominence, particularly in the last two presidential election cycles, conservatives seem to have forgotten this basic premise. Paul is rightfully called the “champion of liberty” precisely because his foreign policy views are close to that of conservative Taft. While many on the right hold Reagan as the apogee of conservatism, Paul has tapped into a long-dormant strain of conservatism that believes our involvement in the affairs of others only adds to insecurity for our own citizens here at home.
Paul’s concern over the policies of the post-war decades is not an indication that he is naïve or narrow-minded. Instead, he subjugates all other concerns to this primary one – that of the individual. If policy subsumes the citizen into the machinery of the state as just another nameless cog, it is in direct contradiction to his understanding of the legitimate use of power as allowed by the Constitution, and he opposes it. The fact that he has earned the reputation as “Dr. No” is not an indication of a cantankerous attitude. It is an indication that government, whether Republican or Democratic, has gone too far.
Since the defeat of Taft in 1952, the Old Right has been shouted down by the New Right. From Iran in 1953 to Chile twenty years later, Republicans have lost sight of the value not of isolationism, but of non-intervention, a key distinction. The post-war administrations have had to handle the new reality that came along with America’s rise to power and, in so doing, have lost sight of basic American principles. Paul’s legacy will be the resuscitation of Taft’s and the Old Right’s belief in Washington’s far-sighted admonition.
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