As Ying Ma of Forbes writes, some of Paul’s elected colleagues – most notably Sen. John McCain and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – are stuck in the past, “mired in the unhappy legacy of President George W. Bush.” That’s where many of the attacks on more forward-thinking Senators like Paul are coming from. And the party won’t move forward until they decide to come with.
“Republicans cannot move past that legacy by taking potshots at libertarians and Tea Partyers who question the prevailing GOP wisdom on domestic and foreign policy issues. Instead, the party will have to resolve internal differences and chart a more coherent course for foreign policy. Welcoming the newcomers who articulate and apply conservative principles to the nation’s priorities would be a great start.”
So at the core of all these recent foreign policy debates – Syria intervention and Egyptian aid, first and foremost – is essentially a generational gap. A tug of war between new and old, isolationism and international interventionism. And with somewhat of vacuum in the Republican leadership right now, the fresh voices of Paul and similar Tea Partiers have been the ones rejecting the old George W. Bush-style of foreign policy.
“Along the way, [Rand and others] have infused some much-needed intellectual rigor and resurrected conservative principles – such as prudence and skepticism of large government undertakings – in the GOP’s foreign policy debate…If conservatives accept that intrusive government solutions (like welfare programs) have created inefficiencies and unintended consequences, they should not be surprised by objections to massive government undertakings in the foreign policy realm.”
Paul’s more isolationist-leaning stance stands out even more so after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As Ma writes, the cost of those wars, the number of American lives lost, the “sloppy rhetoric,” and the belief that “democracy would materialize in unfree places as long as Americans mouthed the word ‘freedom’ frequently and fervently”; it’s led to welcome criticism of that philosophy in the years since.
Ultimately, Ma argues, this kind of intra-party debate should be welcomed by the Republicans, since it’s what made them so formidable in the first place.
“Chris Christie may think that it is sufficient to dismiss Rand Paul and his allies in Congress as engaging in ‘esoteric, intellectual debates,’ and has noted that the Republican Party is not ‘a debating society’ but a ‘political operation that needs to win.’ Those with longer memories know well that the modern conservative movement, which helped bring to victory conservatives like President Reagan, was founded on a body of ideas that could withstand rigorous debate.”
Paul most certainly will continue pushing this new (and increasingly popular) line of thought. Which means the back-and-forth between he and the W. Bush-era foreign policy wonks will probably continue as well. But that’s the beauty of democracy: The best ideas will ultimately come out on top.
Right now though, it looks like the GOPers of old may soon find themselves (and their ideas) left in the dust.
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