Webblines

Jim Antle responds at 4Pundits to my critique of his article on Sen. James Webb. A few quick replies of my own: Antle says that I “concede” and “agree with” him that Webb isn’t an economic or social conservative. That’s true in the same sense that I concede and agree with him that the sky is blue. Webb campaigned as a social and economic liberal; he’s voted as a social and economic liberal. The point of my original rejoinder was that there’s nothing surprising here. Antle argues that Webb is like the Daniel Patrick Moynihan of the Right. Yes, ok. But we knew that in 2006.

Jim raises several valid new points in his reply to me: why all the paleo emphasis on Webb when certain other Democrats elected in 2006 are also, like Webb, antiwar and pro-2nd amendment? Jim and I agree (or am I “conceding”?) about the answer: as Jim writes, “Webb’s past political incorrectness, stated and implied, on some of these cultural issues is a big part of the answer.” Or as I said last time, we found the “cultural” conservatism of Jim Webb appealing — understanding, as I took pains to point out, that this “cultural” conservatism actually is about culture and not politics. And in general, as Jim might agree (or concede), Webb is a more colorful, interesting figure than Tester.

Now we get into some points of disagreement. Jim writes, “After agreeing with my argument that Webb is neither an economic or social conservative, Dan finds it ‘strange’ that I would bother to cite evidence for this claim.” Specifically, what I found strange was that Jim would cite the Club for Growth and Family Research Council congressional ratings as his evidence. Jim’s well aware of the defects of both groups. And again, you don’t need to consult a James Dobson scorecard to know that Jim Webb is not a social conservative: Webb told us that himself in the ’06 campaign. Where’s the story here?

To my question, “Would Jim, or other paleocons, rather see more Santorums and fewer Webbs?” he replies, “On some issues, yes. On other issues, no.” That’s not an option we get to choose, unfortunately. As I said last time, if Pat Buchanan were running against Jim Webb, I’d vote for Buchanan. Instead, it was George Allen running against him. Did paleos makes the right choice in rooting for or voting for Webb? I think so. And I would guess that Jim still thinks so, too. There was no antiwar social conservative candidate in that 2006 race, and, unfortunately, there probably won’t be in 2012 either.

Jim makes a few accurate criticisms of Webb on the points where Webb is supposed to be strong: on the Iraq War (Webb hasn’t voted to defund it) and civil liberties (Webb supported FISA). “I don’t want to be too hard on Webb,” Jim writes, “even in those cases he tried to make the best of a bad situation and these are all complicated matters on which his predecessor would have been much worse.” That’s all fair enough; this is where Webb has not performed the way paleos might have expected. But then Jim asks, “wouldn’t it be better for paleos to focus on electing more people like Ron Paul and Jimmy Duncan … ?” I wasn’t aware that Jim Webb was running against Paul or Duncan in the 2006 senate race. Jim knows, on the basis of what he’s written himself, that one can root for Webb in a Virginia Senate race while rooting for the much better Ron Paul and somewhat better Jimmy Duncan (who has his own FISA problems) in Texas and Tennessee. There’s no conflict there. Jim hasn’t shown, or even tried to show, that paleo support for Webb detracts from support for Paul or Duncan.

(That argument can be made: paleos surely do cost themselves credibility among conventional conservatives who may not be die-hard Bushies when they support guys like Webb. Trouble is, conventional conservatives haven’t been listening to paleos in the first place.)

Jim concludes by asserting “the Democratic Congress has mostly been a disaster” (true) and “The fact that Bush and the Republican Congress were no great shakes either is no argument for us to be positively supporting these people.” But paleos were not positively supporting “these people” — we were supporting Jim Webb, who was better than George Allen on the most important issue of the day. We were hoping for divided government, but that’s not the same thing as “positively supporting” Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, except in the roundabout sense that a vote for Webb was an indirect vote for making Reid senate majority leader. Jim concludes, “If the best we can come up with in politics are people we sort of like personally, think are authentic, and have made conservative contributions to the culture until we distracted them by putting them in office, then maybe there are better things for us to be doing with our time. Like stamp collecting.” But that’s not the best we can do, and Webb was better than that in 2006, since he was right on a few issues, including the crucial issue of the war.

Jim knows as well as I do that you can’t get everything you want in real-life politics. If you get mixed up in politics at all, unless you happen to be able to vote for Ron Paul every time, you’re sooner or later going to have to make some tough choices between candidates on both sides with whom you disagree on key issues. Then the question becomes, do you vote for the Family Research Council and Club for Growth candidate or do you vote for the antiwar candidate? Paleos made their choice in 2006. Jim’s article and his response to my feedback don’t convince me that they made the wrong choice.

Is Jim Webb our Daniel Patrick Moynihan? Well, so what if he is: the neocons were right to support Moynihan, who gave them what they wanted on some of their key issues. Paleos who support Webb are making a prudential judgment, too. That’s politics.

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10 thoughts on “Webblines

  1. dylan waco March 19, 2008 / 3:32 pm

    Dan,

    This is interesting reading. I enjoy reading both of you guys in AmCon and other forums, but it seems to me that Antle has what I call “Buchanan syndrome”. That is to say that regardless of what he may openly say, I think he still has loyalties to the Republican Party as a whole. Between this article, the TakiMag article on the Ron Paul movement and the AmCon article on the “paleo dilemma”, the implicit suggestion seems to be “yeah us paleos want certain stuff, but at the end of the day a vote for the Republicans will help things along just fine.”

    Webb is not perfect, but he’s better than the vast majority of elected reps at the national level, and I”m not sure there is anyone in the Senate I would vote for over him.

    Dylan

  2. Daniel McCarthy March 19, 2008 / 5:40 pm

    Well, Jim has written good material on how the neocons have sacrificed other conservative principles to the war, and there’s a subtext here, I think, of paleos doing the same. But that’s just something that has to be admitted: the war is an overriding issue, at least for now, and so both paleos and neocons have made some political choices that they might not otherwise have made. Jim’s point about Webb not turning out to be much good on the National Question is well taken (and well made in his original piece); I’ve been omitting that from my own discussion just because I didn’t expect anything from him in that line anyway.

    I also think that the high tide of paleo enthusiasm for Webb has come and gone. I haven’t seen any paleo encomiums to him lately, though I haven’t really been paying close attention.

  3. Scott Hughes March 19, 2008 / 6:02 pm

    I enjoyed reading this post. I agree with you when you say, “If you get mixed up in politics at all, unless you happen to be able to vote for Ron Paul every time, you’re sooner or later going to have to make some tough choices between candidates on both sides with whom you disagree on key issues.” That’s why I don’t vote. To me, it’s like voting between getting punched in the right side of my face or the left side.

    When you say ‘paleo,’ you’re talking about paleoconservativism, right? What do you see as the main differences between paleoconservativism and libertarianism? To me, libertarianism has always seemed like the most agreeable “right-wing” political philosophy (even though I’m not a right-winger).

  4. dylan waco March 19, 2008 / 6:14 pm

    Scott,

    Libertarianism at the end of the day is a materialist philosophy. It believes that growth is good and industrialization is a net positive. Paleoconservatives tend to put more focus on the “permanent things” and favor stability, culture, and tradition in ways that libertarians would find to be naive and even “statist”.

    Both are primarily decentralist ideologies and they have more similarities than differences regardless of what their respective fringes may say.

    Dylan

  5. W. James Antle III March 20, 2008 / 12:44 am

    Dylan,

    Syndrome or not, Pat Buchanan and I do have two things in common that have a lot to do with some of the positions we take that irritate you:

    1.) We both still care about the old conservative staple issues, in addition to the war and other things that separate us from the rest of the right.

    2.) We both frequently write for mainstream conservative audiences, and are probably the two paleo-ish conservatives who most frequently do so.

    Jim

  6. dylan waco March 20, 2008 / 3:58 am

    Jim,

    I am in no way “irritated” by traditional conservatism. While I have my disagreements with yourself and Mr. Buchanan on certain issues, I have far more in common with both of you, than I have differences with either of you.

    Still, I confess that the single biggest issue for me is war and empire. This was the biggest issue for me when I was a more traditional lefty and it is the biggest issue for me now as someone who considers himself more or less a paleoconservative. Would I vote for someone soley because they oppose the war in Iraq? No. Would I vote for someone who campaigned on a solidly non-interventionist plank, while advocating a massive reduction in “security” spending and departmental growth at home? Absolutely.

    That said, I think it is wrong to assume that I don’t care about some of the “old conservative staple issues” that you suggest “irritate” me. I care a great deal about immigration, size of government, spending, taxes and sovereignty for example (in fact I see all of these things as issues that are directly linked to our horrible foreign policy and the military industrial complex). Furthermore I agree with Buchanan’s editorial in AmCon a few years back that the culture wars ought to be ceded to the states.

    At the end of the day the bulk of my disagreements with you and Mr. Buchanan have to do not with issues but tactics. For whatever reason both of you seem to believe that the Republican Party can still be a vehicle for conservatism. I do not think that is possible at this time and while I see no harm in attempts to move the Republicans our direction, I don’t think it ought to be the only strategy or our primary focus. When I see Bay Buchanan shilling for Mitt Romney because he supposedly has had a change of heart on immigration or Pat Buchanan endorsing Bush’s second term because he’s supposedly good on taxes and judges (being good on taxes and bad on spending is inherently anti-conservative I would argue and the only reason he was good on judges was the pushing of the conservative movement from outside the GOP after the Miers debacle), I find it really hard to find fault with other paleos who may have shilled a little too hard for Jim Webb because of some un-PC statements he made regarding the War of Northern Aggression. Webb has delivered in some areas and not in others. Maybe expectations were too high, but if anything that says more about the modern Republican Party and conservative movement in general than it says about the Webb candidacy or its paleo supporters.

    Again, I appreciate your work on behalf of conservatism. Nonetheless I have my doubts about Paulites taking over a party that has made adherence to perpetual war its litmus test and I see no problem with those who would cross the aisle and look for alliances with Democrats who are solid on war and trade, even if the Club For Growth and Grover Norquist think they are abysmal everywhere else.

    Dylan

  7. Brent Burk March 20, 2008 / 5:08 am

    Wow. I like the debate going on :). Good, healthy debate. We need more of this in America, no?

    I think Dylan is correct, though. The dominating issue that outweighs everything else should be if they are a peace candidate or not. I believe Murray Rothbard had said something about that in Betrayal of the American Right. He supported Stevenson over Eisenhower because he was more of a peace candidate.

    You can’t have the small government, low taxes, strong dollar, etc. when you have a war going on costing billions each week. Those advocates of limited government should know that. When you are given two candidates you have to make a preference in that voting booth.

    However, I suppose I can understand your side of the argument. Why actively talk about a Democrat simply because he is anti-war, especially if you don’t live in that state. Though I assume that a lot of you live in Virginia? So maybe I am wrong.

  8. W. James Antle III March 21, 2008 / 4:52 am

    I’m not trying to assume what anyone else’s views are, I am just stating my own. I appreciate your comments. My disagreements with the Democrats are strong enough to make it hard for me to vote for them. The Republicans are for empire, the Democrats for socialism. I’m very much against both things. I’d let empire trump everything else if I thought socialism would be reversible.

    But you are all right that war is the health of the state. I’m going to vote third party this time out. I could make a case for Obama, McCain or even Hillary. I am just not sure I believe any of those cases. So whether it’s Paul-Barr or Keyes-Badnarik, I’ll vote for the biggest rightish/libertarian third-party effort I can find.

    Eisenhower was actually pretty prudent on foreign policy. I wouldn’t mind him coming back. Murray Rothbard made a lot of important intellectual contributions, but I’m not sure I’d call him a great political strategist.

  9. Daniel McCarthy March 21, 2008 / 5:04 am

    There’s an important article yet-to-be-written about Rothbard as a political strategist — “great” may be going too far, but I know that Pat Buchanan respected Rothbard’s political-strategic acuity. Of course, Mr. B. didn’t win his own races, but still … I don’t think anyone has actually evaluated just how many hits and how many misses Rothbard made in his purely political calls after he left the Libertarian Party.

    I agree that Ike looks pretty good in retrospect, though it was under him that we started sending “advisers” to Vietnam. And of course in his farewell address Ike warned us about the military-industry complex, which he knew had gotten the better of him. He also put Earl Warren on the Supreme Court. Hmm… maybe Ike wasn’t so good after all.

  10. dylan waco March 21, 2008 / 5:24 am

    Jim,

    As an advisor to certain figures Rothbard strikes me as having been a mostly good influence. I doubt blogs like this one or magazines like the American Conservative would have found an audience as easily as they have without his work and efforts.

    As a strategist I think he proved to be pretty awful at times. This is a guy who thought Robert Taft wasn’t pure enough, but had no qualms supporting and working for the ultimate managerial egghead Adlai Stevenson. As anti-war as I am that is a remarkably bizarre position.

    Ike was an interesting guy. He was anti-atomic bomb and the military industrial complex speech is world famous, but he was clearly an ardent inernationalist. I suspect his experiences in WWII made this somewhat inevitable. Still he did the right thing at Suez. In some ways he was the first “realist” a policy framework that would be a huge improvement by today’s standards. By puting some Taft and Bricker guys around him Ike stayed grounded and I think he was probably the last respectable President we’ve had on matters of war and empire.

    Dylan

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