photo by Yoshinori Abe

January 26, 2000


Like the old Soviet Union, which no one – including our own CIA – suspected was on the brink of complete collapse, the Republican Party Establishment thinks it is immune to any challenge from within or without. The only difference is that the Bush campaign won’t take 45 years to go into a tailspin: thanks to the "front-loaded" primaries so ably manipulated by party bosses on both sides of the aisle, it’s more like 45 days. Having telescoped the whole presidential nominating procedure into less than three months – with less time and opportunity for an insurgent to upset the front-running Establishment nominees – the bosses figure that the odds of a successful insurgency are considerably reduced if not absolutely nil. But they may have miscalculated – and badly. For it could be that the telescoping strategy, instead of cutting off all dissent and dissatisfaction with the status quo, is having the opposite effect of accelerating these tendencies in the body politic. As Bush smirks his way through New Hampshire, pathetically proclaiming his Iowa squeaker was "a record-shattering victory," the facade of invincibility is beginning to wear thin. Soon it will crack, and the elements of the old Reagan coalition will fly apart – yet another post-cold war casualty of globalization.


Let’s look at what happened in Iowa: with forty percent, the Bush forces are trumpeting this as a "record" run against a crowded field – but the only "record" is in the amount of money and effort expended to obtain such a meager result. With the biggest war chest ever, the Bush camp faces a field of no less than three conservative candidates Yet still, even with the threat from the Right minimized and the entire party machinery of elected officials and their flunkies working overtime, they only managed to get 40 percent of the vote. The turnout was the lowest in years. And now the Fortunate Son rolls into New Hampshire, not so much campaigning as claiming his birthright.


But that contrarian state did not pay fealty to his father, and is unlikely to recognize his royal prerogatives. To add to Bush’s woes, for all the warbling about his great "victory" in Iowa, the irony is that one consequence of those caucuses could well prove fatal to his campaign. The collapse of Bradley, on the Democratic side, means that independents in New Hampshire, who can vote in either party primary, will be voting in the Republican column – and the polls say that these voters are going for McCain by more than two-to-one.


The Buchanan bolt, and the disunity of the remaining right-wingers, has allowed the Republican Establishment the almost unprecedented luxury of an internal struggle, a primary within a primary in which the Republican Center-Left (Bush) faces off against the Republican Ultra-Left (McCain) in a struggle for dominance. This is not a life-or-death struggle, an ideological fight that is concerned with ideas and policies: this is why no one can decipher the alleged differences between Bush and McCain over arcane matters of tax policy. This is also why the emphasis is on the candidates as personalities: what’s being sold to the voters is not a platform, or even a loose set of ideas, but a "narrative," a myth constructed to appeal on a sub-intellectual level to the lowest common denominator.


It is almost pathetic how the Republican spinmeisters are hailing their conquering hero – just as he stands on the edge of the abyss. John Podhoretz, writing in the New York Post, absurdly announced that "Bush won the Republican presidential nomination last night in Iowa not because he received over 40 percent of the votes there, but because John McCain received only 5 percent." Even as New Hampshire polls were putting McCain as much as 11 points ahead, Podhoretz could still bring himself to enthuse that "he’s basically toast." The possibility that Bush could very well get creamed in New Hampshire does not impress the unflappable Poddy. Although McCain did not even campaign in Iowa, we are told that his 5 percent total "blows his campaign out of the water." The monumental grandiosity of Podhoretz’s self-delusion takes us out of the realm of politics and into the field of psychopathology – and we don’t want to go there. Suffice to say that such overweening arrogance is akin to voluntary blindness – a handicap that the beleaguered Bushians can ill afford.


Likening McCain to Eugene McCarthy, John Anderson, and Gary Hart, Podhoretz posits that the McCain insurgency will fail

"because its presumption has proved hollow – that there would be a Populist Groundswell against Bush and toward the maverick from Arizona in the Republican Party. Ain't gonna happen. The thing about populist groundswells is they have to be present everywhere, in every state, and not just on the New York Times editorial page."

Podheretz sneers at the very idea of a populist groundswell on behalf of anyone or anything; impossible! Front-loading means that the groundswell must be "present everywhere," in literally "every state." The game is rigged, he is saying, in effect – who cares about populism? And all those prophets of populism failed, didn’t they? McCarthy, Anderson, Hart, all were sainted by the liberal media – and found wanting:

"They die out not because they're brave, which is the common myth, but because they're cowardly. They don't take real stands on issues, they fudge, they fume, and when they're finally asked, Where's the beef? (as Walter Mondale demanded of Gary Hart in 1984), they're sunk, because there really is no beef. "


Podhoretz may think he is describing the McCain campaign, but to anyone existing outside the Podhoretzian delusional system – in which up is down and looming defeat means victory – he seems to summing up his own candidate, for this resembles nothing so much as Dubya’s stance on the issues, from abortion to foreign policy. Fudging and fuming is what Bush and his advisors know how to do best.


Bush is a born equivocator; McCain, on the other hand, is a forceful personality who has indeed begun to focus on an ideological theme, one that is intimately linked to his public persona of the Vietnam war hero and epitome of the military virtues. Veterans among his supporters come to New Hampshire meetings dressed in full military regalia, and he starts off meetings by asking them to stand up. The audience always cheers. They are then regaled with his views on "the feckless photo op foreign policy" of the Clinton administration, which he avers did not intervene in Kosovo fast enough or effectively enough. The fear of civilian casualties and public opinion should not have stopped the President from unleashing the full extent of US military might on Yugoslavia: "You’ve got to be driven by principles and not polls," he says, "and that is what I promise to do as President of the United States."


Yes, but what principle will guide President McCain? What principle makes him so eager to send the Marines into Belgrade, and to hell with public opinion, and dreams of increasing a US military budget already bigger than that of all other nations in the world combined? He is running TV ads that proclaim "there is only one man running for President who knows the military and understands the world." Aside from such arcane issues as campaign reform and the tax code, McCain seeks to differentiate himself from Bush in the foreign policy realm, and this is clearly meant to be a major theme: the principle of militarism, and global interventionism. This is precisely what attracts neoconservatives such as William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard. Mugger, writing in the New York Press, wants to know

"What’s up with Weekly Standard editor and publisher Bill Kristol, who can’t appear on enough TV shows saying that Bush’s candidacy is in deep trouble? Kristol is plainly backing McCain. . . . Ever since McCain, almost alone at the beginning, took over President Clinton’s role as the United States’ commander-in-chief during the war with Slobodan Milosevic, Kristol’s had a soft spot for the con man from Arizona. Never mind that McCain was a champion of two pieces of legislation that are anathema to the right—campaign finance reform and the antitobacco effort—his internationalism won Kristol over."


How charmingly naïve of Mugger to think that such things as the defense of the First Amendment and the defense of smokers – two of the most unpopular and beleaguered causes on earth – matter to neocon ideologues like Kristol and the rest of the "global democracy" crowd. Kristol, after all, hankers after what he calls "benevolent global hegemony" as the goal of a frankly imperial foreign policy. During the Kosovo war he, virtually alone on the Right, unconditionally and totally supported the war, praising McCain’s hawkishness to the skies. Kristol even threatened to leave the GOP if it turned "isolationist." McCain got extra points for taking the lead in smearing Pat Buchanan, and celebrating the exit of a large part of the conservative movement from the GOP. Bush stayed on the sidelines, fudging and fuming – and that was the end as far as the militant wing of the neocons were concerned.


The riches of empire beckon, and McCain answers, openly advocating what the Bush campaign’s foreign policy advisors having been saying in speeches for years – in the obscurity of private seminars. But here is a candidate proclaiming it openly, boldly: as one local New Hampshire newspaper put it, "McCain gave a synopsis of the Russian situation which amounts to one word, ‘oil.’ ‘Oil has gone from $9 a barrel to almost $29 a barrel. Putin needs to overthrow the Chechen rebels’ attempt for independence because they want the access to the next door region of Georgia which has the oil.’"


Dubya’s backers are vitally interested in the price of oil, and this is a pitch to them that he, McCain, will do a much better job of securing their interests – by defining the "national interest" to coincide with certain corporate interests. By mobilizing the people in a populist crusade to restore "national greatness" – a favorite Weekly Standard theme – McCain is the neocons’ dream candidate, a kind of Teddy Roosevelt for the new millennium – blustering, bullying, bellicose, and fully beholden to big business (in TR’s case the Morgan interests).


The conservative opposition, or what remains of it, is largely powerless, as badly divided and weakened by ideological constraints as the candidates are. Forbes is simply a machine on automatic, whose strangely robotic manner and expressionless eyes recall the worst science fiction movies of the 1950s – you know, the ones in which passionless aliens have taken over human bodies and are intent on taking over the earth. Ideologically, Forbes has nothing to hang his hat on, except the flat tax panacea he has been flogging since time immemorial. He can only blink, uncomprehendingly, and smile weakly, as McCain flexes his robust internationalism. Bauer, too, is disarmed before such a display of machismo: he can only meekly add that he, too, wants to bash China. Coming from him it is not very convincing.


Only Keyes could stand up to this blustering ignorance. Here, after all, is a man who, during the debates, had the following exchange with one of his interlocutors:

"MS. BROWN: Mr. Keyes, America intervened in Kosovo when it became apparent that innocent civilians were being slaughtered. Now the same is happening in Chechnya. What should the United States do about Russia's military crackdown on Chechnya?

"MR. KEYES: Well, first of all, I think the first part of your statement is not true.

" Over the course of the last several months, we've learned a lot of information that suggests that the propaganda that was unhappily spread throughout the media about atrocities in Kosovo was greatly exaggerated. The Pentagon has admitted; news sources have admitted it; teams have been in now and have discovered that a lot of these things did not have foundation.

"I think that that was a propaganda war. I think we were manipulated into supporting a violation of a fundamental principle of nonaggression, and that our aggression in that case was actually more dangerous than what was happening in Kosovo itself. And at the end of the day, I think we have to be very careful when we start invoking some abstract notions of globalism and global sovereignty in order to violate fundamental principles of national sovereignty, which in fact are very important to safeguarding the regional peace around the world. . . .

" MS. BROWN: So do we ignore what's happening in Chechnya? Or do you advocate, if certainly not engaging troops, something like withholding loans from the International Monetary Fund?

"MR. KEYES: Well, I think that's what I just said.

"I think it's important that we distinguish between a policy of globalist interventionism that has us acting as the policeman of the world and that I think will foment violence and fear and resentment everywhere, and a policy that basically says look, we're not going to try to control your country, but we will control our own actions; we will control our own associations; we will control our own trade."


Keyes is on a noble crusade to take back the GOP from the Rockefeller Republicans who have long since regained control of their old vehicle. When he and his followers realize that the game is rigged, that between "front-loading" and other institutional barriers to a populist groundswell, the Establishment is invulnerable in its partisan fortress, they will have to make a decision: whether or not to bend their knee to the Anointed One, or else carry on their insurgency elsewhere – in the Reform Party, as I speculated in my last column. In the meantime, however, it is interesting – and heartbreaking – to watch the martyrdom of yet another conservative champion of our Old Right heritage. The chorus of jeers and sneers is already starting, and if he succeeds in duplicating his success in New Hampshire the knives will really come out.


But if Keyes can make a difference, it is in countering McCain’s mindless militarism. If McCain seeks to distinguish himself as a militant internationalist, then Keyes can distinguish himself as the champion of peace. This is where his emphasis on a return to morality can be very effectively dramatized. As the bandwagon of the War Party moves unobstructed through the GOP, will Keyes be the one to stand in its way? This a role worth playing, a cause worth fighting for, and an opportunity to shine that could catapult Keyes into the spotlight, where he belongs.


I can’t end without adding that, in the world as it ought to be, in the Republican Party as it should have been, the Republican frontrunner would already be dropping hints that a man like Keyes is on the short list for the Vice Presidential nomination. For a campaign that is desperately trying to convince everyone how "inclusive" they are, the Bush camp’s silence on this subject is deafening – but not entirely baffling. For the wide gulf between Keyes and Bush on the issues should, in a rational world, put them in different parties: in substance, as well as style, the two candidates are worlds apart. Sooner or later, Keyes, and the remaining conservatives in the GOP, will begin to realize this – one can only hope that it doesn’t take them until November 2000 is safely in the past.

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against U.S. Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (forthcoming from Prometheus Books).

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