by Jacob G. Hornberger
I have long pointed out that there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between conservatives and liberals in that they are both statist to the core. Sure, it’s true that conservatives love to employ libertarian-type mantras, such as “free enterprise, private property, and limited government,” but when it comes to supporting statist programs, conservatives join forces with liberals.
Examples: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public schooling, welfare, foreign aid, government grants, government-business partnerships, drug war, war on poverty, income taxation, and so forth. All these are socialist or interventionist programs that are impossible to reconcile with libertarian-type mantras, but conservatives are as dedicated to preserving them as liberals. With rare exceptions, you’ll never see a conservative calling for the repeal of any of those programs. Their call is always for some reform designed to save the program.
Libertarians, of course, are different. We would repeal every single welfare-state program in existence. Why? Because we stand for free enterprise, private property, and limited government. We believe that people have a natural, God-given right to engage in economic enterprise freely (i.e., free of government control), keep the fruits of their earnings, and decide what to do with their own money. We also have no doubts that a free-market system is the key to prosperity and education and nurtures such values as charity, responsibility, and morality.
Another area in which conservatives and liberals have long been advocates of big government is with respect to the military and foreign policy. This is another area that separates libertarians from statists. Libertarians support a limited-government republic while conservatives and liberals support a vast overseas military empire, wars of aggression, invasions, occupations, sanctions, the CIA, militarism, and the military-industrial complex, along with the ever-growing taxes, debt, and spending needed to pay for it all.
A few days ago, the long-time conservative organization Young Americans for Freedom, once again demonstrated the stark foreign-policy dividing line between conservatives and libertarians. The group publicly ousted Ron Paul from its national advisory board owing to Paul’s libertarian foreign-policy views.
In this Daily Caller article, the national vice chairman of YAF, Chris Bedford, explains the reasons for Paul’s expulsion from the group.
Bedford’s article is standard conservative fare with respect to foreign policy, citing first communism and now radical Islam as grave threats that threaten the existence of the United States. Although Bedford doesn’t come out and say it, the implied position is the same that conservatives held during the Cold War: that unfortunately, it is necessary for conservatives to support big government in the form of a vast military empire, hundreds of overseas bases, foreign aid to dictatorial regimes, an enormous military-industrial complex, foreign wars and interventions, and of course ever-soaring budgets for the military and the military-industrial complex.
Libertarians heard this conservative justification for big government during the 45 years of the Cold War. “The only reason we favor big government,” conservatives cried, “is because of the communist threat. If there were no communist threat, we could dismantle big government.”
Revealingly, at no time during the entire Cold War did conservatives ever cite the so-called threat from radical Islam as an excuse for big government. It was all “The communists! They’re coming to get us. They’re everywhere. Look in the State Department and even under your bed. The dominoes are starting to fall. Send the troops into Vietnam. The communists just attacked our ships in the Gulf of Tonkin.”
In fact, one of the things Bedford failed to point out in his article was that during the Cold War conservative icon Ronald Reagan actually supported radical Islamic groups that young conservatives like Bedford now consider an official enemy. If Reagan were alive, he would be boasting about the support that he and conservatives provided to Osama bin Laden and others of that ilk when it was the Soviet communists doing the occupying of Afghanistan.
In 1989, the worst fear of conservatives materialized: Much to their shock, their decades-long justification for big government disintegrated with the unexpected demise of the Soviet Union.
What to do now? Conservatives didn’t hesitate. First, they said that it was a giant communist ruse, one by which the commies were lulling the West into complacency, after which the Berlin Wall would be rebuilt and the communists would come marching toward America. Second, they said, “Our vast military empire can participate in the drug war and in the war against the illegal aliens. Just don’t get rid of big government because our nation still needs it.”
Then, throughout the 1990s, with the ardent support of the conservative movement, the U.S. Empire went into the Middle East to stir up hornet’s nests. The Persian Gulf intervention, in which the Empire went after its old Reagan-Bush partner and ally, the dictator Saddam Hussein. The Iraq sanctions, which killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright’s infamous announcement that the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children were “worth it.” The intentional stationing of U.S. troops on Islamic holy lands. The unconditional military and financial aid to the Israeli government and Arab dictators, including Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.
The inevitable anger and hatred against the United States came in the form of retaliation: the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, the attack on the USS Cole, the attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and of course the 9/11 attacks.
What was the response of conservatives? Marching in lockstep with conservative icon George W. Bush, they responded, “Our government is innocent! The terrorists hate us for our values. The Muslims are going to come and get us. They are everywhere. Look under your beds. The dominoes are starting to drop, beginning with the re-conquista of Spain.”
Yes, the conservatives had found a new official enemy to support their embrace of big government — from communists to drug dealers to illegal aliens and finally to Muslims. Needless to say, the last thing conservatives considered was that it was the U.S. government, which many of them treat as their god, that was at the root of the problem. When Ron Paul pointed out in that famous debate exchange with conservative icon Rudy Guliani that the terrorists came over here to kill us because of what the U.S. government was doing to people over there, conservatives considered that statement to be heresy and treason.
Oddly, in coming up with Islam as their new official enemy to justify their support of big government, conservatives continue to support the fact that U.S. troops are killing and dying for the sake of Islamic regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
YAF’s attack on Ron Paul is actually a good thing in that it clearly exposes a major fault line between conservatives and libertarians. Along with conservative support of the drug war and the welfare state, the conservative attack on Ron Paul with respect to foreign policy provides people with a clear choice: the choice between libertarianism and statism.
Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
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