The left-leaning media – meaning “most of the media” – is tittering and cavorting about the sparks that’ve been flying between New Jersey governor Chris Christie and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. “GOP CIVIL WAR”, they bellow, as if it’s something new.
There are three different definitions of “Conservative” in American political life:
- Northeastern Conservatives: Comfortable with big government, socially moderate-to-liberal on social issues (defined broadly; it refers to education, welfare and immigration as much as abortion and gay marriage), assertive on defense, tolerant of massive intrusions in the interest of internal security. Their focus is less on shrinking government than on getting the best value for the tax dollar. Think Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Chris Christie – or for that matter Norm Coleman. Don’t think Michael Bloomberg; he’s not a conservative in any way, shape or form.
- Western Conservatives: Favor aggressively limiting government. Generally socially libertarian (at least on a policy level; they may or may not be personally conservative), frequently vague on defense, favor law and order but opposing massive law-enforcement overreach. Favors shrinking government intrusions in the economy and personal life. Think the Tea Party and the pols that are aligned with it, including Rand Paul and, largely, Rick Perry.
- Southern Conservatives: Comfortable with big government, conservative on social issues, hawkish on defense and law-and-order. There aren’t many major contenders from the Southern school in this campaign. Huckabee’s a southern-con. You could make a case Dubya was one, too.
So the Christie/Paul kerfuffle isn’t just a battle between candidates; it’s a battle between fundamentally different schools of American conservatism.
And after reading both of them, it’s clear; they’re both right.
Christie Was Right – Libertarians, when it comes to national security, frequently are lost in la-la land. I’ve long since lost count of the Ron Paul supporters who sincerely believe that Iran would be a great friend of the US if we just acted nice to them (and left the Israelis to their own devices with no further ado). Not a few libertarians are just as lost in the fog as Vietnam-era anti-war liberals when it comes to one of history’s great facts; societies that practice war eat societies that would eschew it for breakfast.
Sure – the relatively peaceful, relatively liberal democracies of the West did in fact eventually defeat the warmongering totalitarian Nazis, to pick an example – but only at staggering cost and dislocation.
If you accept that war happens, and that sometimes those wars come to us against our national will, and that it’s better to win them than lose them, then some form of effort to gain intelligence about ones’ enemies’ intentions is one of those things that one trades for, among other things, casualties. And don’t kid yourself – intelligence-gathering has been an incredibly intrusive force in Americans’ lives in the pasts; FDR ordered his intelligence and counter-intelligence services to read every single piece of snail-mail, every telegraph, and eavesdrop on every single phone conversation entering and leaving the United States during WWII.
And like winning wars, staying a jump ahead of your enemies is an ugly, messy thing; it’s the sausage you really don’t want to see getting made. Like fighting crime – there’s a trade-off between liberty and effectiveness. A perfect police state might, hypothetically, be crime-free (at the cost of being, in essence, a criminal state itself); a pure libertarian state might be “Crime-free” in that, having no government, it recognizes no crime.
Say what you will about libertarian purism; if you stop short of anarchy, then defending your society from those who’d harm you is the most direct justification to have a government in the first place. It’s one of the few really good reasons to have a government; without defense (and courts to enforce contracts), really, what truly useful purpose do they serve that the private sector doesn’t do better? If government can’t keep the people safe from foreign aggression, why have it in the first place? Even libertarians that aren’t anarchists largely agree on this, right?
If you think you prevent airplans from crashing into skyscrapers, or underwear bombers from blowing your kids out of the sky as they come home from London, happens by just squirting good-will at the world, you are completely nuts.
But Wait – Rand Paul Is Also Right! – But then you’re also nuts if you believe that government doesn’t take a mile for every inch you give it, or that “Defending the Nation” is a static, unchanging thing.
All of you national-security hawks who say “The FISA Courts, into which was have no visibiliity and into which there is exceptionally limited oversight, are ample protection of due process for Americans” have apparently forgotten the IRS scandal. Or Fast and Furious. Or the trampling of the Fourth Amendment, or the growing militarization of the police.
In short, law and order conservatives who are pollyannaish about government are no less addled than those who are pollyannaish about the role of unilateral good-will in keeping the world at peace.
“We’re from the government and we’re here to help” is no less a joke coming from the NSA than it is from the Fish and Wildlife Service. Just as liberals would suspend the Bill of Rights to cut CO2 emissions, some conservatives – especially the ones that are comfortable with “the System”, and there is nobody who can grow more comfortable with “The System” than a federal prosecutor like Christie – are perfectly fine saying “would you trade the Fourth Amendment for getting that drug dealer out of your neighborhood?”
As to defense? The libertarians are wrong, we need a strong one. But the definition of “a strong defense” changes, and changes radically, over time. Is it the right time to engage the American military in an endless counterinsurgency that might be better suited to intelligence and proxies to carry out (uh oh, now the Libertarians and Liberals will get upset) when the Russians and the Chicoms are taking the world in a much more convention direction again?
The point being that re-assessing what the nation’s strategy actually is, and how the military forwards it, and what kind of military we need to do the job isn’t “anti-military”.
Above all? Due process needs to be more than just an inconvenient speed bump for the authorities – or what’s the point of pretending to be a “representative Republic” anyway?