Jacksonville, AL. I was privileged to be at the February 20 anti-empire, anti-war conference in DC. The meetings included two other Front Porchers—Bill Kauffman and Allan Carlson—and at least a couple FPR fellow travelers (Dan McCarthy and Jesse Walker). The session itself has been well described by participants from various perspectives: conservative (Dan), libertarian (Jesse, Matt Cockerill, David Henderson), and liberal (Kevin Zeese, Sam Smith, Paul Buhle). So, I’ll just briefly summarize my impressions of the meeting. I’ll deal at length with the theoretical and historical context of the coalition-building effort.
As usual, Bill gave an eloquent presentation of his thoughts, which have been collected for posterity in America First!; Look Homeward, America; and Ain’t My America. (Do you notice a recurring theme?) The second book is subtitled “In Search of Reactionary Radicals and Front-Porch Anarchists,” which provided our website’s name, although the black flag of anarchy has been lowered a bit. Bill’s content was wonderful in both style and substance. Prose that sounded like poetry. Allan focused on the baneful effects of militarism and empire on families and communities. His perspective is counterintuitive to most modern Americans although, on some level, many must recognize the obvious truth of what he says. Allan has a nice touch when speaking and it’s always good to hear a fellow Iowan.
It was fun talking music, philosophy, and real-world politics with Jesse and Dan. George O’Neill Jr. was a gracious host and he brought along his delightful children. George is a veteran of the Buchanan ’92 campaign. Co-organizer Kevin Zeese was a manager of Nader’s 2004 campaign. He and Linda Schade are the driving forces behind Voters for Peace. Linda reminded me of some of my old friends in the Green Party—a certain Green vibe that Sam also possessed.
Ralph Nader gave a fiery speech during lunch, sprinkled with humor and just the right amount of sarcasm. He was with us for the rest of the afternoon. During the group meetings, I sat between Michael McPhearson and Mike Ferner of Veterans for Peace. I couldn’t have asked for better neighbors. Bill Lind, friend and co-worker of the late Paul Weyrich, contributed some useful thoughts on language and gave an interesting summary of the Fourth Generation War theory. On a personal level, it was exciting to get to know some of my political journalism heroes, including Sam Smith and Bill Greider.
I recognized Paul Buhle’s name as editor of the Encyclopedia of the American Left, but I did not immediately realize that Murray Polner co-edited, with Tom Woods, the great reader We Who Dared to Say No to War. Socializing on Friday night, Paul regaled us with tales of ex-Communists writing episodes of Lassie. An example of reactionary radicals? Over breakfast, Murray and I compared notes as ethical vegetarians. John Walsh from Boston is affiliated with the Antiwar League, a group founded by the visionary Doug Fuda. John’s sense of humor and logic added to the proceedings. The input from the college-age students—mostly Ron Paul-influenced Young Americans for Liberty, with one Student for a Democratic Society—was informative. It’s important to learn from history, but we are living in 2010 and the next generation has something to say.
With all the permutations of Left and Right present among the 40 participants, I thought there was only one conferee who was dogmatically ideological in a knee-jerk way. Even that person presented one good idea. Sure, there were a few comments about social and economic issues that ruffled a few feathers, but for the most part the group stayed focused on foreign policy and reached consensus more often than not. Certainly the common enemy was recognized: the bipartisan Center of wealth and power, of empire and war.
The gathering was not meant to be an exclusive get-together of the best and the brightest. It was a start. Obviously, the goal is to bring more people in. A meeting of forty is not going to change U.S. foreign policy. A movement of forty million might. The potential is there. The American people have a deep “isolationist” streak, a common-sense nationalism that is wary of policing the world or meddling in other people’s business in distant countries with strange names. A Pew Research Center opinion survey released in December 2009 shows that a plurality of Americans think that the U.S. should “mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own” (49 percent—an all-time high). Of course, elite opinion stands in contrast to popular sentiment: 69 percent of Council on Foreign Relations members “support the United States playing an assertive role in global affairs.”
The extent of American isolationism—which really means reluctance toward entangling political and military alliances—varies from year to year, but there is an America First instinct that remains constant. Public opinion partly accounts for why the U.S. did not enter World War I in 1915 or World War II in 1939. Wilson and Roosevelt certainly wanted to push the nation into those conflicts earlier than was possible. Of course, we ended up fighting anyway. Americans’ disinterest in having themselves and their loved ones put in harm’s way overseas also hindered plans to send a large amount of ground troops to the Balkans in the 1990s. A decade later, it meant that McCain’s contention that “We are all Georgians” was met with more laughter than seriousness.
Muscular American imperialism is not a winning issue for any political party. Politicians usually cloak their imperial designs while campaigning because the idea of expending American blood and money in obscure places halfway around the world does not appeal to average Americans. They care far more about practical domestic issues. The U.S. government acting as policeman of the world has never been a popular idea among Americans. It is costly and implies that our own society has reached such a state of perfection that we can easily afford to look elsewhere for problems to solve. Meddling in other people’s affairs creates enemies and can actually make our own people less safe. There is a difference between being a helpful big brother and being an arrogant empire. Even if we concede the existence of good intentions on the part of our government, perception becomes reality for people in the rest of the world.
The Iraq War was never really popular. A vast majority of Americans rallied around the president when the invasion began in 2003, but there was widespread resistance throughout 2002 when the idea was first publicly raised because many Americans did not see Saddam Hussein as a genuine threat to the country. After the much-touted WMDs failed to materialize and the American death count continued to rise after Bush’s declaration of Mission Accomplished, opposition to the war grew. During the fall 2004 campaign, half of Americans believed the war was a mistake. (Despite claims to the contrary by both Bush and Kerry.) A year later, a majority felt that way. According to a 2005 Harris poll, 53 percent said taking military action against Iraq was the “wrong thing to do,” and only 34 percent thought it was right. The shift in opinion, depending on circumstances, indicates that support for the war had always been soft and conditional.
Americans are not pacifists. The vast majority are not even close to the quasi-pacifism of a William Jennings Bryan. We live in a country that glorifies the military. Still, it must be said that most Americans are also not as callous and martial as those who rule in Washington; after all, it is their loved ones who are personally experiencing the brutality and bloodletting. Presidents may fret about wars while photographers snap pictures and reporters note their burdened souls, but they do not send their children into combat. Like the Bush Jr. administration, most Americans are unilateralists. In fact, they are unilateralists of an isolationist, not internationalist, sort, so it is a unilateralism that exceeds that of Republican leaders. Unlike many Democrats, they do not think we need the permission of Kofi Annan, Jacques Chirac, or any other foreigner to wage war in defense of ourselves.
The question is, Was this truly the case with Iraq or were there other motives behind the attack and occupation? Many patriotic citizens either opposed the war from the start or soured on it when they realized that the Iraqi government had been no threat to us. Americans who support more of an interventionist foreign policy tend to view our government as a Good Samaritan on the global stage. In most cases, they wrongly attribute their own well-meaning attitudes and Judeo-Christian values to their leaders. They assume that these leaders are acting on the basis of moral idealism. This is a largely mistaken impression.
Regardless of the rhetoric used as policy justification, our leaders are usually guided by the principles of political realism and their less than altruistic policies have led to the widespread international perception of the U.S. not so much as a Good Samaritan as a Schoolyard Bully. Most people are not grateful for U.S. intervention because it is often accompanied by military violence and political domination. Scores of sincere Americans cannot understand this natural reaction of others. “Why do they hate us?” “We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.” et cetera.
Unfortunately, many patriotic Americans are easily fooled by U.S. government propaganda. This is especially true for evangelicals, who tend to be politically unsophisticated, particularly when the nation is ruled by a Republican president (who, by definition, must be “a good Christian”). Sarah Palin is a case study in this naïve phenomenon. From her correct and populist intuition that loyalty and patriotism are good, she moves dogmatically to an embrace of propaganda and jingoism. She does not realize that most wars are imperial and aggressive in nature, hence the opposite of the national defense she cherishes. Neoconservatives and gunboat liberals exploit this confusion, in Palin and millions of other well-meaning Americans.
Opposition to an ongoing war is a complicated thing, emotionally and intellectually. Americans find it difficult to believe that friends and family members are wounding and being wounded, killing and being killed for ignoble reasons. Even if it might be true, the cognitive dissonance is far too great for most to embrace such a thought. Cindy Sheehan, mother of Army Specialist Casey Sheehan, and Andrew Bacevich, father of Army Lieutenant Andrew Bacevich Jr., are exceptions. Their sons were killed in Iraq for no good reason and they have been able to embrace this truth despite its horror. This is rare.
For the rest of us, we too can oppose the bad foreign policies for which the troops are serving as pawns without despising the good personal qualities that often motivate and are often exhibited by the individuals in uniform. In other words, we can recognize the fictional and exploitative nature of the “fighting for our freedom” cliché while honoring the patriotism, bravery, and sacrifice of combat veterans. I can disagree with the Vietnam War while respecting Colonel George “Bud” Day USAF and Major Ed “Eagle Man” McGaa USMC. This is what Professor Bacevich has done with his own son, but obviously on a much deeper level. If you have not read what he wrote three years ago, you should. His poignant essay is a rare example of truth on the op-ed pages of The Washington Post.
Having several editors of The American Conservative, the managing editor of Reason, and the editor-publisher of The Nation present at the DC conference made me think of the golden age of political mass-circulation magazines from the 1910s through the 1940s: The Commoner of William Jennings Bryan, La Follette’s Weekly (later: The Progressive) of Robert La Follette, The Nation of Oswald Garrison Villard, The Christian Century of Charles Clayton Morrison, The Freeman of Albert Jay Nock, Saturday Evening Post of Garret Garrett, and The American Mercury of Lawrence Spivak. Politics of Dwight Macdonald had a smaller circulation but it was a classic periodical. One component of a successful anti-war coalition is the ability to get the message out to a wide range of citizens.
In some ways, things were simpler one hundred years ago. The demos were less divided. Yes, there were partisan, sectional, and ethnic divisions, but in many cases the common people were able to rise above those differences to see what they had in common. For example, the bloody shirt was sometimes transcended. The People’s (Populist) Party had strength among both ex-Federals and ex-Confederates. In the South, Populists had some success in establishing a biracial coalition to oppose aristocratic Democrats (“Bourbons”), which is one reason Jim Crow laws targeted both blacks and poor whites.
In the early 1900s, elitists who represented corporate wealth were conservatives. In the parlance of the Progressive Era, they were reactionaries, standpatters, or plutocrats. Just about everyone else went by various names indicating support for a democratic republic, a non-entangling foreign policy, individual rights, the common good, and fidelity to the Constitution: populists, progressives, insurgents, or liberals. The latter camp was spread throughout the Democratic and Republican parties, and, to a lesser extent, various third parties. They were the heirs of Thomas Jefferson, John Taylor, and Samuel Adams.
Although there were some differences in emphasis and some electoral rivalry, liberal Democrats like W.J. Bryan and liberal Republicans like R.M. La Follette cooperated on most of the major issues of the day, both domestic and foreign. Often times, they endorsed a candidate for congressional reelection of the opposing party when their own party fielded a reactionary. Commitment to common principles trumped party loyalty. In 1896, Bryan had the support of Democrats, Populists, and Silver Republicans. In 1924, La Follette united liberal Republicans with Socialists under the Progressive banner. At the turn of the century, principled conservatives like Grover Cleveland, Charles Francis Adams Jr., and Andrew Carnegie were even willing to work with liberals in the American Anti-Imperialist League.
By the early 1920s, greater factionalization had taken place among the citizenry. More and more, Americans were defining themselves by occupation. Commonweal was giving way to special interest groups (“pluralistic democracy”). In the political realm, American populism had split by the early 1940s in response to co-optation and changing of the word liberalism by Franklin Roosevelt in the Democratic Party and Wendell Willkie in the Republican. Roughly speaking, populists who valued justice more than liberty remained “liberals,” while populists who valued liberty more than justice became “conservatives.” The libertarian Old Right of the New Deal years was an offshoot of Bryan-La Follette liberalism. It had nothing in common with the Hamiltonian conservatism of the past, which had rather suddenly morphed into “liberalism”—exchanging an unpopular label for a designation more popular and trendy.
Both occupational identity politics and semantically-confusing ideology meant that Jeffersonian cousins who ought to have been natural allies instead grew further estranged from one another throughout the coming decades. The emergence of anti-Communism in the late 1940s and Counterculturalism in the late 1960s further strained relations among anti-Establishment citizens. The Power Elite used these divisions as a form of conflict displacement, as political scientist E.E. Schattschneider referred to earlier examples of popular in-fighting. The old divide-and-conquer strategy.
There was a brief moment, in 1940-41, during which a bipartisan popular coalition thwarted a bipartisan elite coalition. The America First Committee was mostly led by new-style conservative populists like Robert Wood of Sears, Roebuck; Robert McCormick of the Chicago Tribune; Robert Douglas Stuart of Quaker Oats; book publisher William Regnery; and aviator Charles Lindbergh Jr., but it also included many old-style liberal populists like Amos Pinchot, John T. Flynn, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, and Oswald Garrison Villard. Villard, former owner-editor of The Nation, was a veteran of the Anti-Imperialist League. He opposed the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II. Consistency incarnate. Grandson of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, co-founder with W.E.B. DuBois of the NAACP. A truly great, if now-forgotten, man.
Memory of OGV was one reason I was pleased to see Katrina vanden Heuvel at the table in DC. The Nation has a distinguished legacy and plays an important role in the liberal movement, despite occasional lapses into Democratic lesser-evilism. Other liberal populists, including historian Charles Beard and Norman Thomas of the Socialist Party, assisted the anti-intervention cause from outside the AFC. Conservative thinker Russell Kirk would cast his presidential ballot for Thomas in 1944 to reward him for his anti-war stance.
Military veterans in prominent AFC roles included Brigadier General Wood (former acting quartermaster general of the Army), Colonel McCormick, Colonel Lindbergh, and Major General Hanford MacNider (former assistant secretary of war and national commander of the American Legion). This was certainly not an anti-war movement that could be easily dismissed by epithets of tie-dyed hippie peaceniks or effete Hollywood glitterati. This was a movement that could appeal to Middle America, with its patriotism, common sense, and traditional values. While mostly sympathizing with England, in 1940, about 80 percent of the American people were opposed to war and Franklin D. Roosevelt—like his role model Woodrow Wilson twenty-four years earlier—was reelected on a pledge to keep our boys out of the European bloodletting.
Ultimately, the America First Committee was unsuccessful. In hindsight, many would say that was for the best. Whether it was or not, we can still learn some lessons from AFC. It was a coalition that united influential, well-placed, and genuine representatives of a common people that were divided along established party and nascent ideological-label lines. It became tainted by accusations of ethnic prejudice because elite interventionists—men who tended, ironically, to be respectably anti-Semitic themselves—exploited real or imagined failings of Lindbergh and others. In the end, the movement could not prevent the presidential nomination of pro-war candidates by both the Democrats and Republicans; could not overcome the power and propaganda of FDR, the British Empire, Wall Street, and the corporate press; and could not stop Pearl Harbor and the natural rush to war that resulted.
There were ad hoc efforts by both Left and Right to stop the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, and the Iraq War, but none of these efforts were very successful. They were less broad-based than the anti-WWII effort and there were no national umbrella organizations that approached the stature of AFC.
Although their presidential campaigns approached the subject from different perspectives, conservative Robert Taft (“Mr. Republican”) and liberal Henry Wallace (VP under FDR) were the two most prominent opponents of Cold War foreign policy in 1948 within their respective parties. For example, both would oppose the founding of NATO the following year. In a July 1950 letter, Senator Taft wrote that he had the feeling that the U.S. was “in real danger of becoming an imperialistic nation,” noting, “The line between imperialism and idealism becomes very confused in the minds of those who operate the system” (Ronald Radosh, Prophets on the Right: Profiles of Conservative Critics of American Globalism, 174). In a speech given in 1951, Taft said, “I certainly do not think we should be obligated to send American troops to defend Indo-China [Vietnam] or Burma or Thailand where they would become involved in a much more serious war than we have been forced into in Korea” (Ibid., 192-93).
Taft had impeccable all-American credentials—grandson of a secretary of war, son of a president and chief justice, friend of Herbert Hoover, champion of small business and free enterprise—and yet this did not prevent W. Averell Harriman from calling him “the Kremlin’s candidate” for president in 1952. Taft was genuinely anti-communist, which is one reason he opposed allying our government with Stalin in World War II, but he was not willing to use a reputed global crusade against communism to mask U.S. imperialism. That was his unpardonable sin in the eyes of Harriman, former Soviet ambassador and commerce secretary, future New York governor, and, most important of all, international investment banker (Brown Brothers, Harriman & Co.—the firm of GW’s grandfather Prescott Bush). Of course, Harriman and his fellow “Wise Men” were hypocrites, since they had linked themselves to the Kremlin and been senior partners in a Popular Front with U.S. communists from 1940 to 1945. Their “anti-communism” was highly selective and thoroughly opportunistic.
Unlike his father, Bob Taft was not a product of the Rockefeller machine of Ohio and had not befriended the east coast establishment. He was a Main Street Republican, not a Wall Street Republican. This fact had foreign policy implications that doomed Taft’s ability to gain his party’s presidential nomination in 1940, 1948, or 1952. It forever tainted him in the eyes of those whom Phyllis Schlafly would later call “the kingmakers.” (Through her nationalist-populist-moralist-libertarian choices for president, Schlafly symbolizes the true line of conservative descent within the party, despite variations of emphasis and purity, from Taft to Goldwater to Ashbrook to Reagan to Buchanan.) Taft had been the unofficial leader of his party in the Senate for years and he served as majority leader for six months before dying of cancer in July 1953. Taft was no anomaly among conservatives of his generation. Colonel McCormick also criticized the “imperialism” of the U.S. government and Senate Minority Leader Kenneth Wherry (R-NE) also opposed NATO.
Robert Welch was an active Taft ’52 man within the Massachusetts GOP. Welch and the John Birch Society were excommunicated from the mainstream conservative movement by William F. Buckley Jr. and National Review in the mid 1960s not so much because of their supposed racial prejudice and political extremism, but more so because of their petit-bourgeois lack of respectability and their principled opposition to the Vietnam War. In 1964, Welch was opposing war in southeast Asia . . . several years before johnnies-come-lately like Eugene McCarthy, Robert Kennedy, and George McGovern. It is hard to imagine anyone more anti-communist than Robert Welch, but his skepticism toward foreign intervention was consistent with his Old Right heritage. The anti-war sentiment of the JBS has popped up with Vietnam, the Gulf War, and the Iraq War. The New American even opposed the Panama invasion.
In the Senate, the only two votes against the pro-war Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964 were from liberals Wayne Morse (D-OR) and Ernest Gruening (D-AK). Morse, Gruening, and even Welch (by way of Taft) were all more-or-less descended from the La Follette tradition of liberal Republicanism. This tradition, from which Taft, McCormick, Frank Gannett, and others would emerge in the late 1930s to create a new-style conservatism indebted to Jefferson rather than Hamilton, had always been linked to national sovereignty, international neutrality, defense but not war, and domestic emphasis. In September 1924, the perspective of La Follette’s party was spelled out in the pages of the CFR journal Foreign Affairs: “It is historically characteristic of governments devoted to conservative measures and the maintenance of the status quo in domestic affairs to develop an aggressive policy in foreign affairs, and similarly for governments whose chief outlook is toward the progressive improvement of existing conditions to seek to disembarrass themselves from the complications of foreign policy.”
The New Left-inspired grassroots movement against the Vietnam War did put pressure on the power structure and it did have some importance within the Democratic Party, but the White House did not begin to change its war approach until 1967, when Wall Street and their Wise Men mouthpieces began raising economic objections to the status quo. After three decades, military conscription (the draft) was ended more by libertarians like Martin Anderson and Milton Friedman than by left-wing peace demonstrators in the streets.
Opposition to the Persian Gulf War, in 1990-91, included the populist Left (Brown), Right (Buchanan), and Middle (Perot). We’ve seen a similar anti-war configuration during the past twenty years with Ralph Nader and Howard Phillips, Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul. And yet, in all of the pivotal war election years, the nominees of both major parties have been pro-war (WWI-1916, WWII-1940, Cold War-1948, Vietnam-1964, Balkans-1996, Iraq-2004, Afghanistan-2008). Divisions over secondary-but-emotional cultural/social/moral issues have prevented sustained efforts by the Left and Right to work against empire. We’ve seen an occasional joint press conference by activist leaders to denounce a specific war, but nothing lasting and nothing that includes millions of average Americans.
In the estimation of Bill Kauffman, excepting the Murray Rothbard-Leonard Liggio Left and Right attempt to bring about cooperation between the libertarian Old Right and the New Left in the 1960s, the meeting in DC represented the first real attempt at a Left-Right antiwar coalition since the America First Committee seventy years ago. The conference brought together a relatively small number of journalists, activists, intellectuals, and students. One thing lacking was politicians. Or, perhaps I should say statesmen if we’re talking about the “good guys.” There were no elected leaders. That’s okay for the time being, but if we hope to be successful in the long run in creating an effective coalition to stop war and dismantle empire, we will have to bring politicians on board. We need to have someone in Washington listening to us when we speak from the hinterland. Folks with a forum who can amplify our message. People with power who can translate our concerns into legislation.
It is not wise to put all of our eggs in one basket by concentrating on presidential races. A run for the White House can raise a standard under which citizens from across the land can assemble. This is useful. But it is unrealistic to think that either major party is going to be captured in the short run via a national nominating convention, or that a third party will capture the presidency itself. Congress is less glamorous and obviously the branch has abdicated much of its power to the de facto emperor, but individual legislators can still play an important defensive role in the struggle against empire. Cicero and his allies did it in ancient Rome. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Charles Sumner (R-MA) was instrumental in killing U.S. Grant’s plan to annex Santo Domingo in 1870. In the run-up to World War I entry, House Majority Leader Claude Kitchin (D-NC) and Senate FRC Chairman William Stone (D-MO) worked with ex-Secretary of State Bryan to prevent war.
There were many self-styled liberals and conservatives, on both sides of the aisle, who worked to stop World War II entry, including Senators William Borah (ID) (ranking Republican on the FRC), Hiram Johnson (CA) (running mate of TR in 1912 and Borah’s successor as senior Republican on the FRC), Robert La Follette Jr. (WI) (son of Fighting Bob), Charles McNary (OR) (1940 vice presidential nominee), Arthur Capper (KS), Henrik Shipstead (MN), Ernest Lundeen (MN), Gerald Nye (ND), Lynn Frazier (ND), and William Langer (ND). That was just the liberal GOP contingent in the upper chamber!
We could also think of conservative Republicans such as Senator Robert Taft (OH) and Representatives Howard Buffett (NE) (father of Warren), Hamilton Fish (NY), B. Carroll Reece (TN), H.R. Gross (IA), George Bender (OH), and Henry Dworshak (ID). Liberal Democrats who were anti-war included Senators Key Pittman (NV) (chairman of the FRC), Burton Wheeler (MT) (running mate of LF in 1924), David Walsh (MA), Bennett Champ Clark (MO), Edwin Johnson (CO), Morris Sheppard (TX), and Homer Bone (WA).
Where are the Borahs and Johnsons, Wheelers and Clarks, and all the rest, in the U.S. Senate today? There’s Russ Feingold (D-WI), Jim Webb (D-VA), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT). That’s about it. They are good but they are backbenchers. None chair relevant committees. The most sincerely conservative Republicans—Tom Coburn (OK), Jim DeMint (SC), David Vitter (LA), and Jim Bunning (KY)—are hawks. Chuck Grassley (IA) was one of two Republicans, along with Mark Hatfield (OR), to vote against the Persian Gulf War, but unfortunately Grassley backs the current wars.
There’s a handful of anti-war Republicans in the House, led by the incomparable Ron Paul (TX) and including Walter Jones (NC) and Jimmy Duncan (TN). There are more anti-war Democrats, from Dennis Kucinich (OH) to Barbara Lee (CA), but many pull their punches when a Democrat is the commander in chief. Kucinich’s March 10, 2010 resolution directing the president to remove U.S. armed forces from Afghanistan was defeated 65-356. A paltry five Republicans voted Yea. Although 60 Democrats supported it, three times more were opposed. We need a Senator Rand Paul (R-KY?), a Senator John Hostettler (R-IN?) , and dozens more like them in Congress. Liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans. Maybe even a Green, Libertarian, or Constitution party member.
For a successful coalition, we need people + power, grassroots + government, pressure from below + action from above. As for We the People, at some point we have to get off our front porches, or stop being transfixed by our screens, in order to recover our republic. This is never easy. The decline of social interaction and civic engagement by Americans during the past sixty years makes it even more difficult. But it is possible. The coalition needs a narrow focus. Divisive issues briefly raised their heads at the conference in DC. Things like campaign finance reform, same-sex marriage, abortion, and tea partiers. That way lies destruction.
The message of the coalition should be broad in the sense that it deals with the bipartisan foundation of U.S. foreign policy. Opposition to empire is better than opposition to war because the problem is not a specific war started by a specific president of a specific party. It is a systemic tendency toward war for the sake of empire maintenance. You could compare it to an alcoholic: the specific bout of drinking-to-excess is less important than the alcoholism itself. We must get to the root of the problem, and do it in a way that does not come off as unpatriotic, kooky, or partisan. That’s as broad as we should get. Beyond that, all other issues should be set aside. Coalition members are free to think and do as they please on their own time, but they should not produce divisions within the movement over non-relevant issues.
For me, the CPAC victory of Ron Paul was an unexpected ray of sunshine in Washington. The Across-the-Spectrum conference was a second ray. We still have to move beyond discussion to action. We need to have lots more people join us under the “Come Home, America” tent as we work toward building a mass movement with friends in Washington. It’s easy to be cynical, considering past failures. It would be easy to be discouraged by the daunting odds. But, as Kevin Zeese puts it, “This is a long-term, not short-term, effort that should be measured in years, not in months.”