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“We Had a Great History, and We Turned Aside”
A long-time Republican-party insider and close student of its past discusses how the party has changed over the years—for better and for worse —and where it may be headed.
October 1993 | Volume 44, Issue 6
The oil shock didn’t trigger inflation. It was the inflation and the devaluation of the dollar and the easy money policies of the Nixon and Carter administrations that led to the incredible run-up of the price of not only oil but gold, which went from $35 an ounce to $65 an ounce, and by the end of the Carter administration it was more than $825 an ounce. Reagan should get credit not only for reducing runaway inflation, mortgage rates, and interest rates but for bringing some stability to exchange rates. We should also be thankful for the Reagan round of tariff reductions and his support for GATT.
Today I think the biggest threat to the world economy is the Clinton administration’s resort to policies coming out of Commerce under Ron Brown and probably from the special trade representative, Mickey Kantor, who believes that we need to level the playing field by putting tariffs on foreign imported steel and huge tariffs on mini-vans from Asia. And who knows where they’re going to strike next?
The jury’s out on what type of policy the Clinton administration is actually going to pursue for the next four years, but I think we’re headed toward a further erosion of the liberal trade policies that came out of World War II and that Ronald Reagan pursued.
Several times you’ve used the word internationalism to describe your ideal Republican party. Internationalism hasn’t always been the party’s banner. It was not in the thirties against Roosevelt—
To its everlasting discredit.
—and of course, Mr. Buchanan and his ilk are attempting to revive this part of the Republican heritage. Do you see this political tendency as an issue in American politics again?
Well, it’s certainly an issue in the Republican party: whether the Republican party should be the party of America first, last, and only and however else that may be played out. It would then again be the party associated with Charles Lindbergh and the extreme isolationists of the 1930s. This “come home America” fervor has until recently been more associated with the McGovern wing of the Democratic party—which had its own isolationist wing in the 1930s— and will forever live in infamy as part of our legacy. History will never be kind to the forces that kept the United States from attempting to stop Mussolini in Abyssinia in 1935 and 1936 and Hitler in the Rhineland and the Sudetenland.
Churchill called World War II the least necessary war of the twentieth century. Pat Buchanan is today probably the only leader in the Republican party who talks in the tones of that era, and I think he has to be engaged. And unfortunately it gets political, and it very quickly gets ad hominem . We see elements of this debate across the length and breadth of the party. Take our treatment of immigrants, for example. There are people who are asking, Why should the Republican party be open to immigration? There are points to be scored by being xenophobic about immigration. And on trade, the same thing. How do you treat Asia? How do you treat Mexico? How do you treat the North American Free Trade Zone? An internationalist foreign policy would be one that engaged Latin America and the Third World in trade. An isolationist policy would be very protectionist.
An internationalist would want to do something like what President Bush did in the Persian Gulf to stop Saddam Hussein. And if you remember, Buchanan and some other Republicans were very much opposed to that decision. To suggest that Israel or Jews in America were the only ones supporting the defense of Kuwait against aggression … I think that puts the party on the wrong side of history. And the same could be true of some of the discussion about blacks. Or poor people.
In the current climate you’re a strikingly libertarian Republican.
I have trouble with the word libertarian because I think it has been carried to such illogical extremes. Look, I don’t want to get into a fight with every person in the Republican party; I want to make that point. I’m not looking for enemies; I’m looking for moving the party up and onward. And I’m not libertarian on social issues. I think, however, that discussion of social issues has to remain civil. I think the ability to discuss and debate and dissect the issues without making people feel very uncomfortable about your liberality is the predicate of a liberal democracy.
The word liberal , I used to think, meant freedom and generosity and openness. I went to a liberal arts college. My mother was an educator and taught me to be liberal-minded. We’re talking now classical liberal. I’m very anxious to debate my side of the issues without losing friendships and losing other people. So if I am pro-family and pro-life, I want the debate to go forward on the sanctity of human life, the inalienable right to life, liberty, and property, and to be based on seeking alternatives to abortion, rather than suggest that anybody who disagrees with me somehow should be ruled out of my party, much less the country.