On first glance, some naïve people might think that Senator John McCain had adopted a slogan of the Old Right.
If only. I first heard Mr. McCain utter this phrase at the Civic Forum held at Rick Warren’s mega-church. My first reaction was, What country first? Does he mean Israel First? For all the neoconservatives who gravitated to President Bush and his potential successor, their first item of duty was to protect Israel, not America, first and foremost. It is no surprise then, that the litmus test for one’s national security credibility rests on how loyal they are to Israel.
During this week’s Republican National Convention, there have begun to be utterances of “America First.” For anyone unversed, “America First” was a slogan adopted by the America First Committee, the largest and best organized antiwar movement in our nation’s history. They opposed the drive to war being pushed by President Roosevelt. It was bipartisan and had followers that included John F. Kennedy, his relative Sargent Shriver, Ohio senator Robert Taft, 15-year-old William F. Buckley, Jr. and its most famous speaker, Charles Lindbergh. Sadly, the aviation hero smeared his good name for perpetuity because he believed the primary perpetrators in the rush to engage the United States in a European war were Jewish. Thus, “America First” became, unfairly, synonymous with anti-Semitism. For a more detailed discussion of the America First Committee, I would recommend “America First!” by Bill Kauffman and “Reclaiming the American Right” by Justin Raimondo.
Watching the aforementioned Republican Convention and its slogan of “Country First” epitomizes how the conservative movement has been completely bastardized. Once synonymous with non-interventionism, the word “conservative” has now come to mean all-out war against whomever we feel like attacking. Our country was savagely attacked on September 11, 2001. So naturally the decision was made by the president and his advisers to attack Iraq and entirely dismantle a country that did not attack us and had no reason or capability of threatening us. Thus, the word “conservative” was made anew.
But perhaps the biggest rhetorical atrocity of Tuesday evening’s events was Republican Joe Lieberman’s address defending John McCain’s record and tying it to George Washington. Mr. Lieberman invoked words from our first president and most benevolent commander-in-chief: political parties are the downturn of our democracy.
While Lieberman correctly attributed the decimating effect of political parties on our country, General Washington never said anything about our “democracy.” None of the founders did. No self-respecting man of the late 18th Century would want to be called a democrat, only a republican (please take note of the lower-case spelling). When a woman saw Benjamin Franklin exit the Constitutional Convention in 1787, she asked him if this country would be a monarchy or a republic. The old statesman’s alleged reply was, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Notice that Mr. Franklin’s response was a republic, not a democracy. True democracies are mob rule (French Revolution) but republics elect leaders representative of the population.
Again, the old general was absolutely right about the catastrophic consequences that come from political parties. But both parties, especially the Republicans, conveniently ignore some more of the first president’s advice: avoid entangling alliances and the squabbles of Europe.
Our relationship with Israel is a textbook example of an entangling alliance, but no one in the GOP wants to hear about it, or hear about how powerfully the Israel lobby controls the party. It’s actually kind of ironic that Washington D.C.’s most famous Jew is the one delivering an address that cherry-picks the words of our greatest statesman to support a morally and intellectually bankrupt foreign policy that favors Israel, not America first.
The Republicans are only trying to fool the country into believing that they are in favor of “Country First.” Somewhere along the way, people are supposed to believe that “America First” once meant doing everything possible to keep the country out of war, while “Country First” today seems to mean that America will fight any war, anyplace on the planet, under the guise of protecting the citizens.
Entering this entangling alliance with Israel and fighting in a seemingly endless series of wars has brought nothing but trouble to the country and has done nothing but vindicate the words of George Washington. Why is it that Joe Lieberman could invoke words from President Washington to roars from the crowd but Ron Paul could quote the general about entangling alliances and get fitted for a strait jacket?
Or consider how Pat Buchanan summoned the phrase “America First” during his three presidential campaigns only to be charged with anti-Semitism. Why was Mr. Buchanan vilified while Mr. McCain is lauded because he puts “Country First” by promising more wars?
The simple answer: Mr. Buchanan represented a return avenue to the old American republic that minded its own business in its own hemisphere. Mr. McCain is a steadfast supporter of the American Empire with military bases in 130 countries.
Here is what “America First” actually means: Doing one’s best to protect Americans by returning from all corners of the world and conserving the military for missions that actually protect Americans. A president can put America first by keeping them out of everybody else’s wars. What, after all, was the point of braying at Russia over a relatively insignificant secession dispute with Georgia? Why does it matter to Americans who controls breakaway provinces of the old Soviet empire? How does whacking that big stick on the table, antagonizing a nuclear power like Russia, put America first? How does "We are all Georgians" (as opposed to "I am a citizen of the world") put America first? How does bombing Iran, another country that had nothing to do with 9/11, have to do with putting America first? What does sending National Guard troops on five tours of duty do to put America first? This could go on all day.
Don’t fall for the Trojan Horse of “Country First.”