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Foreign Policy
GOP Ditches Jefferson

While Democratic views on the importance of strengthening the military have declined slightly during the Obama years, Republican views have undergone a V-shaped turnaround, declining through 2012, then shooting upwards, according to Pew polling. The partisan gap, Pew notes, is now widest “over the fifteen year history of this question.”


Three points about this poll seem worth making:

First, it suggests that political polarization is widening in scope. Pollsters and political scientists have reported for years that the gap in opinion between Republicans and Democrats was widening steadily on issues like taxes, abortion, and gun rights. But on the military, as the chart above shows, the difference, while substantial, was relatively steady since the turn of the century. The sudden divergence between Republicans and Democrats means that the tenor of our public debates over the military may be about to get even more rancorous.

Second, the Democratic trend line suggests that the party is relatively comfortable with the Jeffersonian direction in which the President has led it on foreign policy. “This school of thought,” WRM has written, “believes that the principles of the American Revolution fare best when American foreign policy is least active.” Jeffersonianism has a long history in America, but it has historically run into trouble in the face of global chaos and cruelty.

This leads us to the third and most significant point: The GOP’s repudiation of Jeffersonianism over the last four years. The more passive, libertarian strain within the GOP has given way to a fervent Jacksonianism—strong nationalism combined with a willingness to use overwhelming force to destroy America’s enemies. This is an understandable response given the foreign policy failures over the last eight years, and the Hamiltonian establishment has not yet figured out how to harness it.

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  • Anthony

    Alexander Hamilton (supposed root for Hamiltonian view) stands as a most (if not the most) consequential founder. That is, Hamilton thought of making a new country into a world power (creating a great nation) – not a militaristic, jingoistic one. Perhaps, democrats and republicans could (for sake of country) use more Hamilton in serious, sober, and exasperating times.

  • Jim__L

    We’re getting shot at by people inspired by foreign powers. Staying out of their business isn’t effective at stopping them.

    As a side note, we’re *embracing* the actual, historical Jefferson. To the shores of Tripoli!

  • Dhako

    I wonder whether I detect a certain sleight of hand in action in here. And, by that, I mean, it seems that, the old wine that used to be called the plain old “Neo-Conservatives”, which had a “tinge” of a foreign association (in the form of having its disciples always conflating the interest of the State of Israel with that of USA) may have decided to go under the sobriquet of an old American Terminology, such as Jacksonian.

    In other words, if the idea of Neo-Con come across in the ear of the Joe Six-Packs, as if one is pushing the “agenda” of foreign powers, then, perhaps, advancing the same set of policies under the name of a beloved former American, can be palatable – or at least those policies could be sold to the same Joe Six-Packs in the fly-over country.

    Hence, you could say, the GOP’s Neo-Con’s intellectual opinion formers, seems to have captured the imagination of the average GOP voter, far more than the ideas of the school of realist may have done. Which is a pity, since, another Middle-East adventure by the US, particularly one instigated by the Neo-Con’s school of talking up the threat of some states in that region are to US, will, no doubt bankrupt the US, far more than the last adventure in Iraq have ever done it, indeed.

    • Anthony

      Interesting outside, inside perspective – thanks.

    • Tom

      That might, perhaps, be a viable if conspiratorial theory, were it not for the fact that Mead came up with the Jacksonian idea sometime in the late 1990s.

      • Anthony

        I don’t think he is referring to WRM’s Jacksonian usage but its thematic use as a cover for a purpose – however, I’m sure he can address your contention himself.

        • Tom

          Mead is the only one who speaks in those terms who has any sort of influence. No one is using it as cover for anything.

          • Anthony

            I don’t know if WRM is only one of influence but I do know Jacksonianism is an old American political category and Dhako has every right to appropriate its use in public discourse – despite how you may want to police his use.

          • Tom

            Anthony, let me put this bluntly. You’re overthinking what I’m saying. I’m policing precisely nothing. I’m outlining reality.

          • Anthony

            OK, Tom.

    • amoose1959

      Now that you have given us your conspiracy theory as to thought control on the right, what is your conspiracy theory on who controls thought on the left?

    • Kevin

      The “neo-cons” have pitifully little influence on the direction of GOP foreign policy thinking now – at least as represented by the leading contenders for the nomination. Given the seeming ascendancy of Trump and/or Cruz, it’s entirely appropriate to label the dominant view on foreign policy in the GOP Jacksonian. Threats to “carpet bomb” ISIS into oblivion are the antithesis of democracy promotion the neocons advocated. This cycle the foreign policy debate has been between a libertarian inspired Jeffersonianism of Paul, the establishment led Hamiltonianism of candidates like Graham (and maybe Jeb! Bush) and the Jacksonianism of Trump. Cruz seems to have migrated from a Jeffersonian to a Jacksonian approach. The muscular Wilsonianism of the neocons is nowhere to be found.

      All that’s left of your invocation of neocons is an antisemitic dog whistle.

      • Anthony

        You interpret perhaps too much intention in Dhako’s brief commentary and anti-semitic dog whistle may be an extreme determination (unless you know him to be an anti-semite – by writings or other actions – the possibility exist that he may be grappling with U.S. foreign policy methods as he understands them). His comment may not conform to general audience but differences are not always prejudicial (anti-semitic, etc.)) despite discomfort – with malice towards none.

        • Tom

          Somewhere around the whole “State of Israel” thing my suspicions are aroused.

          • Anthony

            I will not deign to write in behalf of State of Israel in so insignificant a matter but you ought to allow author of your ostensible ire an opportunity not to be misrepresented because a skewed interpretation.

  • Pete

    Nationalism is good. It is a cure who what ails the country.

    And nationalism starts with curbing the flood of Third world immigrants into the USA and putting America first in foreign policy decisions — not Mexico, not Europe, not Israel.

  • amoose1959

    IMHO the best policy is – walk softly but carry the biggest stick. In pseudo – intellectual terms :Rooseveltian

  • dawnsblood

    It isn’t a hard question for me. Until the people, politicians and parties agree to stop using the military as global police, we have to pay for it. Pay for it means giving the armed forces the best gear and people money can buy. So until we decide to stop, it will cost us an awful lot of money and it should.

    • Andrew Allison

      And where, pray tell, will the money come from? The National Debt is at levels not seen since WW-II, and rising fast. How long do you think it will be before lenders figure out that we’re PR writ very, very large? http://www.usgovernmentspendin

      • dawnsblood

        The answer is in the second sentence.

        • Andrew Allison

          “Until the people, politicians and parties agree to stop using the military as global police, we have to pay for it.” is an answer? First, the report is recommending that the military take on additional policing duties, and second, we don’t have the money to pay for it.

          • dawnsblood

            Yes. The answer is to stop doing it. The other choice is to tax the hell out of everything to raise the money. The taxing part will work for a little while but I have no faith it is a healthy long term answer.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “The more passive, libertarian strain within the GOP has given way to a fervent Jacksonianism—strong nationalism combined with a willingness to use overwhelming force to destroy America’s enemies. This is an understandable response given the foreign policy failures over the last eight years, and the Hamiltonian establishment has not yet figured out how to harness it.”

    Hey, I’ve always been here, no “given way” was needed. I would like to point out that I’m against getting in between the Sunni Jihadists using all their resources to kill the Shiite Jihadists and vice-a-versa. I’m also against getting in between China and all the Asian nations being threatened by China, “Unless” America can negotiate an extremely favorable economic and military alliance. As far as Russia and the Ukraine, I would dump the parasitic NATO, negotiate bilateral alliances with Great Britain, Poland, and maybe a few others, and I would send a few thousand Javelin man portable anti-tank missiles to the Ukrainians, with the understanding that when they were gone, we would send more (sending them nearly useless and costly to maintain high mileage Humvees was typical Obama stupidity).

  • bottomfish

    The Neo-Con foreign policy is now supposed to be completely discredited. Now we pursue a presumably more sophisticated, realistic policy based on diplomacy and photo opportunities with our statuesque Secretary of State. The old Neo-Con style is considered over-reliant on the military and preoccupied with helping Israel deal with her conflicts. As a result, the US now sponsors a conference on Syria in which it’s apparently impossible to decide which factions are to be allowed to participate. As another result, the Jacksonian Israel develops friendships with other countries about practical issues, such as (with Russia) avoiding accidental shootdowns of friendly aircraft, with India (building a separation barrier in the Pakistani border), and even with Saudi Arabia (the Syria problem). Apparently the US is lost in the clouds, while the much-loathed Israel is making herself useful everywhere.

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