Coleen Rowley, former G-man, one of three of Time's People of the Year 2002, and legendary local Leftist, who I knew beforehand only by sight, sat directly in front of me two rows into the audience seating, fairly staring at me the whole time. For a long moment, it was as though we two were the only ones who knew what was about to begin.
What was this?
I ran late driving to Buffalo, MN for a fundraiser for Wright County republicans the evening of November 23rd, having been asked a few weeks earlier in a Twitter direct message by Walter Hudson (who was the evening's moderator) if I wanted to be on a "foreign policy" panel. Sure, I said, me being me. Only later did a friend point out that on Facebook Walter had styled the event as "Hawks vs. Doves."
Milling about at the Buffalo American Legion were both Tom Emmer and Phil Krinkie, making small talk with those who had showed up. Where was my candidate, Rhonda Sivarajah? Cloistered away by those who know nothing about how to run a federal campaign? Beats me. Rhonda's running as bad a campaign as Tom did when running for governor. No one, apparently, can penetrate her bubble. Sound familiar? Here's hoping there's still time for her to turn it around.
At any rate, there I was: defending Israel, my neo-conservative piñata status certified. The Rowley crowd was weirdly stuck in time: what about Vietnam? Seriously. And: can we ever expunge the stain of overthrowing Mosaddegh? The line of questioning was, frankly, as stale as an Almanac show with a panel of Larry Jacobs clones. I was ready to be passed a joint.
Some current events managed to be referenced: what about civilian casualties of drone attacks? A pity, to be sure, but war has always had collateral damage. As I pointed out by way of contrast, Palestinian terrorists deliberately target civilians. The Israeli military does quite the opposite. So does the United States of America.
This meant nothing to the co-panelist seated on my right: he managed a reference in due course to John Mearsheimer, the co-author along with Stephen Walt of "The Israel Lobby." I didn't have time to unpack that coded little mention for my audience; we would have been there all night if I had gotten started. The latent anti-semitism of Ron Paul and his ridiculous followers fairly filled the room. When I called Ron Paul anti-semitic the gentlemen to my right stood up to leave in a huff, refusing "to be called an anti-semite." This, of course, I had not done and he was easily persuaded to stay on the dais. Most people are.
My ideological ally on the panel, David Strom, later remarked that immediate umbrage was taken at the mention of Paul's anti-semitism while the two of us, in the course of the evening, were compared to Nazis. I can't speak for David but I would have gotten a bit more concerned about being called a Nazis if I took those who thought such of me more seriously. Or seriously at all.
Foreign policy was uni-dimensional in that crowd: military action alone. In fact, as I tried to explain, foreign policy entails much more than that and, indeed, military action can be said, in certain respects, to represent its failure. To paraphrase Mia Farrow's Twitter biography, I was trying.
What empire was the United States claiming in undertaking President George W. Bush's wildly successful PEPFAR program in Africa, which has saved tens of millions of lives? Engagement with China has been crucial, never more so than after the death of Mao and the ascent of Deng Xiaoping whose policies lifted hundreds of millions of souls out of desperate poverty and in our very lifetimes. The West and its forces of freedom (quaint, I know) won the Cold War against the USSR without firing a shot (proxy wars admittedly excepted). I mentioned Natan Sharansky tapping on his prison walls to other captives that Reagan had called it the focus of evil in the modern world. I had kind, although not wholly unreserved, words to say about Edward Snowden, whom Ms. Rowley had seen in person in Russia a few weeks earlier. It takes genuine courage to make such a trip and, though it might strike some as incongruous, I had a lot of respect for her in undertaking it. These people are living out their principles at no small cost. It's not hard to respect them more than the parasitical lobbyist types like Weber, Coleman & Pawlenty, even though I disagree with much of their world view.
Experience trumps ideology. Except when it doesn't. I made a point of looking directly at Rowley when I said "If the predicate of your foreign policy views is that what's wrong with the world is America, I don't need to know anything more about you. I've seen that movie."
I recapitulate my little adventure in Buffalo because it further informs my thinking about what is going on in Minnesota's Second Congressional District, currently represented by John Kline. Here we have the clearest example of the remnants of Ron Paul's followers in Minnesota reorganizing under the Tea Party rubric. What's deceptive, of course, is that while the general Tea Parties organized around the country are quite tired of ever expanding government and its infringement on personal liberty, almost none have the blame America and/or the Jews mentality that so infects Ron Paul and his minions. In other words, they're adults.
I understand the need for refurbishment: by the time he left the national stage Ron Paul was a laughing stock. His candidate for senate in the 2012 Minnesota race was an object lesson to republican parties around the country what not to let happen in their own. Some of that candidate's enablers still seek higher office this cycle. They fail to see that 2012 was Paul's high water mark; that the tide has gone out.
Being mostly a spent political force in their own right, the "liberty" movement has either invaded or created Tea Party groups by which to advance their goals. I call it Paulism Without Ron. Shrill and strident, dogmatic and insecure, this group attempts to pass itself off as somehow representative of the larger republican body politic. They are not, of course, but that doesn't stop them from demanding that they be treated as such.
In CD 2 they have fallen in behind the specious David Gerson, who seeks the republican endorsement which the Tea Paulers™ hope to deliver, thereby forcing Rep. Kline into a primary if he wishes to return to office. They pillory Kline for his record and large parts of it should come in for excoriation. That said, it's folly to the point of political suicide to remove him from the ballot and replace him with some low rent demagogue who could be easily beaten by a competent, moderate democrat.
The anti-Kline people like to hold up fatuous things like Freedom Works' scorecards, which for Kline shows only something like a 42% rating. Have they a clue about the frauds constituting Freedom Works? Are they aware it paid Dick Armey 8 million dollars to go away and never bother the group he helped start? Probably not, but every time you get an email from the sleazy Matt Kibbe, Freedom Works' current head, be sure to give generously because don't tread on me! I'm certain CD 2's middle-class and lower middle class won't mind it when he again spends $15,000 in a single 3 day weekend at a luxury hotel, as has been his wont.
Freedom Works is playing them for suckers, although no one currently can match the fleecing ability of the repulsive Glenn Beck. If you're hitching your wagon to either of these two stars, your destiny does not lie in future Minnesota republican politics. And if your idea of a constitutional scholar is Kris Anne Hall, I'm to be forgiven for laughing in your face. You can stay dumb but you're not about to dumb me down, thanks. Nor, I would guess, are most other republicans in or out of CD 2.
The juvenile attempt to deny Rep. Kline the endorsement is of a piece with the juvenile foreign policy on view in Buffalo last month. However they want to mask themselves, the Ron Paul followers are fellow travelers with Rowley on many, if not most, issues. They are by no stretch of the imagination republicans in the traditional sense of the word. Consequently, those of us who want to win elections in order to change public policy have every justification for calling them out, for marginalizing them, for defeating them.
It's hard to say if Kline will be denied the endorsement. If he is, it's hard to see how he would not win the primary and go on to win another term. If Gerson obtains the endorsement, it would be more confirmation that when the inmates take over the asylum, a recommendation from the asylum's management is worthless. The same holds true for the race in CD 6 to replace Michele Bachmann, as it does in the governor's race and as it could in the US Senate race.
The future viability of the Minnesota republican party lies in the primary process, far from the out of touch, inbred activists who take turns upholding one cult after another in that strange process known as the endorsement. To the extent that the Tea Paulers™ hasten the day of the endorsement's demise, I'll be the first to thank them.