Rand Paul. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst.)
I haven’t been tuning in, myself, but I’m told that in recent days Fox News has been going all-in praising Senator Rand Paul’s droning drone filibuster holding up John Brennan’s confirmation as CIA chief, with several Fox contributors fiercely attacking Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham for taking on the young libertarian lion—or, if you prefer, for taking Barack Obama’s side. That raises interesting questions. As I observed in my Nation dispatch from last year’s Republican convention (“The GOP Throws a Tampa Tantrum”; hats off to your clever Nation editors for that awesome headline!), “Rand Paul got some of the biggest applause of his speech for saying something this party isn’t supposed to support at all: ‘Republicans must acknowledge that not every dollar spent on the military is necessary or well spent.’” And that “John McCain and Condoleezza Rice sounded like schoolmarms lecturing indifferent students when they tried to make the case that what neoconservatives used to call the ‘freedom agenda’ was being betrayed by Barack Obama.” Does all this mean the ancient (and even, sometimes, honorable) tradition of Republican “isolationism” (the word being basically an epithet in American political discourse, its advocates prefer “non-interventionism”) is making a comeback? Or, alternately, did it never really go away at the conservative grassroots, save for those distracting moments when the commander-in-chief is a conservative Republican hero like in those heady first few years of W’s Iraq War? Or is all this just another opportunity for Obama-bashing, and as such a perfect example of the intellectual contentlessness and bottomless cynicism of that favorite Republican activity? (As I put it in the piece on the convention, “What they really love—shown by the way McCain and Condi were able to win back their audience by taking cheap shots at Obama—are enemies. And within their authoritarian mindset [as George Orwell taught us with his talk about Eurasia, Eastasia and Oceania], enemies are fungible.”)
For clues, I cranked up the Patented Perlstein Wayback Machine that lives on my hard drive and discovered the following interesting parallel from 1945, when what would become the Central Intelligence Agency began as a gleam in the American security establishment’s eye. William “Wild Bill” Donovan, head of the wartime spy agency the Office of Strategic Services, proposed to the president that his outfit be made permanent. The news was leaked to one of the most reactionary reporters, Walter Trohan, of one of the nation’s most reactionary major newspapers, the Chicago Tribune (Trohan was one of the infamously bureaucratically jealous J. Edgar Hoover’s favorite reporters, and the leak almost certainly came from Hoover).