Sunday, March 10, 2013

Douthat: Paul Filibuster Challenged GOP Foreign Policy Orthodoxy

Ross Douthat offers an interesting take on the filibuster of Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) against the Obama administration's nominee to head the CIA in The New York Times.

Officially, Paul’s filibuster was devoted to a specific question of executive power — whether there are any limits on the president’s authority to declare American citizens enemy combatants and deal out death to them. But anyone who listened (and listened, and listened) to his remarks, and put them in the context of his recent speeches and votes and bridge-building, recognized that he was after something bigger: a reorientation of conservative foreign policy thinking away from hair-trigger hawkishness and absolute deference to executive power.

Exactly where such a reorientation would take the party is unclear. Depending on the context, Paul can sometimes sound like a libertarian purist, sometimes like a realist in the Brent Scowcroft mode and sometimes like — well, like a man who was an ophthalmologist in Bowling Green, Ky., just a few short years ago.  But if his ideas are still evolving, his savvy is impressive. Paul has recognized, as a figure like Huntsman did not, that to infuse new ideas into a moribund party you need to speak the language of the base, and sell conservatives as well as moderates on your proposed course correction. (There’s a reason his recent foreign policy speech was delivered at the Heritage Foundation — normally a redoubt of Cheneyism — and his two big interviews after his filibuster were with Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.) And he’s exploited partisan incentives to bring his fellow Republicans around to his ideas, deliberately picking battles — from the Libya intervention to drone warfare — where a more restrained foreign policy vision doubles as a critique of the Obama White House.

Douthat's take is that to move the GOP away from outdated and politically toxic policy orthodoxy politicians like Paul should use right-wing media platforms and couch new policies in "partisan incentives" (read: criticism of President Obama).  Time will tell how effective such a strategy is or even if it is employed by mainstream Republican politicians.  However, creativity is certainly called for in overcoming GOP resistance to the changes the party must make.

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