During last night’s Republican debate in Milwaukee, we saw something we haven’t seen that much of during the roughly five hundred previous “debates” – an actual, well, debate. Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, who are about as far apart on foreign policy as the GOP allows, exchanged some heated words.
The relevant parts of the transcript are here (important lines bolded by me):
Neil, there’s a point I’d like to make here…
….Neil, a point that I’d like to make about the tax credits.
We have to decide what is conservative and what isn’t conservative. Is it fiscally conservative to have a trillion-dollar expenditure? We’re not talking about giving people back their tax money. He’s talking about giving people money they didn’t pay. It’s a welfare transfer payment.
So here’s what we have. Is it conservative to have $1 trillion in transfer payments — a new welfare program that’s a refundable tax credit? Add that to Marco’s plan for $1 trillion in new military spending, and you get something that looks, to me, not very conservative. Thank you.
So let me begin with this. I actually believe — first of all, this is their money. They do pay. It is refundable, not just against the taxes they pay to the government, but also the — on their federal income tax, it’s refundable against the payroll tax.
Everyone pays payroll tax. This is their money. This is not our money. And here’s what I don’t understand — if you invest that money in a piece of equipment, if you invest that money in a business, you get to write it off your taxes.
But if you invest it in your children, in the future of America and strengthening your family, we’re not going to recognize that in our tax code? The family is the most important institution in society. And, yes…
Nevertheless, it’s not very conservative, Marco.
… I do want to rebuild the American military.
How is it conservative?
I know that Rand is a committed isolationist. I’m not. I believe the world is a stronger and a better place, when the United States is the strongest military power in the world.
Yeah, but, Marco! Marco! How is it conservative, how is it conservative to add a trillion-dollar expenditure for the federal government that you’re not paying for?
How is it conservative?
…are you talking about the military, Rand?
How is it conservative to add a trillion dollars in military expenditures? You can not be a conservative if you’re going to keep promoting new programs that you’re not going to pay for.
We can’t even have an economy if we’re not safe. There are radical jihadist in the Middle East beheading people and crucifying Christians. A radical Shia cleric in Iran trying to get a nuclear weapon, the Chinese taking over the South China Sea…
…Yes, I believe the world is a safer — no, no, I don’t believe, I know that the world is a safer place when America is the strongest military power in the world.
No. I don’t think we’re any safer — I do not think we are any safer from bankruptcy court. As we go further, and further into debt, we become less, and less safe. This is the most important thing we’re going to talk about tonight. Can you be a conservative, and be liberal on military spending? Can you be for unlimited military spending, and say, Oh, I’m going to make the country safe? No, we need a safe country, but, you know, we spend more on our military than the next ten countries combined?
I want a strong national defense, but I don’t want us to be bankrupt.
It began simply enough. Rand was attacking Rubio’s tax plan and his plan to increase military spending as not being very conservative. He was calling out Rubio for claiming to be a fiscal conservative, yet somehow doing the complete opposite when it came to military spending.
Rubio did not take this well, and his response was extremely telling. Instead of explaining how increasing defense spending to even higher levels was still conservative, Rubio resorted to name-calling and attacking strawmen, calling Rand a “committed isolationist” instead of offering any rebuttal.
The “isolationist” slur is nothing new. Hawks use the word all the time to describe any foreign policy that is even slightly less aggressive than the standard neoconservative line. Obviously, the claim that Paul is an “isolationist” is so wrong that it can be proven wrong with almost no effort. Rubio knows this. He knows that he is lying about Paul’s stance. But he is so taken aback by the challenge to his plan that he resorts to the political equivalent of “well you’re a giant doody-head!”
Rubio then goes on to recite every standard hawk line in the book. He states that the world is a better place when the US military is the strongest in the world – leaving aside the fact that we already account for ONE THIRD of world military spending while only having 5% of the world’s population. We have more aircraft carriers than the rest of the world’s navies combined, and can easily overwhelm any adversary. Even so called “rivals” like Russia, China, and Iran are so far beneath us that they pose no threat to the homeland. The biggest “threats” we face are forces like ISIS, Al-Qæda, and lone-wolf terrorists that will not be easily stopped by any military, no matter what the size.
Then Rubio lists all of the boogeymen we’re supposed to be scared of. The radical jihadists in the Middle East (ISIS) that we allowed to grow by overthrowing Iraq and who pose no threat at all to the United States. The Shia clerics in Iran who have seemingly been THIS CLOSE to building a nuclear weapon for over a decade, who have no intention or ability to attack us, and whose military we could crush easily. The Chinese taking over the South China Sea… which again doesn’t directly affect us, and who everyone knows we aren’t going to war with to stop anyway.
Rand then repeats the obvious – that we can’t afford to spend more on the military, and that the position of Rubio and those like him is not remotely conservative when it comes to defense spending. Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina then felt it was their turn to interject. Cruz claimed we could afford massive military spending if we cut some programs. Not sure of the math here, but it’s besides the point anyway – we can easily defend ourselves with the same or even much less spending. Fiorina added some gibberish about budgeting and tax reform. But the main firefight was over with for the time.
At the time and after the debate, I was stewing about Rubio dropping the “isolationist” slur. Here was the GOP establishment’s golden boy so unable to defend his position that he had to lie about his opponent’s stance. It was truly a pathetic moment for someone who many feel will be the standard-bearer for the party against Hillary. Marco simultaneously insulted anyone less hawkish then him and showed he can’t handle having this debate. His knowledge clearly is limited to the people he surrounds himself with – the same people who pushed the Iraq debacle.
But on reflection, I realized something different. The hawk wing of the GOP is very powerful in number and influence, for sure. More Republicans agree with Rubio than with Paul. But at the same time, they simply cannot defend their ideas when challenged. Rubio knows that $1 trillion of new defense spending is not fiscally responsible or necessary. He knows that in order to justify this, he needs to misrepresent opponents and exaggerate threats that don’t exist.
It recalled a similar exchange between Paul and Chris Christie at a previous debate. The topic of NSA spying came up, and Christie’s despicable response was to play the “9/11 card” that Rudy Giuliani became famous for. Again we saw a defense hawk so unable to defend his position that he had to resort to crass emotional appeals. Again, Christie may have “won” in the same way that Rubio “won” because he simply has more of the party on his side. But it showed how unable he was to defend the atrocious violations of liberty the NSA has done without trying to make Americans scared of terrorists.
Non-interventionists, or even people who simply want a less aggressive foreign policy, have a long way to go. We have many obstacles before us, both in the voting populace and in unscrupulous politicians. I don’t think anyone has any illusion that the US will become a nation of peace any time soon. But what last night showed is one simple thing – the people who favor the status quo are vulnerable. They’ve floated by for so long without being challenged and they know they can’t defend their ideas in an honest debate. We can beat them. It just takes people like Rand Paul who are willing to bear the inevitable slings and arrows and get people thinking. Rand’s position is not even slightly radical – he’s simply less anxious to spend and invade. But even that terrifies folks like Rubio.
There is hope for a peaceful future where the US minds its own business and seeks peace rather than war. This does not mean we don’t defend ourselves against real threats. But it does mean we always try peace and diplomacy first, keep our noses from where they don’t belong, and realize that our military is more than up to the task if need be. But to achieve this, we need to be forthright, bold, and fearless against our opponents. They can be beaten back – but it will require years of hard work. Peace is worth it.