Monday, May 24, 2010

Pauken's Paleo Moment

There was a brief period in the 1990s when it looked like the right was going to have a paleo moment. Pat Buchanan barely lost to Bob Dole in Iowa and beat him in New Hampshire. Republican members of Congress were railing against "nation-building" abroad and filing lawsuits to keep Bill Clinton from going to war in the Balkans. And Tom Pauken was the chairman of the Texas Republican Party.

In the following decade, both the Republicans and the conservative movement traveled in a very different direction. There were many reasons for this, of course -- Clinton's presidency came to an end and, with the 9/11 terrorist attacks, so did the post-Cold War "peace dividend." But Pauken's rivals in the Texas GOP, George W. Bush and Karl Rove, played a very significant role. Compassionate conservatism replaced government-slashing; soothing rhetoric about faith-based initiatives replaced Buchananesque speeches about the culture war; the "humble foreign policy" of candidate Bush gave way to the president's Bush Doctrine.

Around the same time Rove published his memoir, Tom Pauken -- a Goldwater-era conservative activist who served in the Nixon and Reagan administrations -- released his book Bringing America Home, painting a very un-Rovian picture of what the Republican Party and the conservative movement should look like. Pauken might have titled it The Conscience of a Paleoconservative.

The country caught a glimpse of Pauken's vision last week, when Tea Party insurgent Rand Paul triumphed over GOP establishment favorite Trey Grayson in Kentucky's Republican primary for U.S. Senate. That contest pitted economic and social conservatives against national-security hawks who were unmoved by Paul's appeals for smaller government -- and alarmed by his more restrained view of foreign policy. (Though the firestorm over Paul's post-election musings about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a reminder of the foot-in-mouth disease that can afflict paleo politicians.)