Jack Hunter has resigned from Sen. Rand Paul’s office, in light of criticisms of his “Southern Avenger” background. Although left-wing and mainstream outlets picked up the story and ran with it, the first shots were fired from the right by the Washington Free Beacon, with further fusillades coming from Commentary and Jennifer Rubin. Why would these particular right-wingers take aim at a Republican senator’s staffer?
“What the schism is about,” writes Joan Walsh at Salon, is not a war fought 150 years ago but “Ron Paul’s skepticism about U.S. support for Israel and his broader anti-interventionist foreign policy views, which his son has blunted in the service of mainstream political success.” Which leads Walsh to ask: “What is it about the modern GOP that so many of its leaders are correct on the righteousness of either the Civil War or the Iraq War, but rarely both?”
The answer is to be found in the American right’s own half-century civil war. As often happens in war, this one has created alliances that turn what should be separate questions into a single, packaged ideology. It wasn’t quite true even in 2002 that you could predict a right-winger’s view of the impending Iraq War based on his or her view of the Civil War, but the correlations were strong enough to be remarkable. A series of disputes on the right spanning five decades had fused together criticisms of Lincoln and opposition to neoconservative foreign policy.
When the right’s civil war began is open to interpretation, but a fateful early skirmish was Willmoore Kendall’s scathing 1959 review of Harry Jaffa’s Crisis of the House Divided. The review argued that Lincoln, or at least Jaffa’s Lincoln, substituted an ambitious ideology aiming at universal equality for the down-to-earth virtues of the Constitution. In effect, this was a revolution on the highest plane—that of the values that guide the interpretation of the fundamental law.
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