Comparing today's national political scene with that of the not-so-distant past, one can't help being struck by the contrast in the behavior of the "opposition" party.
Sixty years ago, the Republican-controlled Congress, led by Robert Taft and Arthur Vandenburg, consistently supported the foreign policy of the Democratic administrations of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Differ as the parties might on domestic policy, in foreign affairs America spoke with one voice.
Today, the Bush administration pursues essentially the same foreign policy as Roosevelt and Truman, calling for engagement or intervention in world affairs. But consistency in policy, now that the shoes on the other foot, isn't accompanied by consistency of bipartisanship. Far from supporting the administration's foreign policy, the "opposition" Democrats seem to do everything in their power to undermine it. They make no bones about their conviction that the enemy isn't those guys plotting terror against us or shooting at our soldiers, but George Bush! There were people who loathed Roosevelt and Truman, but I can't think of any who ever ranted against them as, for instance, our own Charles Nash rails against Bush.
The parties have "changed places," not for the first time in their history.
Turn-of-the twentieth- century imperialism, the Spanish and Philippine wars, was a Republican enterprise. But it was the Democrats, under Wilson, who led America onto the fullblown world stage. Thus it was left to the Republicans to give voice to the disillusion, the distaste for foreign entanglements, that swept the country following World War One. Even as late as the 1950s the former Republican president Herbert Hoover was still urging that America withdraw to its own shores and let the rest of the world go hang. Or go Communist.
Yet interventionism, it seems, never came easily or naturally to the Democrats. Their presidents had to drag them to it kicking and screaming, first Wilson, then Roosevelt and Truman, and finally, less happily, Lyndon Johnson. Roosevelt had to move warily, sometimes in secret, to build American support for embattled Britain.
Most remarkably, as Roosevelt and Truman led the struggles against the international madnesses of their day, Republican Congressional leaders supported them, rising above their own self-interest and risking their political base. There were times when the Democratic president got more support from the "opposition" than from his own party.
Sixty years down the the peavine, things couldn't be more different. The Democrats, to put it mildly, show no signs of the self-denying wisdom the Republicans showed back when they were the "opposition." Ever more they're letting themselves be dominated by their extreme left wing, that small but influential self-anointed "elite" or "intelligentsia" in Academia, the press, and the entertainment world, people who actually have come to hate their country and make no bones about wishing it ill. In their relativistic pursuit of "fairness" they almost invariably support "the other side," to a point that once would have been seen as flirting with treason. Examples are all around us, from news organizations banning the American flag from their reporting of 9/11 to Hollywood figures publicly wishing for the death of the president or of U. S. soldiers.
Regardless of one's party inclinations, it can't be denied the interventionists were right in an earlier time, and are right today. It would be nice if we could live in isolation, be "a republic, not an empire," as isolationists put it. But we can't. The world's too small for both us and our friends and aggressive tyrannies like those of Hitler, Communist Russia, and the Islamic terrorists. Isolation simply isn't an option. America can no more refrain from flexing its superpower on the world stage than a star can refuse to exert its gravity.
We'll still have an influence even if we don't consciously exert it, but it will just as likely be the wrong kind of influence as the right, if we don't shoulder the responsibility our power imposes on us.
It's high time we stopped hesitating over or being ashamed of our "unilateralism." Other countries are happy enough for us to act alone when it's in their self-interest. We need to start acting exclusively in our own. We'll find we have more friends in the long run. We shouldn't want to be loved, but only respected.
America is often likened to Rome, which also began as a virtuous republic and, almost against its will, became a world empire. It was either that or see themselves surrounded by chaos, a situation uncannily like our own. There were peaceniks and isolationists even in Rome. Cato pined for the republic, unable to see that that simple old world was gone forever. There two were cries of "Bring the troops home" even as Caesar was conquering Gaul.
But Caesar was another leader who proved wiser than the multitude. He had to resort to schrecklichkeit, fright- fulness, to subdue Gaul. Yet it's widely agreed that his conquest of Gaul was one of the most felicitous events in history. Greco-Roman civilization was millennia ahead of Gaul's barbarism, not only militarily but in every respect. Planting that civilization in the heart of Western Europe enabled it to survive the Dark Ages and give birth to the modern world.
Some will object that American culture isn't anything to brag about, or to wish on other peoples. But this is being superficial. There's more to American culture than the pop culture.
Those who complain of shabby American culture seem to like well enough its unparalleled science and technology, its labor-saving conveniences, its medical miracles, not to mention its preservation of the culture of the ancient world and the best of Europe.
And of course it's politically incorrect to draw a parallel contrast between America and the "Third World," or whatever it's politically correct to call it these days.
But this is another perverse, wimpy sentiment wished off on us by that America-bashing "elite" whose sage observations on 9/11 include the likes of "We deserved it," and the victims were all fascists anyway, and the greatest terrorist, after all, is George Bush.
Such stark-raving notions would be only laughable if they didn't actually influence the political process, through an "opposition" party seemingly no longer capable of rising above the cesspool of nasty partisanship to something like the bipartisan consensus that steered us to victory over the enemies of freedom in the not-so-distant past.