I. A Tale of Two Candidates
Here’s a question: During the recent Libya coup—that is, the Obama administration-orchestrated effort to topple Muammar Qaddafi from power in 2011—which prominent American made the following statement:
When an American president says the guy needs to go, you better make sure that it happens because your credibility and your stature in the world is on the line.
Was it a) Hillary Clinton? b) John Kerry? c) Harry Reid?
And the answer is, it was none of them. It was d) Marco Rubio, quoted in The Weekly Standardon March 31, 2011. You know, the Senator from Florida. Yes, Rubio is a Republican, not normally thought of as a fan of Obama, but in this instance—and, as we shall see, in many other instances—he eagerly lined up behind Obama.
Lest there be any doubt as to Rubio’s Obamaphile views back in 2011, here’s how the Weekly Standard’s Stephen F. Hayes introduced the above-cited quote:
Senator Marco Rubio offered his full-throated support Wednesday for the U.S. intervention in Libya and called on President Barack Obama to be clear that regime change is the objective of America’s involvement.
Indeed, Rubio went further than just supporting Obama in this particular endeavor. He declared that it was vital that Obama succeed, so as to preserve “credibility”—that is, the credibility that Obama would need to launch future endeavors. As journalist Hayes, clearly a Rubio fan, explained four years ago,
In an interview yesterday afternoon, Rubio said that failing to remove Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, after Obama publicly called for him to go, would have grave consequences for America’s reputation in the region and in the world.
Although Obama, with the help of Rubio’s cheerleading, was successful in removing Qaddafi, as we know, the overall mission in Libya has not been so successful; the country has been in chaos ever since Qaddafi’s death. Indeed, it’s fair to say that the 2012 assassination of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi is the direct result of the Obama-Rubio intervention.
So why would Rubio be such a strong supporter of Obama on a key foreign-policy issue? That’s a good question, especially since Rubio is now running for president on a mostly anti-Obama platform.
So yes, by all means, let’s drill down on the question of how Rubio can support Obama so much on critical policy, even as he opposes him politically. We can ask: How does Rubio, in his own mind, make sense of that split?
The answer comes from a deep ideological current in American foreign policy, of which Rubio is a vital part. And this ideological current, as we shall see, elevates bipartisanship to near fetish-like status. Moreover, this current oftentimes seeks to subordinate, even ignore, America’s national interest—in favor, we might say, of abstract and arcane intellectual ideals. We will detail this ideology in Section II.
But first, another quote-quiz. Who said this, on December 5, about ISIS?
We will utterly destroy ISIS. We won’t weaken them. We won’t degrade them. We will utterly destroy them. We will carpet bomb them into oblivion. . . . We will do everything necessary so that every militant on the face of the earth will know if you go and join ISIS, if you wage jihad and declare war on America, you are signing your death warrant.
Who said that? Was it a) Donald Trump? Or b) the head of the Air Force’s Strategic Air Command? Or c) Bill O’Reilly, or some other tough-talker on Fox News?
Nope, it was d) Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, campaigning in Des Moines, Iowa.
Thus we can see the contrast: While Rubio was talking about supporting Obama on a complicated mission that seemed—and seems—dubious to most Americans, Cruz was saying something much simpler: Kill the bad guys.
Indeed, Cruz is quite capable of expressing himself in such blunt terms. Yet, as we know, he is no simpleton: Once a national-champion debater, he went to Princeton and Harvard, and law-clerked for the Chief Justice of the United States, William Rehnquist. So his simple words represent a great deal of complicated thought; he, too, can cite a distinct political tradition, which we will come to in Section III.
So yes, we can marvel at the difference between Rubio and Cruz, even as we note their similarities: Both are Cuban-American first-term senators from the Sunbelt, both are 44 years old, and both are smart men. Indeed, both are uniquely articulate advocates for their very divergent foreign-policy traditions.
Rubio, as we shall see in the next section, is a passionate and devoted exponent of the well-established foreign-policy school known as Wilsonianism, which traces its origins back to our 28th President, Woodrow Wilson, who served from 1913 to 1921.
And Cruz, as we shall see in the third section, is an equally passionate and devoted exponent of a much less well-known foreign-policy school, Jacksonianism, which can be linked to our 7th President, Andrew Jackson, who served from 1829 to 1837.
The differences between the two men, Rubio and Cruz, are important, and they deserve our close attention; they speak volumes about the difference in the way they would conduct foreign policy in the White House.
II The Wilsonian Tradition
When we say that Rubio is a Wilsonian, we are simply noting that he has chosen to identify himself with a tradition that emphasizes the high-minded but forceful application of American power around the world, often aimed at advancing democracy and human rights. Wilson was a Democrat and a progressive, but at the same time, he was nothing like, say, George McGovern; McGovern was virtually a pacifist. No, Wilson was not a dove at all—he was perfectly willing to use American military power to achieve his idealistic goals.
Yet Wilson, nevertheless, was an idealist. The son of a Presbyterian minister, he was a brilliant Ph.D. student, then a professor at Princeton, then president of Princeton University. And after a brief stopover as governor of New Jersey, he was elected president of the United States in 1912.
In the White House, Wilson set about improving the world. He launched a series of armed interventions in Latin America and the Caribbean; as he declared in 1913, “I am going to teach the South American republics to elect good men.” That turned out to be an impossible mission, but his supporters admired and revered him for his devotion to duty as he saw it—even as critics derided him as a messianic zealot.
Yet the signature aspect of Wilson’s presidency, and of Wilsonianism as we know it today, was a seeming twist on the use of American power: We should use force, but we should not cheer for it, nor wave the flag on its behalf. And that’s what distinguishes Wilsonianism from plain old patriotic nationalism; that’s what makes it so counter-intuitive to Americans. Indeed, this element of Wilsonian policy was, and is, deeply confusing to the average American. Nevertheless, for nearly a century now, leading American intellectuals have loved it—perhaps, in its disdain for traditional patriotic trappings, because it is so different from conventional thinking.
Indeed, we can observe that Wilsonianism, shorn of traditional patriotism, even during wartime, is deeply appealing to elites, here and around the world. That is, the class that is normally embarrassed by patriotic displays usually loves Wilsonianism—because it seems to be higher, more cerebral, more intellectual. Without a doubt, Wilsonianism has snob-appeal.
Yet the yawning gap between elite Wilsonianism and mass-appeal patriotism can make Wilsonianism problematic politically.
The ordinary American, for example, might think that it’s a good idea for the US to win its wars and that it’s an equally good idea to rally ‘round the flag in wartime. Yet Wilsonians tend to have a different view. Back in 1917, President Wilson offered this curious articulation of US war aims in World War One: Yes, America should fight against the Kaiser, and yes, the goal was a military triumph—but the ultimate goal, Wilson told Congress and the country, was “peace without victory.” In other words, American doughboys should fight and die in France, but they shouldn’t savor the patriotic and nationalistic pleasures of such victory.
Yes, you read that right: Wilson wanted to win, but he didn’t want Americans to feel triumphant. He felt that excessive nationalism here in the US would make it harder to build the post-war multilateral peace that he hoped to achieve with the League of Nations, the forerunner to the United Nations.
Wilson’s vision was noble, many thought. And the president himself was astonishingly articulate and erudite. Moreover, he was acutely conscious of doing the right thing, as he saw it. He once said, “Tell me what is right and I will fight for it.” But of course, most of the time, Wilson already knew what was right, or at least he thought he did. And that’s one more reason why his adherents love him: To this day, he epitomizes the I’d-rather-be-right-than-popular spirit that animates many intellectuals.
And so, in the minds of his brainy supporters, it didn’t really matter that the average American didn’t quite get Wilsonianism; indeed, public confusion about Wilsonianism was something of a badge of honor—that is, proof that the Wilsonians were a higher species than mere Americans and their “boorish” values and folkways.
And yet because Wilsonianism was so difficult for the masses to comprehend, it wasn’t particularly popular. As noted here at Breitbart, Wilson’s idealistic vision foundered on the rocks of reality; in the 1918 midterm elections, just days before the Allied victory in the Great War, the opposition Republicans won the Congress, turning out Wilson’s Democrats. And in 1919-20, the roof caved in on the Wilson administration and its grand plans for a new architecture of international organizations.
Yet even so, Wilsonianism has been a strong strain of foreign-policy thinking ever since; the elites seem perpetually entranced by the idea that they are leading America on some grand national mission, the full complexity of which only they can understand.
Nevertheless, even if the details of Wilsonianism are hard to understand, the broad outlines of the doctrine easily lend themselves to sweeping statement. President John F. Kennedy, for example, was an unabashed fan of his predecessor; his 1961 Inaugural address was ringingly Wilsonian, as when he famously declared,
We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
Kennedy’s warmed-over Wilsonianism quickly ran into difficulty in Vietnam, but even so, everybody knows JFK’s famous speech.
Meanwhile, over the last half-century, old-style Wilsonianism has easily blended with a newer dogma, “neoconservatism.”
The neoconservatives, too, are eager to use military force around the world, and they, too, tend to express their policy objectives in non-nationalistic terms. To the neocons, the key issue isn’t that America should win, it’s that America should be right.
And so it is right, for example, that America should advance democracy and freedom around the world. Yet, as we have seen, this emphasis on changing the hearts and minds of foreigners—that is, getting them to embrace democracy and freedom—is far more difficult than merely winning a war. If the goal is simply to kill the other guy, the US military can do that. But if the goal is to transform the thinking of the other guy, well, that’s not what they teach at West Point.
Yet once again, the neoconservatives tend to see American power in abstract terms that oftentimes skip over practical difficulties, including the matter of costs. And interestingly, not all neoconservatives are, in fact, conservative.
For example, in 1996, Bill Clinton’s future Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, challenged then-General Colin Powell to answer her question about the looming commitment of US ground troops, simply for the purpose of helping to liberate Muslims in Kosovo and the Balkans. “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about,” she asked Powell, “if we can’t use it?” In his memoir, Powell wrote that when he heard Albright’s words, he feared that he was going to have an “aneurysm”; “American GIs,” he added, “are not toy soldiers to be moved around on some global game board.”
Yes, Powell, who served two combat tours in Vietnam, had strong feelings about civilians who would over-use US troops in willy-nilly missions. In his mind, the only valid reason for using the US military was to protect the national interest—and he did not see the US national interest at risk in the former Yugoslavia. But Albright and her boss, President Bill Clinton, saw things differently; to them, helping the Muslims in Southern Europe was a wonderful idea.
Interestingly, back then, in the mid-90s, Albright and Clinton had the strong support of many prominent neoconservatives, including Sen. John McCain, the editorial writers at The Wall Street Journal, and William Kristol, publisher of The Weekly Standard—the publication that would later admiringly extoll Marco Rubio.
Again, thinking back to the Clinton administration’s Balkan intervention, we are reminded that Wilsonian neoconservatism typically transcends party, as well as patriotism. That is, Wilsonian goals—starting with saving the world—are seen as larger than any mere parochial concern.
So Bill Clinton, the former McGovernite, who actively avoided the draft during the Vietnam era, sprouted into a Wilsonian as president; one could even say he was sort of a neoconservative. In fact, one of the strengths of Wilsonian neoconservatism is that it has a left wing, as well as a right wing. So Bill Clinton was a left-wing neocon, and his successor in the White House, George W. Bush, was a right-wing neocon.
And of course, Bush, who fused his right-wing Wilsonianism with Christian zeal, was infinitely more energetic and ambitious for his ideas than Clinton had been.
Indeed, after 9/11, Bush seemed to think he had a God-given chance to remake the world. And so, as a savvy politician, he was willing to play somewhat to nationalist passions in the wake of the attacks on America; yet ultimately, his Wilsonianism got the best of him. And as a result, he himself chose to communicate in the abstract language of Wilsonianism, fortified with his own born-again Christian theology.
So, on September 17, 2001, Bush assured Americans that “Islam is peace.” Those words must have been confusing to ordinary Americans, who knew that, just six days earlier, Islamic radicals had killed 3,000 of their fellow citizens.
So as a result, as was the case with Wilson nearly a century before, Bush was perfectly willing to send Americans to fight and die for fuzzy abstractions. We might note, in contrast, that during World War Two, Admiral Halsey had told his warriors in the Pacific, “Kill Japs, kill Japs, kill more Japs”; those were not politically correct words, but they encouraged our fighting men to kill, and thus defeat, the enemy. On the other hand, Bush was making the mission in Iraq and Afghanistan much harder: The mission was never just to kill the enemy; instead, it was to win the enemy over to our way of thinking.
As Bush said in his second inaugural address in 2005, it wasn’t enough for America militarily to defeat the terrorists; instead, we had to bring the terrorists, or at least their societies, around to our point of view. As the re-elected president said:
The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.
In other words, Bush was setting a high, even impossible, standard. Our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan couldn’t just kill bad guys; instead, they had to fight to expand freedom. So US warriors, trained in the art of kinetic warfare, had, instead, to become warriors for polemic ideology. We can recall that neoconservative intellectuals, well versed in the fine points of argumentation, adored Bush’s message—although the average American still simply scratched his or her head.
Indeed, at the time, back in 2005, Peggy Noonan spoke for many when she published an opinion piece, bluntly titled, “Way Too Much God.” If Noonan, a devout Catholic and one of the more visible champions of religion in the public square, thought that Bush had gotten carried away—well, she undoubtedly spoke for most Americans. Here’s how she put it:
The administration’s approach to history is at odds with what has been described by a communications adviser to the president as the “reality-based community.” A dumb phrase, but not a dumb thought: He meant that the administration sees history as dynamic and changeable, not static and impervious to redirection or improvement. That is the Bush administration way, and it happens to be realistic: History is dynamic and changeable, not static and impervious to redirection or improvement. . . . On the other hand, some things are constant, such as human imperfection, injustice, misery and bad government. This world is not heaven.
No, the world is not heaven. And in fact, it’s heresy to think that this world can be made perfect. But Bush, suffering from what Noonan called “mission inebriation”—her play on “mission creep”—had lost his once-sound perspective.
Thus the American people felt they had no choice but to restrain Bush’s remake-the-world impulses at the ballot box. And so in the 2006 midterm elections, voters put the Democrats back in charge of the House and Senate, and in 2008, they gave the Democrats another big victory in Congress, as well as dramatically awarding the White House to Barack Obama. With the benefit of hindsight, we might say that the voters made a mistake with Obama, but at the time, in their defense, Obama was an unknown, and Bush—and his anointed would-be successor, John McCain—were all too well known.
So George W. Bush’s right-wing Wilsonianism, or neoconservatism—like Woodrow Wilson’s left-wing Wilsonianism nine decades earlier—was soundly rejected at the polls.
Yet, as Obama has proven to be such a huge failure, we can observe that Bush 43 has made something of a comeback. Indeed, in contrast to the foreign-policy mess that we have now, even Bush’s neocon Wilsonianism has started to look pretty good.
In fact, given that the neocons, as a group, are not only highly academically credentialed, but also wealthy, we can see why an ambitious fellow such as Rubio would seek to come climbing onto their bandwagon.
So Rubio might think that he has chosen well. In embracing Wilsonian neoconservatism, he instantly found his speeches lauded by neocon pundits, and his campaign coffers filled by neocon donors—so what’s not to like?
As a result, Rubio was soon positioned as the Great Neocon Hope for the next presidential election. On October 6, 2014, National Review’s Eliana Johnson published an important piece, entitled, “The Neocons Return: Meet their 2016 candidate, Marco Rubio.” And there, big as life, was a picture of Rubio. As Johnson wrote,
Since his election four years ago, the first-term senator has consistently articulated a robust internationalist position closest to that of George W. Bush.
Rubio’s views are strikingly similar to those that guided George W. Bush as he began navigating the post-9/11 world.
So of course, Rubio supported Obama and Hillary on Libya and Syria. Wilson, too, as well as Bush 43, would have done no less.
Yet we can observe that one of the problems of Wilsonianism/neoconservatism is that in its ideological enthusiasm for remaking the world, it tends to be oblivious to such “small” issues as homeland security and border security. That is, in the minds of the Wilsonians, we should think macro, not micro. Up there in the Olympian heights, the best and the brightest should think about solving the world’s problems, not just tending to America’s little garden.
So yes, in the big-thinking minds of the Wilsonians, traditional American nationalism must yield to high-brow internationalism. After all, the thought-process seems to be, how can one let oneself get lost in the weeds of mere national self-interest, when the fate of the world is at stake?
Thus we come to a vital tool in the Wilsonian “arsenal”: immigration.
To the Wilsonian neocons, immigration to the US is indeed crucial. That is, if the issue is saving the world—and it always is—then part of the save-the-world plan means accommodating, and welcoming, refugee flows.
Yes, refugees from Somalia, Syria, anywhere—they all must come here, so that the US can “show leadership.” That is, we must take immigrants by the thousands, even millions, as a way of pointing other countries, as well, to the virtuous path. And in this way, the Wilsonian thinking goes, America will save the world.
Thus it should come as no surprise that National Review’s Johnson reports that one of Rubio’s mentors is former Bush 43 national-security adviser Stephen Hadley. In the White House, Hadley was a champion of open borders, and just recently, he signed a letter with 19 other foreign policy savants, from both parties, calling for the US to take in Syrian refugees.
Hadley and his fellow Wilsonians seem unable to come to grips with the nagging reality that Uncle Sam does a relentlessly poor job at “vetting.” As The New York Times reported on Saturday, Tafsheen Malik, one-half of the San Bernardino shooting couple, was open about her Islamic zealotry on social media. Yet even so, she passed no fewer than three “background checks.” Most likely, Hadley & Co. don’t really care about background checks: Yes, there will be some tragedies inflicted on Americans as a result of mass immigration, but the internationalist foreign-policy experts see a “greater good” that transcends mere Americans and their petty preoccupation with not getting shot.
In addition, the Wilsonians, always seeking to advance their doctrine of remaking the world, tend to have another troublesome blind spot: To them, concerns over national character and identity are just so much benighted “oldthink.”
That is, as a matter of ideology, the neoconservatives just can’t bring themselves to acknowledge that one culture is different from another culture, and thus, maybe, they shouldn’t be blended together suddenly, as happens with a huge refugee influx. Indeed, that happens to be common sense to traditional conservatives, but to the neoconservatives, well, such thinking is not allowed.
Here we might pause to note that such “post-nationalist” thinking is one reason why the Wilsonian neoconservatives tend to retain substantial support from the political left; as noted, there are left-neocons, as well as right-neocons.
Many progressives, in other words, admire the Wilsonians for their willingness to forsake the normal trappings of conservatism, such as national security and national sovereignty. In the minds of liberals, if the Wilsonians are willing to abandon patriotism and the the preservation of national identity, then they can’t be all bad.
And that’s a further reason why open borders is such a key element of neoconservative thinking: It unites the parties.
We might recall that George W. Bush was a champion of “comprehensive immigration reform,” aka, “amnesty.” Today, leading neocons, including McCain and his senatorial colleague, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, are staunch supporters not only of expanded refugee programs, but also of “comprehensive immigration reform,” aka, “amnesty.”
And that’s why critics have summed up neocon policy as, “Invade the world/ Invite the world.”
But of course, the neocons would never let a low variable such as public opinion get in the way of their grand plan.
And so, in keeping with state-of-the-art Wilsonian thinking, back in 2013, Marco Rubio was a strong supporter of the “Gang of Eight” immigration reform, alongside such prominent Democrats as Sen. Chuck Schumer.
And although Rubio has supposedly backed off from the idea over the last two years, asBreitbart’s Julia Hahn has noted, the Florida Senator continues to push Gang of Eight talking points. Indeed, it’s perfectly fair to say that, were he to be elected president, he would resume the push for “comprehensive immigration reform,” aka, “amnesty.”
Indeed, Rubio has never stopped seeking to advance Wilsonian causes. Here, for example, is Rubio looking for new places to give away foreign aid money, in a speech to the liberal Brookings Institution on April 25, 2012:
In every region of the world, we should always search for ways to use U.S. aid and humanitarian assistance to strengthen our influence, the effectiveness of our leadership, and the service of our interests and ideals.
And just two months later, in June 2012, Rubio expressed his strong support for Obama’s Syria policy, which was indeed a half-hearted attempt to replicate the Libya coup. In his favorite publication, The Wall Street Journal, under the bold headline, “Assad’s Fall Is In America’s Interests,” Rubio wrote,
Empowering and supporting Syria’s opposition today will give us our best chance of influencing it tomorrow, to ensure that revenge killings are rare in a post-Assad Syria and that a new government follows a moderate foreign policy.
Of course, some have said that the Wilsonians are now biting off more than they can chew. One observer here at Breitbart has noted that the Wilsonians don’t seem disciplined when it comes to limiting American commitments. In other words, is it really possible that the US, with about 21 percent of the world’s economic output, and with less than five percent of the world’s population, can really do it all? The Breitbart author mocked the left-Wilsonians of the Obama administration for their attempted five-way containment:
So there we have it: the Quintuple Containment: The US seeking to contain Russia, China, Iran, terror, and the equally dreaded threat of climate change.
We might note that the right-Wilsonians of the Republican Party are more limited in their ambitions; they mostly disdain “climate change.” So for them, America need undertake only a quadruple containment, albeit with more military force applied to each of the remaining four objectives.
And yet we would do well to remember that Wilsonians of both stripes, right and left, put a huge premium on bipartisanship—so who can say for sure that Republican neocons, after all, wouldn’t yet be sucked into a deal on that fifth “threat,” namely “climate change”?
Again, we must remember that bipartisanship is a siren song to Wilsonians. That’s one reason why, for example, Sen. Joe Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, was such a hero to Republicans. Toward the end of his career, Lieberman was really a “DINO”—Democrat In Name Only—yet even so, Wilsonian neocon Republicans, hungering always for bipartisan cred, continued to trumpet Lieberman as a D.
Thus, because bipartisanship is so important to the neoconservatives, one can never say that Republican Wilsonians wouldn’t be interested, after all, in a “climate change” deal if they thought it would bring in Democratic support on other policy objectives. And by the same token, Democratic Wilsonians, who are totally obsessed with “climate change,” might find themselves supporting wars they wouldn’t otherwise support—if it could mean “building bridges” with Republican Wilsonians on stopping CO2.
Indeed, such bridge-building was the subtext of a remarkable joint opinion piece in the December 9 Politico, co-signed by Danielle Pletka, a neoconservative at the American Enterprise Institute, and Brian Katulis, a liberal at the Center for American Progress. In the piece, Pletka and Katulis, good Wilsonians both, lamented the “worrisome bipartisan crisis of U.S. leadership in the world.” And so the two, one on the left, one on the right, proposed to fix that policy gap, with a plan for collaborative action, starting with the US taking in more—many more—refugees. As Pletka and Katulis wrote, in words that must be cheering to the next Tafsheen Malik who wishes to come here and kill Americans,
Calls to close America’s doors to refugees risk undermining who we are as a nation. Instead of slipping into fearful isolationism, Republicans and Democrats should dedicate their efforts to enhancing the background checks on refugees fleeing conflict. This is eminently doable, and there is ample room for the Obama administration to negotiate a reliable system with Congressional leaders. At minimum, we should strive to achieve the Obama administration’s target goal of admitting 10,000 refugees from Syria in the next fiscal year.
And then, Pletka and Katulis added the usual ringing Wilsonian rhetoric:
Why do it? Because we are the richest and freest country in the world. If we lack the moral fortitude to dedicate resources to screen and admit those fleeing the horror of war, we cannot ask other countries to do the same.
That’s Wilsonianism for you: The national interest must come in second to the international interest. And out of that fusion, left and right, it’s not hard to see that the left-Wilsonians could talk the right-Wilsonians into a deal on “climate change.” And so both kinds of Wilsonians would be pulling in the same harness, leading America to oppose all the world’s bad guys and solve all the world’s problems.
III. The Jacksonian Tradition
But of course, not everyone in America is a Wilsonian. There are other traditions, too, in US foreign policy. Two other traditions are Jeffersonian and Hamiltonianism. We can look quickly at both:
The Jeffersonian tradition, of course, is named after Thomas Jefferson, our Third President. It is, in a word, liberal: George McGovern, whom we met earlier, qualifies as a Jeffersonian. To be sure, an historical purist might say that the real Jefferson, in the White House, wasn’t so liberal; after all, he started West Point, defeated the Barbary Pirates, and doubled the size of the US with the Louisiana Purchase. And yet even so, his writings—mostly from the period before he became president—have deeply inspired liberals, libertarians, and other peaceniks. Today, one might be tempted to think of Obama as being in this category, although it would seem, perhaps, that he is too quick to order drone strikes to be a true Jeffersonian. So we might count Obama as a diffident and uncertain Wilsonian; he might seem hesitant and incompetent, although in the end, he is perfectly willing to kill to achieve his policy ends.
As for the Hamiltonian tradition, it comes to us from Alexander Hamilton, our first treasury secretary. The Hamiltonians were, and are, commerce-minded. So when President Coolidge said, “The business of America is business,” that was a great statement of the Hamiltonian credo. A Hamiltonian today, for example, would be strongly in favor of lower taxes, and would also would likely support the Ex-Im Bank. Yet even as Hamiltonianism enjoys a revival on, of all places, Broadway, it’s easy for critics to make fun of “money-grubbing” Hamiltonians. And so while Hamiltonianism has arguably been the default position of the United States throughout its history, it is usually submerged behind one of the other two traditions, Wilsonianism and Jeffersonianism.
So having identified three traditions—Wilsonianism, Jeffersonianism, and Hamiltonianism—we can now espy a fourth, Jacksonianism. If the first category, Wilsonianism, seems best to describe Marco Rubio, it’s this fourth category, Jacksonianism, that seems best to describe Ted Cruz.
So what is Jacksonianism? Although the impulse goes back centuries, the name itself traces only to 1999, when political scientist Walter Russell Mead laid it out in a 13,000-word article in The National Interest. Mead, at the time a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, outlined this fourth tradition, “a warrior tradition,” in honor of Andrew Jackson, our Seventh President, who served in the White House from 1829 to 1837.
Jackson was Scots-Irish, a people whom Mead accurately described as “hardy and warlike,” toughened by life on the frontier. Thus we might say that Jacksonianism is all about ferocity in war.
Just as Jackson himself gained personal power in the early 19th century, so did his “ism,” because, frankly, Jacksonianism is useful in winning wars. And we have had lots of wars that we had to win.
To illustrate the Jacksonian approach to war-fighting, Mead recalled a moment in World War Two in which US armed forces inflicted staggering civilian casualties on Japan—and this was before the A-bomb. As Mead notes, “In the last five months of World War II, American bombing raids claimed the lives of more than 900,000 Japanese civilians.” He zeroes in on one particular date:
On one night, that of March 9-10, 1945, 234 Superfortresses dropped 1,167 tons of incendiary bombs over downtown Tokyo; 83,793 Japanese bodies were found in the charred remains—a number greater than the 80,942 combat fatalities that the United States sustained in the Korean and Vietnam Wars combined.
We can look back and ask: Were we too tough on the Japanese? And that’s a question that Jeffersonians, or Hamiltonians, or even Wilsonians, might ask—but not the Jacksonians. The Jacksonians weren’t the least bit apologetic; in their tough martial worldview, the Japanese needed killin’, and that was all there was to it. Our 34th President, Harry Truman, of Independence, Mo., the man who dropped the A-bomb on Japan, was a Jacksonian. And so it might not be a surprise that Truman was once the Presiding Judge (the equivalent of county executive) of Jackson County, Mo.—which was named, of course, after Andrew Jackson.
In his essay, Mead was moved to observe that this militarily tough tradition simply could not be ignored:
The American war record should make us think. An observer who thinks of American foreign policy only in terms of the commercial realism of the Hamiltonians, the crusading moralism of Wilsonian transcendentalists, and the supple pacifism of the principled but slippery Jeffersonians would be at a loss to account for American ruthlessness at war.
Indeed, surveying Andrew Jackson’s war record, we can see that he left a large impression in US history. Old Hickory, as he was called, was famously brave, famously effective, and famously ferocious—beating Indians and the British, both. His victory at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 was the greatest American victory in The War of 1812. And a century-and-a-half later, it was still being celebrated; in 1958, the country & western singer Johnny Horton released a Top-40 pop song about the battle.
So yes, even though Jackson, unlike Wilson, was neither a scholar nor a speechmaker, he nevertheless created a tradition. As Mead noted,
Once wars begin, a significant element of American public opinion supports waging them at the highest possible level of intensity. The devastating tactics of the wars against the Indians, General Sherman’s campaign of 1864-65, and the unprecedented aerial bombardments of World War II were all broadly popular in the United States. During both the Korean and Vietnam Wars, presidents came under intense pressure, not only from military leaders but also from public opinion, to hit the enemy with all available force in all available places.
And yet still, if the Jacksonian tradition is less known, well, there’s a reason for that—the Jacksonians aren’t writers:
A principal explanation of why Jacksonian politics are so poorly understood is that Jacksonianism is less an intellectual or political movement than an expression of the social, cultural and religious values of a large portion of the American public. And it is doubly obscure because it happens to be rooted in one of the portions of the public least represented in the media and the professoriat. Jacksonian America is a folk community with a strong sense of common values and common destiny; though periodically led by intellectually brilliant men—like Andrew Jackson himself—it is neither an ideology nor a self-conscious movement with a clear historical direction or political table of organization.
So Mead, himself from South Carolina, which was also Jackson’s home state, took it upon himself to identify the key elements of the “Jacksonian Code”: These were, honor, self-reliance, and military meritocracy. As Mead put it, Jacksonians enjoy “a love affair with weapons.” And oh yes, he concludes, “Finally, courage is the crowning and indispensable part of the Code.”
So we can see, clearly, that Jacksonianism is a good deal different from Wilsonianism; to quote Mead again:
Jacksonian patriotism is not a doctrine but an emotion, like love of one’s family. The nation is an extension of the family. Members of the American folk are bound together by history, culture and a common morality.
In other words, Jacksonianism, based on the ties that bind kith and kin, is light-years away from the austere abstractions of Wilsonianism.
Needless to say, the Jacksonian spirit is big in in places such as Houston—which happens to be Ted Cruz’s hometown.
So let’s talk more about Cruz. Yes, Cruz is an Ivy Leaguer—he went to Princeton, in fact, the same as Wilson—but then, not every Ivy Leaguer comes away with Ivy League values; we might note that Mead went to Yale, and yet he freely volunteers in his National Interest essay that he is a fan of the Jacksonians. Why? Because, as he says, it’s better to win wars than lose them. And Jacksonians, in their single-minded focus on killing the enemy, are good at winning.
And Cruz, too, has that same keep-it-simple spirit. Whereas the Wilsonians are all about trying to master the nuances of the Middle East—never mind that they have never come close to doing so—the Jacksonians see things in starker, and sharper, terms. As Cruz says of Syria,
Instead of getting in the middle of a civil war in Syria, where we don’t have a dog in the fight, our focus should be on killing ISIS.
Yes, when Cruz argues for killing ISIS, he is talking like a Jacksonian.
Let others worry about democracy and human rights and all that jazz; Cruz’s view is, if they need to killed, then they need to be killed. Otherwise, let’s not worry about them.
Indeed, Cruz doesn’t seem the least bit interested in bringing “democracy” to such benighted countries as Iraq or Syria. The Texan is obviously passionate about constitutional democracy for Americans, and for others who yearn for it, but unlike, say, Bush 43, he doesn’t seek to impose “democracy” on hostile peoples at gunpoint.
IV The Wilsonian vs. Jacksonian Tradition in 2016
So we can see the gap between Rubio and the Wilsonians, and Cruz and the Jacksonians. On the one side, Rubio is channeling neoconservatism; on the other side, Cruz is channeling Jacksonian Americanism.
To look at the matter more deeply, we might even say that the Wilsonian neoconservatives have a stubborn belief in the perfectibility of man, whereas, by contrast, the Jacksonians have the more orthodox Christian view: We live in a fallen world, and, as the philosophers say, out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.
Of course, other factors, too, are likely at play. For example, Marco Rubio’s campaign seems to be extraordinarily well-funded; he won the endorsement, for instance, of Paul Singer, the New York City-based billionaire who combines support for gay marriage, open borders, and Israel into one juicy check-writing package.
To be sure, Rubio is free to seek out support wherever he can, but others are equally free to criticize; in October, Donald Trump tweeted out a jeering reference to Rubio’s relationship to another one of the Republican Party’s biggest donors:
Sheldon Adelson is looking to give big dollars to Rubio because he feels he can mold him into his perfect little puppet. I agree!
Of course, Rubio also has his ardent supporters. The Wall Street Journal editorial page, for example, is solidly in his corner. Yes, that page has made quite an ideological odyssey over the last few decades; in the 70s and 80s, when many believe it was at the height of its influence, the Journal edit page was virtually single-minded in its support for supply-side economics. Yet more recently, while still supporting free markets, it has become preoccupied with neoconservative foreign policy—which is great news for a neocon such as Rubio. Yet others have noticed this shift as well, and so the Journal’s impact has been diminished. As Cruz himself said recently, the Journal should change its name to “The Marco Rubio for President Newspaper.”
In fact, even outside of the Journal, the split between Rubio and Cruz has become evident. Under the headline, “Marco Rubio Gets Benghazi’d By Ted Cruz,” TalkingPointsMemo quoted Cruz as saying, “Senator Rubio emphatically supported Hillary Clinton in toppling [Muammar] Qaddafi in Libya. I think that made no sense.” Cruz added, “The terrorist attack that occurred in Benghazi was a direct result of that massive foreign policy blunder.”
Moreover, Cruz opened up on the Wilsonian neocons:
If you look at President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and for that matter some of the more aggressive Washington neocons, they have consistently mis-perceived the threat of radical Islamic terrorism and have advocated military adventurism that has had the effect of benefiting radical Islamic terrorists.
As the late Sen. Strom Thurmond liked to say, that puts the hay down where the horse can get it.
Yet Cruz had more to say on the topic. As the Texan told Breitbart’s Matthew Boyle on December 11:
On foreign policy, Sen. Rubio’s foreign policy judgments have been consistently wrong. When Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton made the decision to intervene in Libya, to topple Qaddafi, Sen. Rubio chose once again to stand with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. … And the result of that was that Libya was handed over to radical Islamic terrorists and is now a chaotic war zone of battling Islamists. And that is much, much worse for U.S. national security. The tragedy at Benghazi, four Americans murdered including the first American ambassador to be killed in the line of duty since the 1970s under Jimmy Carter, the tragedy of Benghazi was the direct result of the failed foreign policy in Libya that was championed by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and supported by Marco Rubio.
To be sure, Rubio has his responses to Cruz, but the plain fact remains: Rubio supported Obama and Clinton on Libya. Moreover, Rubio supported Obama and Clinton on Syria, too. That’s what Wilsonians do: They support whoever is in charge, regardless of party, if the issue is the use of force to “do good” overseas.
And so, for example, we can fully expect that left-Wilsonians—for example, Brian Katulis, whom we cited earlier, in league with the right-Wilsonian Danielle Pletka—would happily support a President Rubio on some new round of foreign-policy adventurism. And as we already know, Katulis-type Democrats stand ready to support a President Rubio in the cause of opening up America’s border to new immigrants—including, one supposes, the next Tafsheen Malik.
So as we have seen, Rubio’s invade-the-world-invite-the-world ideology is perfectly consistent with the Wilsonian tradition.
What remains to be seen, however, is whether or not the Republican Party, which is increasingly enamored of Trump-Cruz-type Jacksonian Americanism, is interested in seeing the elite Wilsonian internationalists regain power—so that they can continue their mission of saving the world.