Return of the Native

Illustration by Taylor Jones

The defining episode in Bob Dole's biography is the grievous wound that he suffered on a hillside in Italy in World War II. The Dole campaign has sought to make his battlefield valor and heroic recuperation into both a compelling personal narrative and a statement of foreign policy. Presumably, Dole's war service is a self-explanatory badge of internationalism. Yet there is evidence that his long months in a rehabilitation hospital and half a century of dark rumination have left Dole wary about foreign entanglements. Dole is not exactly an isolationist, but he's not exactly an internationalist either. In the sheer muddle of his foreign policy, isolationism discovers ground to flourish.

In 1976, Dole was the Republican candidate for vice president. In his debate with Walter Mondale he assailed the wartime leadership of Franklin D. Roosevelt. "I think about that every day, because of a personal experience in World War II," said Dole. Mondale parried by bringing up President Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon on Watergate-related charges. Dole replied that the issue was unfair. When a reporter asked why, Dole delivered his memorable response: "Well, it, uh, is an appropriate topic, I guess, but it's not a very good issue, any more than the war in Vietnam would be, or World War II, or World War I, or the war in Korea. All Democrat wars. All in this century. I figured up the other day, if we added up all the killed and wounded in Democrat wars in this century, it would be about 1.6 million Americans, enough to fill the city of Detroit." His figure was eerily exact—not 1.5 million or 1.7 million, but 1.6 million. The number had been calculated, a fruit of archival enterprise.

Dole's belief that the wars of the twentieth century were "Democrat wars" was widely considered one of the key factors that cost Ford the election. At the time, Dole seemed to treat his comment as nothing more than a legitimate debating point. But he never elaborated. Long after the 1976 election, that jagged point remains a tantalizing, enigmatic clue to his deeper politics.

Twenty years later, the Republican presidential candidate and his handlers have placed his war wound at the heart of his campaign. It is clearly in tend ed to be the organizing principle around which voters are to grasp Dole's leadership qualities. Its graveness presumably communicates gravity. It is supposed to signal Dole's authority as a statesman compared to President Clinton, who, like the vast majority of his generation, did not serve in the Vietnam War.

One problem for Dole in waging generational politics by contrasting wars is that the gambit raises a political liability: that he is not simply old but the oldest candidate ever to run for the presidency. The distance in time between his wounding and his presidential campaign is 51 years. The span is about the same as if Dole had been wounded in the Spanish-American War and been nominated by the GOP instead of Eisenhower. Or if he had been wounded at the Battle of Wounded Knee and been nominated in 1940 instead of Willkie. Or if he had been wounded in the Civil War and been nominated to run against Woodrow Wilson. Or if he had been wounded in the War of 1812 and run against Lincoln—the second time. What would those wounds have meant transposed into those campaigns? Those connections are no less obscure than the one Dole is trying to make now.

Another problem is that Bob Dole is a man of little mystery who fails to explain himself. He imposes his biography onto his campaign as though it carries not only conviction but encodes a whole foreign policy. We are to infer what his "Democrat war" wound means, beyond its personal effect on him. What befell him in World War II correlates after the Cold War to policies he has only sporadically and spottily spelled out.

But Dole's inarticulateness has its own clarity. In his foundering and confusion, he reflects the current incoherence of the Republican Party quite accurately—a party as fundamentally split by foreign policy as it is by social issues. Dole's political character is well suited to serve as a medium for the turmoil. Dole has always been a reactive fixer who operates by feeling where the pressures are coming from, with special sensitivity to the Republican right, and then by making deals that allow him to pass on to the next square, where he will make another set of deals. Through the years, Democratic senators have handled Dole by trying to get him to commit to a position before his antennae have become fixed on the right's shrill frequency. He seldom adds anything new to the equation.

Dole is conservative, not because he embraces ideological abstractions but because of his ingrained suspicion of ideas themselves. Dole is not an activist, but an institutionalist; not an advocate of causes, but a sponsor of amendments. He is visionless in the sense that only a traditional conservative can be. The Senate was his true home in all senses. It was where he lived and where he found his identity.

Coping with larger concepts of past, present, and future leaves Dole befuddled. Occasionally he expresses nostalgia for his small-town past, but his is a curiously narrow nostalgia, unlike the glowing, panoramic nostalgia of Reagan, who imagined a harmonious nation from sea to shining sea that never really existed. Nor in Dole's small town is hard work and clean living rewarded; on the contrary, its personification—the young lad "Bob Dole"—meets a terrible fate for no decent reason he can discern. Ultimately, Dole's nostalgia is bitter. But when he looks backward he can at least see himself. Gazing into the fog ahead, he doesn't even perceive the dimmest outlines of forms; his main lodestars are the interest groups buffeting him in a murky present.

As the right wing has gained influence within the party, Dole has followed. But it is not because he's a true believer in its seamless ideology. He treats the conservative movement as a large interest group, like Archer Daniels Midland. If any label fits Dole, it is interest-group conservative.

Dole's patina of realism, as a practical politician, might be taken as an homage to his political beau ideal, Richard Nixon. Unfortunately, he lacks more than Nixon's sense of timing and maneuver. Nixon, after all, was vice president at 40, and nominated for president every time he ran—three times. Dole has reached the nomination only on his third try, after all his generational peers have retired, having already beaten him previously. Nixon's intraparty method was to play one wing off against the other in order to sustain himself in a movable middle. Dole, by contrast, offers an inarticulate summary of various conflicting Republican positions; he flourishes shards of them without ever making the effort to define or fit them together. Elevated from his natural habitat in the Senate to the station of Republican nominee, the unintended consequences of Bob Dole are to expose and intensify political contradictions within the GOP.

It is not coincidental that isolationism within the Republican Party rises at the same time as an antigovernment fervor. The antipathy to a strong government both at home and abroad is consistent, not simply as a matter of logic but of history. The internal struggle wracking the Republican Party is the latest unfolding of a decades-long battle between its internationalist tradition and a resurgent isolationism. This time the conclusion is likely to be a rejection of the GOP's internationalism. The glimmer of a returned Republican isolationism surfaced at first as a reaction to the Clinton administration's early foreign policy, which was seen in 1993 to be stuck in the quagmires of Somalia and Haiti. A nascent neo-isolationism emerged as a knee-jerk anti-internationalism. No doctrine, no fully shaped ideas were attached to it. Only a few on the old right, like Patrick Buchanan, knew its roots. Swiftly, however, this element coalesced with nativism and xenophobia into a combustible conservatism.

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The undercurrent of the new isolationism is fear of the foreign as not only alien, but potentially contaminating and insidiously subversive. Multilateralism is inherently a compromise of our sovereignty, our very identity. A New World Order must be resisted. (For those on the far right, black helicopters carrying United Nation troops in their nighttime invasion of our country can be heard in the distance.) Unless foreign countries are willing to follow our strictures completely, we have no use for them. Even the Western Alliance is dispensable. Foreign aid, moreover, is nothing but welfare. If we cut it off, we will force beggarly foreigners to become self-sufficient and self-respecting. Diplomacy is for "the striped-pants" crowd, as Senator Gramm called State Department Foreign Service officers. It is somehow effeminate, another undermining force—indeed, a kind of enemy within, a conspiracy of weak sisters sapping our moral fiber. American soldiers must not even wear the patch of the sinister U.N. on their uniforms, much less fall under a U.N. command. To the extent that we can cut ourselves off and go it alone as a self-reliant nation, we purify ourselves.

Few of those who advocate the new isolationism actually dub themselves isolationists, which had been a proud term in the 1920s and 1930s. They merely consider that they are true believers in an unchanging conservatism of absolute values, and that those who don't share their views, especially other Republicans, are not conservatives, and thus less than fully moral Americans.

Isolationism through the years has maintained its underlying nature, but it is hardly a static political phenomenon. Varying with circumstances and politics, it is constantly altering its shape. Under the pressure of the Cold War, isolationism per se went underground and surfaced as a moralistic unilateralism. And when the Cold War ended, the GOP was unprepared for isolationism's roaring return.

The first real opportunity for the Republicans to attack the Clinton administration on foreign policy came with the nomination of Strobe Talbott, a former columnist at Time magazine who was serving as the special U.S. representative to the former Soviet Union, to be deputy secretary of state.

The end of the Cold War had brought the Republicans to the vanishing point of their foreign policy perspectives. Neither the crusading Reaganites nor the realist Bushites had a context any longer; virtually overnight they had become anachronisms. Talbott loomed as a fine target to revive the old atmospherics. Over the years, he had translated Khrushchev's memoirs and written a series of books on the politics of arms control. Talbott's views on the Soviet Union were in the line of George F. Kennan, the State Department official who had originally created the containment policy. Kennan had prophetically argued that if contained, the Soviet Union would decay and eventually collapse. But containment was assailed by the right as appeasement of the Communists. On the ruins of the old isolationist right, a unilateralist right wing that demanded "rollback" emerged. Talbott, in his journalistic forensics, had been a critic of Reaganism, and therefore was seen by the right as somehow "soft" on Communism. The irony that he was regarded by Soviet hard-liners as a CIA spy and for years forbidden from entering the country was lost on the Senate Republicans desperate for a new mark.

Shortly before the vote on Talbott's nomination, in February 1994, right-wing Russian nationalists scored upsets in local elections. Then on the morning of the vote, Aldrich Ames, longtime mole for the Soviets within the CIA, was exposed. An aura of Cold War crisis was temporarily pumped up. Senator Jesse Helms accused Talbott of being a dupe of the KGB. "Mr. Talbott," declared Helms, "was enjoying pleasantries with the KGB agent, Mr. Louis, at his swanky dacha outside of Moscow. Mr. Louis did not waste his time with people who were unwilling to be spoon-fed the Soviet line." Senator Al D'Amato of New York was next. "First of all," he said, "let me say I am deeply concerned about Mr. Talbott's writings. And if any of them are true, I think it is an outrage." Senator Hank Brown declared: "Under Ambassador Talbott's tenure there has, indeed, been a resurgence of hard-line Marxists in the former Soviet Union and particularly Russia."

Bob Dole announced: "I have decided a strong signal needs to be sent—enough promotions for Strobe Talbott." The vote against Talbott, which was expected to be negligible, rose to 31. That number was a measure of the longing to restore the political polarities of the Cold War. But these senators, including Dole, did not anticipate that the election of the first Republican Congress in 40 years would lead the party even farther back in time than the long twilight struggle.

At the dynamic center of the new Congress were the 73 House Republican freshmen. The public, they were absolutely certain, had elected them because of the intensity with which they had presented their ideology. The freshmen projected their crusading faith onto their new leader, Newt Gingrich. But the speaker, who fashioned himself an internationalist, could not reliably control his followers. In February 1995, Gingrich supported the President in an effort to prevent the Mexican peso from collapsing, but his militant coteries would not go along. His failure forced the Treasury Department to devise a package of loans on its own, stretching the President's discretionary power to use a fund intended for stabilization of the dollar. "I am outraged that the President abused his power to bail out a foreign government," said Representative Steve Stockman, a Republican freshman from Texas (whose affinity for militias was exposed after the Oklahoma City bombing).

The isolationism that came in with the Republican Congress was intellectually inchoate. Its proponents were proud of their disdain for internationalism, as though they were striking a brave new pose. The Contract with America contained a series of anti-internationalist positions, including prohibiting U.S. troops from serving under foreign command, draconian limits on funding peacekeeping missions—and the catch-22 provision stipulating that U.S. involvement in such U.N. efforts needed congressional approval 15 days before they were ever voted on in the U.N. The contract was merely the 1990s update of isolationist causes of the past—the Bricker Amendment of the early 1950s, which would have had Congress vote on every single international agreement as though it were a treaty, and the Neutrality Acts of the 1930s, which forbade material aid to any European belligerent (meaning, of course, Britain). By standing against internationalism, the new Republicans were thumbing their noses not only at the Democrats, but at the remnants of the Republican establishment. They seemed unaware of their political ancestors within the GOP and how they were recreating the old pre-Cold War pattern. Gingrich, too, didn't grasp that the isolationism in his ranks was more consistent with the limited-government dogma than his own presumed foreign policy inclinations. He acted as if he might fan the flames of one without ever stirring an ember of the other. He also did not understand that his alleged internationalism was at odds with the Contract with America, which he treated with biblical reverence. Meanwhile, inside the House Republican Conference, the speaker's bipartisanship on certain foreign policy issues made the members wonder whether he might be a crypto-moderate after all.

Some Republicans began openly to question the purpose of the Western Alliance. They likened it to a government program, the enemy they were sworn to cut down. "NATO was set up to protect Europe against the Soviet menace," said Representative Jack Metcalf, a Republican freshman from Washington. "But it's like a government agency: It just keeps going and going."

Representative Joe Scarborough, a Republican freshman from Florida, proposed that the U.S. withdraw completely from the U.N. Other Republicans pushed legislation to "privatize" foreign aid. "If we're going to cut entitlements at home, we have to be willing to cut them abroad," said Representative George Radanovich, president of the Republican freshman class. His argument had a simple consistency that Gingrich lacked.

On October 6, 1995, President Clinton delivered a speech denouncing the "isolationist backlash." A test came quickly, in December 1995, when Congress debated the sending of U.S. troops to Bosnia to keep the peace wrought by the Dayton Accords. "I'm not the least bit interested in the prestige of NATO," said Representative John Linder, a Republican freshman from Georgia, during floor debate. "President Clinton says we will hurt our standing with our NATO allies. Well, if that were true, I would say, 'So what?'" said Representative Gerald Solomon, a Republican from New York. "If there is a peace, there is no need for peacekeepers," said Representative Bob Inglis, a Republican from South Carolina. "I really believe that this has much more to do with political correctness than it does with anything else. It is simply not politically fashionable today to be labeled as an isolationist," said Representative John J. Duncan, Jr., a Republican from Tennessee. "The Cold War is over. The American people deserve better treatment than this," said Representative Dan Rohrabacher, a Repub lican from California.

The tenor of Bosnia was far advanced from that of the Talbott debate. In early 1994 the worn labels and phrases from the Cold War were dusted off for display. But by late 1995 the Cold War was sloughed off; contempt was shown for our allies, who were considered useless, not just in Bosnia, but in general; and international peacekeeping was dismissed as beyond our interest. In the end, the House voted not to cut off U.S. funding for the mission by the narrow margin of 218 to 210. Gingrich voted with the majority. In the Senate, only 22 members voted to cut off funding. Dole, too, voted with the majority.

With that, the Republican presidential primary campaign began in earnest. In May 1995, Patrick Buch anan scanned the globe for countries torn apart along ethnic lines and saw the future. "Ethnic politics, national politics, national ident ity—these are the things that are breaking up the Soviet empire and Czech oslovakia, Yugoslavia, Canada, and India, and it's coming right here to River City," he said. From the polls showing that Americans were distrustful of government, he drew a sweeping conclusion: "They think the whole country is being sold out to some kind of global New World Order."

Buchanan's dreams were not the blue-sky dreams of Reagan, but visions of a darkening horizon. He saw an America swarmed by illegal immigrants: He would build a fence along the border. He saw an Amer ica destroying its economy through world trade: He would build a wall of tariffs. He saw an America surrendering its sovereignty, its very nationhood, to a series of international bureaucracies: He would, as he promised in the peroration of every speech, bring the "New World Order crashing down." Buchanan's slogan was the name of the right-wing movement that opposed U.S. aid to Britain during the Battle of Britain: America First.

In his quest for partisan advantage, Dole had drifted toward the isolationists' positions—ridiculing the name of United Nations Secretary General Boutros-Boutros Ghali and even sponsoring legislation not to pay the U.S. costs for U.N. peacekeeping. "American foreign policies will be determined by us, not by the United Nations," he declared in the speech announcing his presidential candidacy. Far from confronting the isolationists, in the manner of Republican internationalists in the Senate of the past, such as Arthur Vandenberg, Dole toyed with the isolationists' symbols.

Buchanan's early victory in New Hampshire provoked Dole to announce that he had no idea that jobs and trade would be campaign issues. Stunned, he was forced to engage his opponent. During the decisive South Carolina primary, Dole appeared at the huge BMW manufacturing complex in Spartanburg to dramatize his view that protectionism would undermine prosperity. After mumbling a few words he let his surrogates, former governor Carroll Campbell and Senator Phil Gramm, do the talking for him. Dole's rhetoric was bare, his attitude passive.

Once Dole won the primaries, he established no dominance over the issues within the party. He had managed his victory not in spite of his visionlessness, but because of it. Rather than being bound to grand ideas that constricted his base, he campaigned as the regular supported by GOP officialdom. He gained the nomination precisely by failing to resolve the party's contradictions. He thought he could escape by relinquishing his duties as majority leader. He didn't understand that he was the vacuum.

Just before Dole left the Senate, Gingrich offered a defense. "Dole in the campaign, in the primaries, said he was for a balanced budget, welfare reform, tax cuts, litigation reform," said Gingrich. "These are all Contract items. He's not Tom Dewey, he's Bob Taft."

Gingrich's reference evoked the lost world of the right, an Atlantis bubbling to the surface. Senator Robert Taft—the midwestern regular, Senate majority leader, and quadrennial candidate for the GOP presidential nomination—was an apposite forebear. In Gingrich's checklist of issues, however, he failed to mention foreign policy. Yet what would truly make Bob Dole into Bob Taft would be isolationism. Then Dole would be a complete conservative of the old school.

Isolationism is remarkably static in its tenets of non-entanglement with other nations, but as a political phenomenon its shape has often changed. The policy of avoiding foreign conflicts and involvements has not had the same meaning from the Federalists to the Whigs, from the Jacksonian Democrats to the Taftite Republicans. One strain, that of midwestern progressive-isolationists, with intellectual roots going back to Jefferson, even argued that foreign wars and alliances were destructive of liberal domestic reform. And, on that basis, a group of senators played a key role after World War I in opposing American participation in the League of Nations.

The isolationism that arose after World War I was a movement of disillusionment that contended America would prosper only if it were removed from the evil balance-of-power games of the European nations. With the coming of World War II, isolationism was framed by a new coalition whose principal organization was the America First Committee. "An analysis of the isolationist arguments reveals that they were closely attuned to an international situation made fluid by the shifting fortunes of war," writes the historian Selig Adler in The Isolationist Impulse. "To allay popular fears of the consequences of an Axis victory, the isolationists stressed the 'Fortress America' concept, namely that an adequately defended New World would be impregnable to any possible combination of foes."

In June 1940, France fell to the Nazis and Britain was under aerial siege. Franklin D. Roosevelt, in an effort to create a national unity government, nominated one of the most respected figures in the Republican Party, Henry Stimson, as Secretary of War. (Stimson had held the same position in the administration of William Howard Taft, Senator Bob Taft's father.) Stimson was an interventionist, and in his confirmation hearings he was confronted with harsh questioning from the leader of the congressional isolationists, Senator Bob Taft.

Taft had good reason to be perturbed at the sight of his father's old cabinet member. The recurrence of the Stimson tradition was the main factor in upsetting Senator Taft's presidential ambitions. Without World War II and the Cold War, Taft was the logical nominee of the Republican Party from 1940 to 1952. Each time he was denied by the eastern Republican internationalist wing and its candidates—Willkie, Dewey, and Eisenhower.

Taft was the foremost spokesman for conservatism from before World War II through the early days of the Cold War. His conservatism combined opposition to almost all social legislation at home with opposition to almost all commitments abroad. His conviction that he was right and others were wrong marked his politics. Taft's intelligence and his unyielding rationality appeared as "dogmatism"—Stimson's word for Taft. He had an air of cold arrogance. "That's stupid, just stupid," was his frequent response to those who disagreed with him, including his fellow Republicans. He positioned himself as the man of high principle and integrity against the venal. His disdain ranged from labor unions to Dewey, from FDR to Winston Churchill. His contempt was almost equal for the devious, unprincipled Democrats and the devious, unprincipled British. "War is worse even than a German victory," he said in 1940. A year later, with the Nazis astride Europe, he remarked: "I feel very strongly that Hitler's defeat is not vital to us. Even the collapse of England is to be preferred to participation for the rest of our lives in European wars." And he concluded, "If isolationism means isolation from European war, I am an isolationist."

In 1945, Walter Lippmann wrote that Taft "has never acquired sufficient wisdom and understanding. . . . He is probably more responsible than any other single man for leading the Republican Party into blind alleys of dumb obstruction on the vital issues of our time."

After the war, Taft sought a political lift in his hopes for a nationalist disillusionment similar to the one after World War I. He opposed Bretton Woods and U.S. participation in NATO. "Show that the Democrats have fostered Communism and Communists right through the war," he wrote in a memo to an aide during the 1948 campaign. He referred to Dewey Republicanism as "socialism."

Taft's politics had a fundamental consistency. His nationalism and his libertarianism meshed. In all spheres he favored self-sufficiency. He mistrusted government and foreign allies. He wanted to spend less on both. This was what he meant in concrete policy terms by his highflown insistence on "liberty." But his iron ideological consistency masked a deeper inconsistency that is the fundamental contradiction of isolationism: the unbridgeable chasm between the complacent belief that the U.S. can thrive protected by isolationist immunities and the faith that it will still maintain global preponderance. The conservative wish for an unfettered America was—and remains—untethered to geopolitical and economic reality. After Senator Taft's death in 1953 the memory of the standard-bearer of the Republican right seemed to disappear. Yet it had not faded away completely; Taft was the palimpsest beneath the Cold War. The memory still existed enough so that, in reaching for an image to apply to Bob Dole, Gingrich recalled Taft.

The revival of Taft accompanies the reopening of old wounds within the GOP. The old eastern wing that had defeated Taft is diminished and a number of its formidable institutions, such as the New York Herald Tribune, are defunct. With George Bush (who was inspired to join the Navy after hearing a graduation address at Phillips Academy delivered by Henry Stimson), the internationalist tradition appears to have nearly run its course. The crisis in foreign policy for the Republican Party today is that the Stimson legacy is on the defensive and the Taft tradition, taking virulent new forms, but still lacking his philosophical coherence, is on the rise. Bob Dole, caught in the maelstrom, tacks moderately here and hard right there.

In the campaign of 1996 the Republicans have constructed a veritable museum of their past, from the America First Committee down to Star Wars. In Dole's campaign, the old Republican rivals on foreign policy of 20 years ago—the Kissingerians and the Reaganites—each have the candidate's attention. The Kissingerian realists, particularly those housed at Washington's Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom, have played a prominent role in ghostwriting Dole's articles and speeches. The influence of the Reaganites, including the neoconservative residue, is evidenced in the Republican hope that Dole can somehow revive the political atmosphere of the late 1970s: Clinton will become Jimmy Carter, Dole will play Ronald Reagan. All that's lacking is the backdrop of the Iranian hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Dole's token of faith in this scenario is his proposal to loft Reagan's unbuilt Star Wars defense against incoming missiles in outer space: the ultimate Fortress America. That the U.S. and Russia no longer target each other, and have signed a treaty on it, must be ignored. The new enemy against whom we must spend tens of billions to create Star Wars is, well, North Korea. Dole must hope that by repeating Reaganite incantations the aura of Republican victories past will surround him: America is held hostage with Bill Clinton; it's morning again in America with Bob Dole.

But Dole is neither a realist in foreign policy nor an idealist. He lacks both the strategic sensibility of Kissinger and Nixon and the utopianism of Reagan. He shows occasional evidence of Taftism, but he is utterly devoid of Taft's intellectual coherence. On presidential authority in foreign policy, Dole's record is a blur. He voted for the War Powers Act and now calls for its repeal as "a real threat to presidential prerogatives." He was for sending U.S. troops into Somalia under President Bush, but proposed an amendment requiring congressional approval of a military mission in Haiti under President Clinton. "The American people are very excited about us getting into all these squabbles that are costing American lives," he said. His amendment was defeated. Then, on Bosnia, he demanded no such thing, supporting the multilateral mission. His flip-flops on significant issues, including defense spending, aid to Israel, and free trade, have been unending. On only one issue has he been consistent: wheat sales. No matter what the U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union, Dole always, in every instance, favored wheat deals. He's for free trade, but raises objections to the World Trade Organization and kindred institutions that are necessary to make global trade work. At the beginning of this year, he even attacked the "haphazard rush to sign more trade deals."

Sometimes he has openly used the language of isolationism. In August 1990, after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Dole said: "We're a foreign power. We don't belong in that part of the world. . . . It ought to be settled by the Arabs. I mean, you see it on every TV program. You see people reacting, men and women on the street in Egypt or Jordan or wherever it may be: 'We don't want America in here.'" Then, when President Bush mobilized for the Gulf War, Dole shifted and criticized Democrats.

In March 1995 he declared: "I do think foreign policy may not mean anything to a lot of people in an election." On May 9, 1996, Dole delivered his first major foreign policy address as a presidential candidate, lambasting Clinton for "weakness." Once again, Dole wheeled out what seemed to be an artifact from the Republican museum. This one was constructed of parts from the GOP's two China lobbies: one from the late 1940s and early 1950s that was hostile to the People's Republic of China and pledged military aid to Taiwan, and the other from the 1970s and 1980s that was friendly to the People's Republic and pledged economic aid to it. Accordingly, in his speech, Dole supported extending Most Favored Nation trading status to China while urging missiles for Taiwan. As a political event, the speech made no impact. In the Senate, Dole made no effort to stop Senator Jesse Helms's plan, as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, to slash the international affairs budget by more than one-third. "This bill represents backdoor isolationism pure and simple," declared Senator Joseph Biden, the ranking Democrat on the committee. But Majority Leader Dole never stood up to Helms in any way. In an op-ed article entitled "Who's an Isolationist?" published on June 6, 1995, in the New York Times, Dole wrote: "Democrats are complaining about Republican 'isolationism' and Congressional involvement in foreign policy. How strange." He went on to defend Helms's proposals, concluding on a stentorian but vague note: "We will not passively accept policies that harm the national interest and violate American principles."

While clinging to the internationalist label, Dole lends credence to the new forms of isolationism. Influenced by both internationalism and isolationism, Dole is not consistent enough to profess either as an ideology or even a disposition. His speechwriters provide him with boilerplate about "leadership" and "American interests," as though he were Nixon redivivus, while the Republican Party drifts toward Taft redivivus: the classical conservative position fusing antigovernment and anti-internationalist sentiments.

But what of Dole's weirdly precise tally of Americans killed in "Democrat wars"? Had the small-town boy found a partisanship, or an ideology, to express his bitterness? Perhaps. It is interesting to note that of the six delegations from Kansas districts sent to the Republican convention in 1952, five backed the internationalist Eisenhower. The only one that supported Taft came from the district that included Dole's hometown of Russell.

After World War II, a small school of historical revisionists published books to prove that Franklin D. Roosevelt had conspired to drag the country into the war in order to maintain his power. Harry Elmer Barnes had been an ardent isolationist for decades, and in 1953 he edited an anthology of writings about Roosevelt's plots and betrayals in a volume called Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace. In his introduction, Barnes wrote: "It may be said with great restraint that, never since the Middle Ages have there been so many powerful forces organized and alerted against the assertion and acceptance of historical truth as are active today to prevent the facts about the responsibility for the second World War and its results from being made generally accessible to the American public."

In the book, on page 35, was the following table:

28 years of Democratic rule (Wilson, F.D. Roosevelt, and Truman) yielded 1,628,480 war casualties.

24 years of Republican rule (Theodore Roosevelt, Taft, Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover) yielded 0 war casualties.

Evidently, this obscure book was the original source from which Bob Dole fished his magic number. His famous debating performance is the only recorded case of repressed-memory syndrome of Republican isolationism.


Illustration by Taylor Jones


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