Return of the Native

SIZE="-1">Illustration by Taylor Jones

ALIGN="RIGHT" SRC="/tap_images/print/V7/images/27dole.gif" WIDTH="216" HEIGHT="341">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

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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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