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A Conservative's November Dilemma
Between Obama's left-wing agenda at home at Romney's neoconservative foreign policy, the right hardly has a choice.
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As the November election approaches, I find myself faced with a dilemma. I would like to vote for the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, as the better of two distasteful choices, but would have to hesitate at this point. It’s not that I’d be tempted to vote for Obama, although I can well understand the path he’s taken recently in preparation for the November ordeal. In order to get reelected with a poor economic record, he’ll have to energize the more enthusiastic elements in his base; and those groups whom he’s trying to galvanize may well respond to the grievances he’s playing up and blaming on the opposition.

Most of these grievances, for example, against stronger attempts by Republican-dominated regions to control our national borders, against objections raised by religious Christians to Obama’s decision to force Catholic and other religiously affiliated institutions to supply their workers with abortion-producing drugs, and now against a supposed epidemic of white racism, seem to me wildly exaggerated and deeply divisive. But given his socially leftist base, which Obama desperately needs to hold on to, and given the importance for him of maximizing minority turnout, he may be making strategically sound moves. I just can’t stomach what he’s doing.

In almost all respects the current occupant of the White House does not deserve reelection. Moreover, I find those who talk up his record hold views that are so fundamentally opposed to mine that I can barely hold civil discussions with them. In one respect only, Obama seems less disastrous than his predecessor. He is not surrounded by neoconservative foreign policy advisors who are pushing him into embarking on new wars or into keeping old ones going indefinitely. He has tried to wind down the wars he inherited from Bush II, and except for what I think was an unnecessary and probably ultimately counterproductive entanglement in Libya, Obama has shown restraint internationally.

This doesn’t mean he’s a thinker with a serious international vision. Obama is certainly no Richard Nixon, who walked around with a picture of every major and minor world power in his head and who could explain what was happening internationally in discourses that lasted many hours. (I was present at several of them.) But Obama has done no major harm in handling foreign affairs, at least from my perspective. He makes all the obligatory noises about “human rights,” the list of which multiplies as political fashions change, and he goes through the motion of “agonizing” over foreign dictatorships. But he’s not committed to sending new armies into battles on distant shores, and he’s not moved toward war against any of the multitudinous foreign powers that John McCain and John Bolton want us to get tough with.


I’m afraid that Mitt would not resist these temptations. Almost everything I’ve heard him say about world affairs suggests that he’s in sync with W’s incendiary form of liberal internationalism. His one of his main foreign policy advisors is Robert Kagan, who seems to relish every war the U.S. has been in and regrets we couldn’t have fought in some of them even longer. Although Kagan is now selling himself as some kind of foreign-policy realist, all the “realists” he admires are people like himself, who supported all of America’s past military adventures and presumably would favor lots more military intervention in the future. Kagan assures us that what he advocates is rooted deeply in our national character. Perhaps so, but then so is eating junk food.

Also waiting to take his place in a future Romney administration is Fox News nightly screech owl John Bolton, our former interim UN ambassador. Someone who rails against the Obama administration for not being “confrontational,” or for not representing our “values” belligerently enough, Bolton may be as suited for diplomacy as Mike Tyson is to be a Trappist monk. If we get lucky, Romney might follow the lead of Newt Gingrich who promised to make Bolton secretary of state. These are the foreign-policy choices I fully expect from a future Republican administration.

The upside of a Romney presidency is that we’d likely have less flaky people in cabinet and judicial positions than those Obama has given us in trying to accommodate his base. Kagan and Bolton may be almost worth swallowing to be rid of Eric Holder, playing the race card in the position of attorney general. I say almost because I believe the GOP could do as much harm internationally as the Dems would do at home. I could also imagine a “moderate” Romney triangulating between Obama and what’s left of the Tea Party Republicans. I wouldn’t even be surprised if the former governor started shifting on social issues, in order to steal votes from the other side. But I doubt he’d do the same in foreign policy, whether or not there’s widespread backing for what his advisors intend to accomplish in that field.

Paul Gottfried is the author, most recently, of Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America: A Critical Appraisal.

(Republished from The American Conservative by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology • Tags: 2012 Election 
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  1. Anonymous • Disclaimer says: • Website

    There’s no dilemma.     Ron Paul is still in the race, and winning deligates.

  2. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and lots of saber rattling towards Iran and Syria.

    44 did not try to wind down Iraq, our withdrawal was due to a treaty signed by 43. News reports out at the time suggested he was actually trying to negotiate an extension to our involvement in Iraq, which was turned down. It also appears the 2014 timetable in Afghanistan is being pushed back as well.

    Except for the world apology tour and a penchant for drones and bombs instead of boots on the ground, I see very little difference in the type of Wilsonian foreign policy exhibited by 44 compared to previous administrations.

    Your concerns are correct though, Flip Flopney would make up for 44’s lack of aggression.

    I will vote Dr. Ron Paul as we do not have to pick the lesser of two evils.

  3. What exactly is wrong with Obama’s domestic policy except to geezers like Gottfried? You all are a dying breed.

  4. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Oklahoma will vote for the GOP candidate, period. So I’m not burdened with the weight of relevancy.

    However, if my vote did matter, I would want to know one thing:  If Romney loses, what will be the response of the GOP?  Will they double down on stupid, or will they do some serious soul searching about their foreign policy and economic positions?

  5. tbraton says:

    While I agree with Phenry’s criticism  insofar as Iraq is concerned, I differ with him (and you) with regard to Afghanistan.   What Obama did was to greatly increase our troop presence in Afghanistan (well beyond the “two brigades” he pledged during the 2008 campaign).  That seems like a curious way of trying”to wind down the wars he inherited from Bush II.”  As a result, we are going to have twice as many troops in Afghanistan at the end of Obama’s term than we had at the beginning.  And, with his speech to the nation from Kabul two weeks ago, we apparently will have some troop presence there until 2024, 23 years after 9/11 and 15 years after Obama was elected President.  That’s a helluva way to wind down the war, which we should have declared “won” back in 2002, after we had succeeded in chasing out Al Qaeda and the Taliban.     

  6. postall says:

    You have at least two other options:(1)Don’t vote. There is nothing patriotic in voting for someone whose policies you think will harm the country just because his policies will harm the country less than his opponents.(2)Vote libertarian, even if you don’t agree with all their policies. It’s truethey don’t stand a chance of winning but if enough people did it would send a message to both parties.
    We are in a balance sheet recession/depression that will last at least 10 years no matter which party wins. Because of our huge deficits and already low interest rates there is no fiscal or monetary scenario that will change this.
    Maybe this will happen. Republicans keep the House and win 55-57 Senate seats. Romney wins the popular vote but Obama squeaks out an electoral college majority. That, in addition to being a lame duck, weakens him immediately. He will be weakened even further by the recession we are definitely heading into in the second half of 2012 and at least the first half of 2013. Obama has already said he would veto any attempts to override the automatic cuts in defense and Medicare. I’m sure he will cut a deal to keep most if not all of the Bush tax cuts.
    His judicial appointments will face closer scrutiny and with many more Senate Democrats than Republicans up for reelection in 2014 and Obama’s increasing unpopularity due to a continuing weak economy the Republicans could control 60 or more Senate seats after 2014.

  7. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

     As with the McCain debacle, one need not be a socialist to
    agree with V. I. Lenin who called the whole campaign process a puppet pageant. It
    is bigger disappointment that the good woman who runs The American Cause, Bay Buchanan
    is now drinking her Kool-aid with the Neoconservatives.  An anti-establishment party is sorely needed, and at this rate we may soon be referring to the party as “the resistance.”

  8. postall says:

    What is dying slowly but surely throughout Europe and the
    U.S. is the welfare state.

  9. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Doesn’t this dilemna come up every November there’s a general election? 

  10. @David

    You think you’re going to print your way to Liberal Heaven?

  11. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    If my child were to have a cancer or necrosis of tissue due to bacteria overwhelming her immunity, and physicians told me a limb or two had to be sacrificed to save her life, I would consent. 

    That does not mean I ‘choose’ this with full voluntariness; rather, conditions and circumstances require that I choose the good of conserving her life longer (Perhaps, she will recover her health for the duration of normal longevity, even though she will now be handicapped.); but I do not wish for her to undergo the trauma of losing a limb as such.

    If possible, I would wish that Ron Paul be nominated and win.  If that does not occur, I certainly am not going to choose the continued flourishing of the rampant bacteria of socialist and anti-American ideology that prevails currently among so many who have obtained political office.

    I can accept, if no other option is available now,  a condition in which my country (or my daughter) can at least suppress, even if only partially, their rampant infections, in the hope that better remedies and better health might be available later.

    Our ancestors often went to into wars in scenarios of having alliances with very unsavory characters who were judged to be lesser evils in relation to us in a certain context (e.g.: Stalin against Hitler, to name but  one). 

    But none of those ancestors would likely have taken  the option of sitting things out and saying ‘I will not vote against this evil through inaction’.

    It’s a common experience that when you cannot choose and realize what is optimal, you must choose things that, in a less blatant or intense way, violate what is optimal.

    Better that the loyal crew stay aboard and do everything possible, even though the ship is listing severely and barely making headway, in the hope of performing major future repairs and having an eventual full change of command, than to permit her to be dismantled by scavengers or even sent to the bottom.

    One should always vote against greater evils, as long as there is the least residue of sound principle discerned in the option being reluctantly accepted.  Romney is no Paul.  But he also certainly is no Obama or Clinton.

  12. Anonymous • Disclaimer says: • Website

    If only you could vote for a President who over saw a DECREASE in total government spending and the smallest increase in federal spending in 40 years.  If only you could vote for someone who, imperfectly to be sure, navigated the various catastrophes taking place on 1/21/2009.  Maybe even someone who would sign onto Simpson-Bowles in a heartbeat if it had a chance of passing. Oh wait, Yes You Can! If we could look on him with clear eyes, we’d see the most successful conservative President of my lifetime, certainly and probably yours as well.

  13. L says: • Website

    Dear Eastman please check your figures. A decrease in spending? Do you need a calculator?

    When President George W. Bush took office, our national debt was $5.768
    trillion. By the time Bush left office, it had nearly doubled, to
    $10.626 trillion. So Bush’s record on deficit spending was not good
    at all: During his presidency, the national debt rose by an average of
    $607 billion a year. How does that compare to Obama? During
    Obama’s presidency to Jan 2011, the national debt had risen by an average of
    $1.723 trillion a year — or by a jaw-dropping $1.116 trillion more, per
    year, than it rose even under Bush. You have got to be kidding me, Obama has spent more money than any other president and has achieved not a damn thing.

    In 2012 the only candidate that is not a flip flop and a corporate whore and what wants to really stop the insanity of spending more borrowed money is Dr Ron Paul

  14. When it comes to Romney and Obama, there is no conservative dilemma. A conservative shouldn’t vote for either of those clowns. The real dilemma is what third party candidate to vote for. Normally I would endorse the Constitution Party nominee without hesitation, but this time they nominated Virgil Goode who had a pretty sorry record on foreign policy when he was in the House. He has made some movement in the non-interventionist direction, but is it enough to warrant a vote? I can’t support Johnson because he is pro-choice, pro-gay “marriage” and squishy on humanitarian intervention.

  15. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

     No no, the dying breed would be well-heeled liberals.  Christian conservatives are the ones having the babies.  Enjoy your old age in the Theocratic States of America 😉

  16. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Dr. Gottfried you nailed it….I have the same quandary and doubt I will vote for either candidate this November.  John Bolton in a Romney administration would be like having Bibi in the White House.  The only thing I look forward to this fall is the annual H.L. Mencken club conference.

  17. @David

     What exactly is right about Obama’s domestic policy except to soulless children like you who seem to have accidentally stumbled into TAC from Mother Jones and the Atlantic?  It is you and your aborted children who are the dying breed. 
    You forget that government power, once accumulated, is virtually never relinquished peacefully.  So, when the next so-called “conservative” is elected, he’ll have all the power you were grateful for Obama to grab. 
    Lib/Con, Rep/Dem… You stinking rubes who follow along in that game just never learn. 

  18. @Anonymous

    Thanks for the ad hominems. You, Gottfried, and the remaining (self-professed) undemocratic authoritarians have no future. What exactly is wrong with “government power” to provide healthcare for all, clean air and water, equal opportunity in the sphere of the workplace etc. in response to mass democratic pressure?

  19. @Anonymous

    Oh, and by the way, the US Government collects one of the lowest tax revenues in the entire industrialized west, so good luck fighting against its expansion when all evidence indicates that we can go quite a bit farther.

  20. Please, substitute this for the previously submitted post; this fellow said so many silly things I forgot to proof what I said before clicking.

    To simonmd341, why do you post such gratuitously unfounded, silly assertions?

    Free market Constitutionalists do not at all seem to be a ‘dying breed’, as you contend. Rather, it is those who espouse an expansive, centralized, welfare state who seem to be diminishing in numbers. Reality is finally catching up with them, and those who have sense are distancing themselves from the corruption of self-serving politicians, who selectively benefit particular individuals and sectors of the public, whether they be wealthy individuals or corporations or labor unions, in order to receive back some of the same capital drained from the public coffers they arrogantly redistribute.

    As for the government collecting lower tax revenues, if the ever increasing micro-regulative policies and onerous taxes sought by the autocratic oligarchs you seem to favor were to be removed, the free markets would flourish and revenues would increase greatly.

    As for Obama’s so-called domestic and foreign policies, they are a cut and paste series of arbitrary decisions that benefit few, while penalizing and jeopardizing the common good and those who truly will contribute to the overall benefit of humanity in the short and long term. He is an inept petty caricature of figures such as Caesar Chavez and his ilk.

    To even call him an ‘amateur’ is to cheapen language, since an ‘amateur’ is someone who truly loves the good of what s/he is pursuing. This empty suit evidences only spite for everyone and everything that he judges not to be in the service of his own self-aggrandizement.

  21. What’s wrong with Obama’s domestic policies?!?! Hahahahaha!!! Where do I start?

    1. The expansion of the PATRIOT act
    2. The ability to assassinate American citizens without a warrant, let alone legal proper legal procedures, even if they are Extremist Muslims who preach “Death to AmeriKKKa” (even the 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed still got his trail despite not being a US citizen). Killing US citizens without a trial, let alone a mere warrant sounds rather authoritarian and undemocratic to me.
    3. Obamacare is a pox and will only make the healthcare crisis worse. The Single-Payer system would be preferable to the monstrous Obamacare
    4. Bank bailouts, although to be fair, the banks shouldn’t have gotten “too big to fail” in the first place, well before Obama got elected to office.

    Those are few

    As for foreign policy, he has gotten us out of Iraq, well, US troops at least. The Mercs, who have very little oversight compared to armed forces personnel are still on the ground the last I heard.

    drone attacks on civilian targets, which makes America look like a bigger dick on the world stage

    The situation in Afghanistan is getting worse by the year. Supposedly we are pulling out in 2014, but that’s rather late from Obama’s promise to decrease US involvement, eh?

    Libya; yes, we got rid of the dictator Qaddafi, but at least Qaddafi kept Libya from turning into a dog-eat-dog blood bath, especially one where you have groups of Muslims being attacked by extremists for being Bidatis and Kufrs. So…if America’s place in the world is supposed to be fighting tyranny and Islamic extremism, why did we enable the extremists in Libya, and replaced Qaddafi’s tyranny with theirs?

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