The New Isolationists

By Kelse Moen

Nothing quite kills a word’s meaning like tossing it into the fray of popular political dialogue. The word “liberal” was co-opted by FDR and his collectivist acolytes, who had virtually nothing in common with the nineteenth century laissez-faire liberals. “Fascist,” which once corresponded to a particularly virulent breed of statism, is now an all-purpose smear for anyone disagreeable, even a libertarian like Justin Raimondo. Another, which was quite prevalent this primary season, is the epithet “isolationist.” It was hurled particularly at Ron Paul, due to his opposition to military intervention overseas. But, as Fareed Zakaria revealed in a recent article in Newsweek, the real isolationists are Democrats like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, who continually preach the false gospel of economic protectionism, even while they bloviate about the need for better international relations. Says Zakaria:

For the rest of the world—particularly poorer countries—nice speeches about multilateralism are well and good. But what they really want is for the United States to continue its historic role in opening up the world economy. For a struggling farmer in Kenya, access to world markets is far more important than foreign aid or U.N. programs. If the candidates think they will charm the world while adopting protectionist policies, they are in for a surprise.


Indeed. The article (unintentionally?) exposes how hollow the old isolationist accusation really is. Ron Paul, and his intellectual predecessors like William Graham Sumner and Murray Rothbard, would love to see the US military withdraw from the world stage. But none of them would ever support state-imposed barriers to trade. Clinton and Obama, by seeking to protect American jobs from overseas competition, are the true isolationists; they seek to distort the free market for the benefit of one group of Americans at the expense of the rest of the world. All the characteristics attributed to the Paulian isolationist–selfishness, xenophobia, an inability to face present realities–are out in full force.

Hillary Clinton voted for war with Iraq. Barack Obama mentioned the possibility of deploying troops to Pakistan and proclaimed that he is not opposed to war per se, but only against “dumb wars.” Both support the UN and want to open better dialogue with previously spurned countries. But when it comes to free trade, without which Hong Kong would be an isolated backwater and eastern Europe would have been crushed under the weight of socialism, they would isolate the world from US markets and deny Americans the benefits of cheap imports.

The gospel of the new isolationists is big government. They will “help” the world with bombs and taxpayer subsidies. The old isolationists treat foreigners as equals; they meet them in the boardroom, not on the battlefield. So who are the real humanitarians and who are the xenophobes?

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