|by Mark Lavergne|
|Nobody (whom we know of, anyway) ever called Tom Paukenbashful when it comes to speaking his mind. Not when he ran for Congress or headed the ACTION agency under Ronald Reagan. Not as Texas GOP chairman or talk radio host or for that matter as current Texas Workforce Commission chairman.
Pauken’s brand new book — Bringing America Home(Chronicles Press) — continues in entertaining and educational fashion the chairman’s penchant for honesty.
In 204 pages he takes on, for starters, the “threat of militant Islam,” the “coarsening of American culture,” “the destruction of the middle class,” and “Big Government Conservatism.”
He hopes to help rebuild the conservative movement by recapturing the Republican Party from “Machiavellian pragmatists and neoconservative ideologues,” thereby reinvigorating conservatism. At which point, he says, we’ll manage to “get America back on the right track.”
The conservatism of the pragmatists and neocons, Pauken insists, isn’t conservatism at all, rather a tactical stance that, the chairman posits, isn’t working.
Pauken draws largely on his own experience of working alongside — and usually at odds with — neo-conservatives, who, broadly speaking, were and are ex-Democrats disenchanted with the liberal nostrums of the 1960s and ’70s. His association with them began in the Vietnam era, when the neocons called themselves “social Democrats.” It continued during both the Reagan administration and Pauken’s term as state GOP chairman while George W. Bush was governor. Whereas Pauken expresses a personal liking for many neocons, he sees them as far more “neo” than “con.”
Conservatives and Republicans (terms that sometimes fail to overlap, as Pauken notes) may disagree on the book’s policy particulars, especially those having to do with Bush. Pauken slams the ex-governor’s presidential administration for waging pre-emptive war in Iraq. Interestingly, Pauken offers conservative, not liberal or pacifist, reasons for thinking theIraq war a bad idea.
Key to his philosophical thinking is the idea that the conservative movement and the country at large must rediscover their religious fundaments. Several times he references Pope Benedict XVI’s strictures against a “dictatorship of relativism” and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s warning to the West not to retread the path of Communist Russia by “forgetting God.”
The author made time for LSR to pick his brain about the book and his ideas for helping Americans find their way back to the old truths.
Some highlights from our interview:
On why he wrote the book
“Well, I’ve been very frustrated in recent years about the direction of our country, the direction of the Republican Party, and the short term thinking of many of our post-Reagan Republican leadership in Washington, too many of whom seem to be more concerned about short-term political gain and what they have to do to placate the big moneyed interests rather than the long-term good of the country.
“And I have been fearful for some time that the Bush administration in the name of conservatism was doing great damage to the conservative movement of the Republican Party and the country by some of the policies they were following, and ultimately was setting us up for what has happened: the most liberal regime in American history, the Obama administration, to come to power.”
On conservatism vs. neo-conservatism
“It’s a very important distinction because neo-conservatives are not philosophical conservatives. … Neo-conservatives at their core are philosophical liberals, and I don’t say that lightly.
“… Most neo-conservatives want to abandon our commitment and support to the pro-life cause, the idea that marriage ought to be between a man and a woman, and to the notion that the power of the state should be limited. Neo-conservatives are in effect welfare-state conservatives. Which as I argue in the book, “Big government conservatism is an oxymoron.” It’s totally inconsistent with the philosophy of conservatives whether traditionalists or libertarians who made up the core of the Goldwater and Reagan political movement. We believe that power as much as possible should be limited, dispersed in accordance with checks and balances, the avoidance of the concentration of power, the concern about too much power being centralized in the executive branch of government or concentrated in Washington.
“Too many of the post-Reagan Republicans, both the pragmatists and the neo-conservatives, came to believe that big government was fine as long as their people were in charge. So you had in the Bush administration the George W. Bush-Teddy Kennedy No Child Left Behind legislation, a situation in which we doubled spending at the Department of Education, we increased the federal mandates and controls over education in Washington D.C. …
“In a way I’d rather deal with liberal Democrats than many of these neo-conservatives, because at least with liberal Democrats, conservatives and Americans can see we’re having a disagreement over issues. And I think what the neo-conservatives have done is confuse a lot of conservatives about what true conservatism represents.”
On Bush, Karl Rove, and the conservative movement’s recent setbacks
“I don’t blame George W. Bush. I think the problem with George W. Bush is that this is an individual whose father had a distinguished career in the public policy arena, became vice president and president of the United States. And it was almost a given that the Bush children needed to follow in his stead.
“… I don’t think that George W. Bush really understood enough about some of the issues to be able to have a level playing field in terms of his advisors … on critical questions. As an example, with respect to Iraq, the only people who had served in Vietnam who had extensive military experience who were in key positions among the civilian advisors to the president were Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Secretary of StateRichard Armitage and the No. 3 man at State, Lawrence Wilkerson … But their views were systematically ignored, or they were shut out of a lot of the discussion. And I think that was very unfortunate.
“I’m just afraid that he just wasn’t suited to address the serious problems that wound up on his desk during his administration.
“Contrast that with Ronald Reagan. All you have to do is read the Reagan Diaries to realize that this was a president who studied issues, did a lot of his own research and in fact wrote most of his own speeches when he was a younger man before he became president of the United States. And this is a man who knew how to ask the right questions on key issues. In fact, as I talk about in the book, Ronald Reagan later said and wrote in his diary that his greatest mistake was when he sent American military forces into Lebanon, over the objections of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Defense Cap Weinberger. I think that when he realized his mistake he pulled them out. Even though there were demands from the neo-conservatives at the time … to have a show of military force in the Middle East. The president decided otherwise and emphasized going back to his approach to win the Cold War and redirect our resources on addressing the Soviet threat.
“… Unfortunately on [both Bush White Houses’] watches we’ve suffered some significant setbacks as conservatives. And I think the country began heading in the wrong direction again. …
“The problem now is you’ve got the hijacking of the conservative movement so many conservatives are confused. And when you have Karl Rove, who never was a conservative, who started out as a Nixon Republican, he fought conservatives consistently here in Texas and elsewhere. He opposed Ronald Reagan when he ran for president in 1980.
“And here’s Karl Rove, acclaimed as a spokesman for American conservatism … [T]his is a person who is the antithesis of a philosophical conservative. There is so much confusion out there among conservatives I think it’s harder to rally our forces together today than it was during the Reagan period or the Goldwater period.”
On whether laissez-faire economics caused the Wall Street meltdown
“No, it’s actual policies that encourage that. And what we need to do is stop it. And the best way to stop it is change the tax policy to reward savings and investment and level the playing field with our trading competitors.
“David Hartman [publisher of the Lone Star Report], I think, has the best proposal I have seen out there to do just that, with his neutral approach to offset the … border adjusted consumption tax. The fair tax is another approach. We could put back in place the investment tax credit, which was taken out of the tax laws in 1986.
“We’ve got to begin with the premise which I would hope most Americans could agree to, most people in business and labor could agree to: How do we have a tax system for American business that really incentivizes the creation of private sector jobs here in the U.S.? That’s ultimately the only real stimulus plan that’s going to be effective.”
On the need for rediscovery of religious roots
“It’s … absolutely critical in my judgment.
“[Solzhenitsyn] describes how when he was a young boy and the communists and Leninists had taken over in the Soviet Union, he asked the village elders, “Why did all of this happen?”
“And they said to him, “It’s because men have forgotten God.” And he wrote, 50 years later after … he’d been through the Gulag, after all he’d been through, studying the history of the Communist Revolution, he came to the conclusion that there was no better explanation for what had gone wrong with Russia, his native land, than the fact that men had forgotten God.
“Then Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn came to the West. He … said to Americans and the Europeans, “You, too, are falling into the same trap we fell into. You, too, are forgetting God, and you can pay a very heavy price.”
“… [W]e’ve got to address the issue of the coarsening of the culture. It’s a major problem, because this free market system doesn’t work, a free society doesn’t work, the constitutional republic doesn’t work without an ethical compass underpinning it.”