What’s the tea party’s foreign policy?

Throughout American history, as Walter Russell Mead has catalogued in his book, Special Providence, the disciples of Jefferson—while often suspicious of government intervention domestically—have been downright terrified of government intervention overseas. And while Jeffersonianism does not fit simply into today’s left-right spectrum, many of the most impassioned modern Jeffersonians have been conservatives. In the early years of the twentieth century, for instance, it was generally progressives like Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson who championed a powerful executive branch, increased government oversight of the economy and an America that flexed its muscles overseas. By contrast, it was conservatives like Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge who preferred a weak presidency, unregulated capitalism and an America that stayed out of Europe’s military squabbles…

The Republican foreign policy apparatus in Washington, which is in large measure funded by defense contractors, has declared preemptive war on the idea that military spending should be part of deficit-reduction discussion. But before going along, the Tea Partiers should think about how they’d like to be remembered by history. If they don’t extend their constitutional vision to foreign policy, they’ll be abandoning any serious chance of cutting the deficit and reducing the size of government. They’ll become indistinguishable from other conservative Republicans, just the latest in a long line on the right to put a globalist foreign policy over a minimalist state. If, on the other hand, they genuinely chart a foreign-policy course based upon their understanding of the Constitution—if they subordinate the “war on terror” to the demands of fiscal solvency—they will be a new and subversive force in American politics, and the Republican Party will be headed for a fascinating ideological showdown. Would that make the Tea Party a positive force in American politics? Heck no. But at this point, I’d settle for them simply being an interesting one.

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