On reading George Bush's discourse to the New York Economic Club last week, Cicero's insight came to mind: "To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child."
With Iraq entering its sixth year, the dollar sinking to peso levels, the economy careening into recession, and 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens roosting here, Bush alerted us to what really worries him:
"I'm troubled by isolationism and protectionism ... (and) another 'ism,' and that's nativism. And that's what happened throughout our history. And probably the most grim reminder of what can happen to America during periods of isolationism and protectionism is what happened in the late -- in the '30s, when we had this America First policy and Smoot-Hawley. And look where it got us."
Let us try to sort out this dog's breakfast.
First, America was never isolationist. From its birth, the republic was a great trading nation with ties to the world. True, in 1935, 1936 and 1937, a Democratic Congress passed and FDR signed neutrality acts to keep us out of the Italo-Abyssinian and Spanish civil wars. And FDR did say, "We are not isolationist except insofar as we seek to isolate ourselves completely from war." But how did staying out of Abyssinia and Spain hurt America?
As for Smoot-Hawley, it was a tariff enacted in June 1930, nine months after the Crash of 1929, which occurred, as Milton Friedman won a Nobel Prize for proving, when the stock market bubble, caused by the Fed's easy money policy, burst. Smoot-Hawley had nothing to do with a Depression that began in 1929 and lasted through FDR's first two terms. This is a liberal myth, probably taught to Mr. Bush by New Deal Democrats at the Milton Academy.
America First was an organization of 800,000 anti-interventionists formed at Yale in 1940 by patriots like Gerald Ford, Potter Stewart and Sargent Shriver, backed by John F. Kennedy, to check FDR's drive to war. Herbert Hoover supported it, and its greatest spokesman was the Lone Eagle, Charles Lindbergh.
But America First did not make policy. FDR did. And it was FDR who, by cutting off Japan's oil in July 1941, rebuffing Prince Konoye's offer to meet him in the Pacific or Alaska and issuing a virtual ultimatum on Nov. 26, 1941 -- to get out of China -- that propelled Japan to its fatal decision to attack Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7.
Isolationist is an epithet used to smear those patriots who adhere to Washington's admonition to stay out of foreign wars, Jefferson's counsel to seek "peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none" and John Quincy Adams's declaration that America "goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy."
Does Bush regard these statesmen as blinkered isolationists?
Protectionism is the structuring of trade policy to protect the national sovereignty, ensure economic self-reliance and "prosper America first." It was the policy of the Republican Party from Abraham Lincoln to Calvin Coolidge. America began that era in 1860 with one half of Britain's production and ended it producing more than all of Europe put together. Is this a record to be ashamed of?
Compare protectionism's success to Bush's record.
Since 2001, he has presided over the seven largest trade deficits in history, the loss of 3.5 million manufacturing jobs and the collapse of the dollar, and added but one-fifth of the private sector jobs Bill Clinton created. Gold has gone from $260 an ounce to $1,000, oil from $28 a barrel to $100.
"Nativism" is another smear term, dating to the early 1850s and the Know-Nothing Party, which sought to halt immigration after millions of Irish flooded in after the famine of 1845. It carries a connotation of xenophobia, or the fear and hatred of foreigners.
Thus does Bush tar critics who deplore his dereliction of duty in failing to defend this nation's borders against a Third World invasion that may turn this republic into a Tower of Babel.
From 1924 to 1965, there was indeed little immigration. Does that make Coolidge, Hoover, FDR, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and Kennedy knuckle-dragging nativists? When JFK took office, we were as united and strong a country as we have ever been. How did we suffer from not having 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens here?
In smearing as nativists, protectionists and isolationists those who wish to stop the invasion, halt the export of factories and jobs to Asia, and stop the unnecessary wars, Bush is attacking the last true conservatives in his party.
Which is understandable. For after the judges and tax cuts, what is there about Bush that is conservative? His foreign policy is Wilsonian. His trade policy is pure FDR. His spending is LBJ all the way. His amnesty for illegals is Teddy Kennedy's policy.
Two-thirds of the nation says we are on the wrong course. Two-thirds rejects NAFTA and amnesty. Two-thirds wants out of Iraq. Two-thirds rejects Bush. Bush says that people are being misled by those wicked old isolationists, protectionists and nativists. At least he and Poppy will have something to agree on in retirement.