John Lennon Said “Sell It Like People Sell Soap Or Soft Drinks”


George Hawley at Post Right:

In the years since I abandoned my status as a typical neoconservative chicken hawk and adopted Old Right non-interventionism, I’ve been somewhat uneasy with much of the movement’s rhetoric. Specifically, I often find much of the anti-war Right a little too reminiscent of the anti-war Left. That is, many anti-war conservatives and libertarians expend a great number of keystrokes lamenting the American war machine’s innocent foreign victims (see Chronicles or just about any day of the week for examples). This is often my own preferred argument. My concern is that this kind of rhetoric does little to grow the non-interventionist movement’s ranks.

[…] There is a certain ethos that characterizes a great number of ordinary Republicans – or at least the ordinary Republicans with whom I prefer to spend my time. For the lack of a better term, I will call this frame of mind, “Who-Gives-a-Damn? Conservatism.” This is the type of thinking that leads to support for standard GOP policies, but not for particularly-sophisticated reasons. I have no doubt that a great number of grassroots Republicans oppose ideas like universal health care and more federal spending on public schools because they understand, and find compelling, conservative and libertarian arguments about the utility of such policies. I suspect much of the opposition to these schemes, however, is based on a more primal emotion. That is, a lot of people don’t like Big Government because they don’t want to pay for it and don’t really care about the people it is supposed to help. They don’t care about inner-city standardized test scores or the indigent without health insurance, and wouldn’t want their taxes raised to deal with those issues even if every government program worked exactly as well as it was supposed to work. This line of conservative thinking runs as follows: “Why the f*** should I care? I have my own problems, and don’t want to give a penny to those bums. Screw them.” Though it is at odds with much of the peace movement’s sensibilities, this is the attitude right-wing non-interventionists should display if they seriously want to grow the movement.

Matt Barganier at

But, of course, we do make coldly consequentialist, self-interested arguments
against militarism, war, and empire. We also make arguments on moral grounds, from a number of different starting points (including conservative Christianity, which I hear this GOP base is really into). Why make this an either/or matter? Why should we drop half (or more) of our arguments when they don’t conflict with the other half? (There are various types of “humanitarianism” that do conflict with non-interventionism, but we avoid those, so no problem there.)

As for learning from Limbaugh and Levin, please. I know their audience. I was born into it. If I ever write a political memoir, I’ll name it Up From Hannity. There is a Reasonable Right worth reaching out to, but it ain’t in talk radio. These people “think very little about foreign policy,” as Hawley puts it, not out of apathy, but on principle, because thinking leads to questioning, and questioning is a mere Bic flick away from flag-burning, bin Laden, buggery, and Buddhism. The funny thing is, the warbots are not allergic to “humanitarian, we-are-the-world gobbledygook” – in fact, they devour it when it’s in the service of American imperialism. Anyone who watches Fox News knows how quickly right-wingers can pivot from “kill ‘em all” to “aww, purple fingers!” The problem is not that peaceniks have tried the wrong arguments on them; they will accept any argument, no matter how heterodox it appears on its face, so long as it reaches the correct conclusion, roughly summarized here. But any argument that reaches a different conclusion, no matter how consonant it is with “conservative values” such as traditionalism, small government, fiscal responsibility, or national sovereignty, doesn’t stand a chance with that crowd.

Hawley responds:

Having also been “born into” this audience, I am less convinced that a good portion of the Ditto-heads cannot be convinced by anti-war arguments. I just think they must be framed correctly. There may be a “Reasonable Right,” as Barganier says, but it will never be a major force if we do not at least make some inroads into the Limbaugh-listening community. Perhaps I’m mistaken that many Fox News fans can be brought around. Unfortunately, if I am  there will never again be a politically-significant anti-war Right; the “Reasonable Right” will forever be drowned out by the millions of talk-radio fans united in their belligerence.

John Payne, in a post looking at the Redstate comments on the Obama daughters:

In the late 1950s, Murray Rothbard saw that the Right was hellbent on apocalyptic war with communism.  Knowing the destruction their foreign policy would wreak, Rothbard could no longer make common cause with these conservatives no matter how much they agreed on economics.  For a similar reason, I have to at least partially disagree with my co-contributor George Hawley’s analysis of how anti-interventionists can reach out to talk radio fans.

Perhaps the strategy can sway some of these people, but in many cases, I don’t think we want these people as allies because they are evil.  Well, maybe they aren’t evil, but they certainly hold positions which are evil and repugnant.  Instead of reaching out to them, they should be socially ostracized like neo-Nazis and Klan members.  If there aren’t saner people for us to reach out to, then we’re already doomed.

Jack Hunter:

“It’s time for doves on the Right to learn to do the same,” is exactly right. But in addition to employing Hawley’s “Who-Gives-a-Damn? Conservatism,” (foreign nations and their problems are none of our business) using anti-government, non-interventionist language that might appeal to mainstream conservatives is also useful.

I have been making the argument as of late, that the only difference between big government liberals and “the neocons” or “Bush Republicans” is not how much we should spend – but where we should spend it. In other words, Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Bobby Jindal, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani and the rest of the mainstream Republican pack are not serious fiscal conservatives because they all continue to defend three trillion dollars wasted in Iraq as money well spent. Forget if you were for the war or against it. Pro-Iraq War Republicans primary argument with Obama is not over massive spending. They all agree on massive spending and saddling future generations with massive debt. They just differ on whether the price tag should be attached to foreign or domestic priorities.  During the election, a fiscally conservative listener – who had supported the Iraq War – told me he had switched his vote from John McCain to Chuck Baldwin precisely because of this issue.

Another useful argument is looking out for the interest of the troops by always questioning Washington, DC and their real foreign policy intentions. Our brave men and women who serve in uniform should not be put in harm’s way unless it is absolutely necessary. We owe them that. Blind faith in one’s government when it comes to war is not only a disservice to the Founding Fathers’ vision of republican democracy, but a grave disservice to our troops, who deserve better. “Supporting the troops” necessarily means questioning one’s government, not trusting it without question.

While I don’t agree with all of Hawley’s points, he is on the right track. And any attempts to turn the minds of mainstream conservatives away from empire might work best by turning some of talk radio’s contradictory, anti-government language against them.

Cheryl Cline:

At a time when mainstream feminists openly support pro-war candidates and troop surges, we’re supposed to believe that the peace movement is too soft and feminine and humanitarian? We can take the antiwar sentiments of leftist colleagues for granted when, as amply documented by Arthur Silber, the American Left has largely abandoned a principled antiwar stance? I don’t know about you, but whenever I try sharing with leftists my opposition to tyranny and war, they largely hear “I hate roads,” or “I want to deprive the poor of healthcare.” Little things, like a million Iraqi dead, are just one of the unfortunate side effects of a system primarily designed to build pretty parks and pathways. Find me a leftist who thinks culpability for America’s aggressive interventions doesn’t begin and end with Bush II, and you can take a well-earned vacation.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about recruitment tactics lately, and I’ll be sure to keep the “harness contempt of women and gays” tactic in my toolbox. You can actually build a pretty broad coalition with that one. Even feminists don’t shy away from using it.

UPDATE: Daniel Larison returns!:

What Hawley is proposing is to have the non-interventionist right adopt a defensive crouch in foreign policy debates (because such me-tooism has worked so well for post-’72 Democrats over the years) and to try to change the rhetorical presentation and image of non-interventionists so that hawkish nationalists will not immediately dismiss our arguments. Having conceded that exuding “toughness” is what really matters in these debates, Hawley would put non-interventionists in a contest with actual hawks that we can never win. The only way to compensate for a so-called “tough guy problem” is to play part of the “tough guy,” which would inevitably mean endorsing policies that non-interventionists currently find unacceptable in order to show their “toughness.” You cannot use the language of power projection and global “leadership” and simultaneously oppose the policies that these things require for their maintenance. Even if it is merely implicit, you cannot accept the view that rejecting U.S. power projection has something to do with “anti-Americanism,” which is what all of these rhetorical contortions suggest. Once you grant this, you have endorsed the view that opposing aggressive war and empire is a kind of disloyalty. In the end, framing antiwar and anti-imperialist arguments by saying, “Well, at least we’re not like those lousy hippies” doesn’t get you any credit with the hawkish audience, but it simply confirms in their minds how idiosyncratic your arguments are.


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One response to “John Lennon Said “Sell It Like People Sell Soap Or Soft Drinks”

  1. Pingback: What We’ve Built Today « Around The Sphere

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