The reasons for the current protests in Wisconsin are somewhat complex but ultimately represent the need to address an unsustainable status quo versus a deep, although understandable, attachment to it.
Naturally, union workers don't want their salaries or their benefits reduced, just like those in the private sector don't like it when they are downsized, fall victim to budget cuts, or are outright fired. However, changing circumstances often mean that, well, circumstances have to change. And such realignments are almost always controversial, even when they make the most sense. This is particularly the case when reform targets longstanding assumptions or deeply held, status-quo attachments.
Virtually every story you read about Sen. Rand Paul's plan to cut foreign aid mentions Israel first and foremost. Never mind that Paul has proposed that we cut all foreign aid, which includes every single country we currently subsidize. Never mind that Paul points out that although we give $3 billion to Israel annually, we also inexplicably give about $6 billion to countries that surround Israel, many of them antagonistic toward the Jewish state. Never mind that Paul has said explicitly that he is a friend of Israel.
Yet Paul's fairly budget-conscious points haven't even been considered. In fact, these commonsensical proposals are often obfuscated due to the establishment's focus on Israel. Senate Democrats wrote Paul a letter stating that his plan would "weaken the decades-long bipartisan consensus on U.S. support for Israel," while Sen. Jim DeMint, who is usually a reliable fiscal hawk and generally an ally of Paul, responded that it would be a "real mistake to suggest we might reduce support to Israel." Sen. Lindsey Graham took it a step further, saying that Paul's proposal would be adopted, "Over [his] dead body."
At The Washington Post, neoconservative columnist Jennifer Rubin tried to calm everyone down, reassuring readers that "Paul is outside the mainstream of elected leaders and the American public." But Rubin is only half right. Paul is certainly outside the mainstream of those who consider Israel's most-favored-welfare-queen-nation status sacrosanct. But is the American public as attached to foreign aid as the political class? A Reuters poll in January showed that 73 percent of Americans support eliminating all foreign aid, which is exactly what Paul now proposes, despite his critics' fixation on Israel.
As many conservatives now look at the protesters in Wisconsin as the sort of folks who are simply not willing to accept current, dire economic realities, the same sort of protests have been on full display by Washington's political class in their mostly emotional response to Paul's proposal. Paul is simply saying that much like Wisconsin's budget problem, America's budget problems now dictate that the status quo has to change, including ending the insane practice of borrowing money from China simply to subsidize other nations, and, yes, by God, Israel is one of those nations. Paul isn't "against" Israel any more than Wisconsin's governor is against teachers and government workers.
The irony here is that Israel probably needs our help the least. According to The American Conservative's Philip Giraldi, "Considering that Israel is one of the wealthiest countries in the world (with a per capita income at the same level as Great Britain) and is alleged to be going through an economic boom, there is little justification for continuing the largesse ... The argument that Israel needs the money to maintain its military edge is also a red herring as Tel Aviv currently enjoys complete military superiority in all areas over all of its potential opponents. It also has the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal."
In 1988 when conservative giant Russell Kirk said during a speech at the Heritage Foundation that it often appears that "eminent neoconservatives [have mistaken] Tel Aviv for the capital of the United States," he was simply noting the same long-established, sometimes nonsensical financial and political attachments to Israel that Paul now confronts. This is a perfectly reasonable proposal, and it is Paul's critics who are being completely unreasonable. That these critics represent the "mainstream" should give Americans a pretty good indication of why this country is in the shape it's in.
As in Wisconsin, reversing America's course will require attacking sacred cows. In the face of massive debt, we must now ask, "Should we support every other nation first and America second or America first and other nations second?" Unlike his critics, at least Rand Paul has taken the correct stand.
Jack Hunter co-wrote Rand Paul's The Tea Party Goes to Washington. Southern Avenger commentaries can be heard every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on The Morning Buzz with Richard Todd on 1250 AM WTMA.