October 18, 2010 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

Woodshedding the Woodshedders

Marc Ambinder, the politics editor of The Atlantic, seems worried that Bob Woodward is poaching on his turf.  In an unusual parody piece, he takes Woodward to the woodshed for suggesting that President Obama might ask Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden to trade places for the 2012 election run.

Sure, the “evidence” that Obama wants to make this swap is rather shaky.  But Ambinder himself is no stranger to the art of presenting raw conjecture as fact.  He did it just this month when he accused three major conservative think tanks of chastising the Tea Parties.

Referring to an op-ed co-authored by the heads of the American Enterprise Institute, the Foreign Policy Initiative and The Heritage Foundation, Ambinder asserted that, while the piece “sets up the Obama administration as its foil, the real purpose [is] to nudge Tea Party conservatives back into line on defense spending…”  His authority for this assertion: an anonymous “Republican strategist who is working on the program.”

Talk about thin evidence!  What makes the assertion so laughable is that it’s predicated on the erroneous assumption that Tea Party conservatives need “nudging” on defense issues.  As I’ve noted elsewhere, it’s a huge mistake to ascribe purely libertarian views of foreign policy to the Tea Party. Many Tea Party activists embrace Ronald Reagan’s “peace through strength” approach to world affairs.  And some of the politicians most popular among Tea Party rank-and-file are as hawkish as they come — consider Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman and Jim DeMint, to name just three.

Ambinder is not the only journalist to misinterpret the think tanks’ “Defending Defense” project.  In addition to repeating Ambinder’s mistake, DOD Buzz’s Colin Clark erred fabulously by labeling the participating organizations — all of which are scrupulously non-partisan — as “GOP think tanks.

What really deserves parodying is not Bob Woodward but the lemming-like journalism that places the Tea Party at the root of every policy debate. And reporters are not the only folks prone to see Tea Partiers lurking behind every tree.

As Peter Berkowitz notes in the Wall Street Journal:

Highly educated people say the darndest things, these days particularly about the tea party movement. Vast numbers of other highly educated people read and hear these dubious pronouncements, smile knowingly, and nod their heads in agreement. University educations and advanced degrees notwithstanding, they lack a basic understanding of the contours of American constitutional government.

Berkowitz concludes what they all miss is that “the tea party movement is inspired above all by a commitment to limited government.” That does not make them anti-defense. Among the “limited” things Washington is supposed to do is prevent us from being murdered in our beds or humiliated around the world. Providing for the common defense is one of the few specific duties of government actually prescribed by the Constitution.

Just how much money is needed to provide for the common defense is a serious topic that requires lots of hard data and sober analysis. Dragging political calculations into the equation is unhelpful at best — especially when the political factor added to the mix is a woeful misunderstanding of the Tea Party.  Let’s keep the focus where it belongs: on the question of whether this White House is doing the right things to keep the nation safe, free, and prosperous.

James Jay Carafano is senior research fellow for national security at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow

First appeared in The Daily Caller