Honesty is the best policy.”
The Phrase Finder website (phrases.org.uk) traces that naive maxim to Sir Edwin Sandys, described as an “English politician and colonial entrepreneur.”
But honesty is not the best vote-seeking policy for a war hawk in a state with a strong peacenik strain reflected by early opposition to the U.S. misadventure in Vietnam and the consistently dovish stands of recently retired five-term Sen. Tom Harkin.
That makes our state’s senior senator, avid military interventionist Lindsey Graham, a fish out of water in landlocked Iowa, where he arrived Friday to court support for a potential White House bid.
OK, so Republican voters, even in Iowa, have been much more inclined than Democrats to back our superpower nation’s demanding but indispensable global-cop duty — at least over the past four and half decades.
And while Barack Obama won the 2008 Iowa caucuses as an anti-war candidate, nearly every 2016 GOP White House aspirant vows a sterner stance than our current commander-in-chief has taken against America’s antagonists abroad.
Then again, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has struck a chord with many libertarian-leaning conservatives, especially young ones, by rightly questioning the limits of U.S. power.
And after long, costly commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan with at best mixed results, the electorate is war weary.
Yet early this month on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Graham said:
“You’re going to need boots on the ground not only in Iraq, but Syria. And there’s got to be some regional force formed with an American component, somewhere around 10,000, I think, American soldiers to align with the Arab armies in the region and go into Syria and take back territory from ISIL.”
Don’t count on that playing well in the Hawkeye State — or any other state.
And Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling reported this week that 61 percent of Palmetto State Republicans surveyed don’t want Graham to run for president.
Sure, Graham easily won a third Senate term last year.
Still, many on the hard right condemn him as soft on immigration and judicial confirmations. Radio powerhouse Rush Limbaugh even dubbed him “Lindsey Grahamnesty.”
Of course, the hard right wasn’t too keen, either, on the last two GOP presidential nominees — John McCain and Mitt Romney.
Graham’s mentor and fellow hawk McCain, who in April 2007 sang “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” to a Murrells Inlet gathering, lost to Obama in 2008 by a decisive popular-vote margin of 52.9 to 45.7 percent.
Four years later, Romney called Russia “our No. 1 geopolitical foe.” Though Obama ridiculed that assessment, Vladimir Putin’s aggression has proven it prescient.
Still, Romney was less hawkish than McCain and lost to Obama by less, too — 51.1-47.2 percent.
So perhaps Graham should offer voters of both parties, and not just in Iowa, more peace of mind by toning down the warmongering rhetoric. He could model such reassuring foreign-relations moderation after these campaign stances by past presidential-race winners:
“He kept us out of war”
— Slogan for 1916 campaign to re-elect President Woodrow Wilson, who then asked for and got a declaration of war on Germany one month into his second term.
“We are not about to send American boys 9 or 10,000 miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.”
— 1964 campaign pledge by Lyndon Johnson, who then ordered escalation of U.S. troops in Vietnam seven months into his only full term.
“I don’t think our troops ought to be used for what’s called nation-building.”
— 2000 debate assertion by George W. Bush, who then launched nation-building ventures in both Afghanistan and Iraq during his first term.
Hey, circumstances — and policies — change.
As for Graham, he has scant chance of changing the immense odds against him winning the presidency.
But he won me over long ago as an all-too-rare breed in his line of work. He’s remarkably well-informed, persuasive, dedicated and politically courageous.
And while Graham’s less of a long shot at No. 2 than No. 1 on the 2016 ticket, he has a better shot at joining a Republican president’s Cabinet — or maybe even the Supreme Court (he recently said that as president he would nominate 4th District Rep. Trey Gowdy for that job).
Meanwhile, though, Graham should shed his tough “boots on the ground” talk — and not just when in Iowa. And his best political defense against giving militaristic offense would be to make far-fetched domestic promises that invariably appeal to the gullible masses.
For instance, he could tell Iowans — and everybody else — that when he’s president:
“If you like your doctor and your health care plan, you can keep you doctor and your health care plan.”
Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is email@example.com.