Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
I was reminded of what to some was a kinder, gentler time a few days ago when some dozen reliable Republicans were paraded out for a photo op to tout a “deal” that had been struck on where to throw the next trillion or so of new dollars in a demonstration of bipartisan expansion of government, Democrat agenda items and debt. For a few moments, at least the dog-and-pony Republicans were back in the limelight. Of course, the deal was soon blown up, revived again, blown up again, so on and so on. But we need not worry Mitt Romney has already been on CNN, where he is always welcome, to assure us that Joe Biden can be trusted. Some things are just too predictable.
I am required by conscience to pause here to give credit to @rodin for at least part of the title. I had most of the thoughts floating in my head, if not completely gathered yet. As you are about to see, they are still only loosely penned. But the phrase “’90s Republicanism” in one of his posts struck a chord. But I did feel that the concept easily applied to a few other decades as well, the ’90s edition was just the natural growth from the same old stump. With that said, I just hope I am remembering right and it really was him! If not, “thank you” mystery contributor!
We are standing on a genuine deciding point in the history of our republic. It has been a fairly steady march to this cliff for about 100 years. There have been a few chances to not just slow the pace but alter the course. But for the most part, they became just very brief pauses. They became brief pauses because the Republican Party has had a reality problem.
The Democrat Party might not have always known where they were taking us but they were always about a growing concentration of power in their hands. I don’t believe that even the FDRs and LBJs dreamed of the radical future we are staring into. But I am not sure they would have minded it as long as they were the ones in charge. They knew they were taking us to a centralized oligarchy of some sort, they just saw themselves as oligarchs. And there is that thing about being comfortable in the moment without a lot of regard about what things will look like a couple of generations ahead. I have come to suspect that is true of all members of the political class regardless of party affiliation.
A part of the reality problem of the GOP is that their vision only goes so far, either direction, future or past. The establishment Republicans for almost a century have never understood where all this was leading. They look across the table and see their own likeness with just a slightly different take on things but without an understanding of the roots of the policy or the distinct direction it is pointed. I will allow that in several cases the same might could be said of Democrats. But those days are over. The time is past for the establishment’s allegiance to be stronger toward political decorum than to solid principled results.
Those roots sprouting “progressive” policy may change their label from decade to decade but they run deep into the soil of totalitarianism, often in the soft loam of Marxism. They all require control. They all require for our founding culture to be discarded.
The fight today is with stems from the Marxism branch that grew from 19th century Europe to infect continents from Asia to the Americans. But I see it as being just another extension of a struggle much as Thomas Sowell outlined for us several years ago in Conflict of Visions. Marxist intentions run through all that is tearing at our nation and society today and they have been allowed to grow slowly but steadily from lack of effective or determined confrontation.
I will only go back to the 1950s in this discussion but it could easily be started around the turn of the 20th century. William Knowland held Republican leadership in the Senate during this decade more than anyone else, even being majority leader for a while.
The ’50s were a decade with a relatively conservative president, a period of GOP control of the Senate and a growing prosperity. There were some accomplishments certainly but for the most part, Knowland was constantly outmaneuvered by his Democrat counterpart, LBJ. Even a major, meaningful accomplishment like the Civil Rights Act of 1957 for which Knowland was floor manager was allowed to become a feather in Johnson’s cap despite the strong opposition among the Democrat Party. It was Knowland who urged Ike to nominate fellow Californian Earl Warren as Chief Justice. Later in life, Ike reflected that most of his presidential mistakes were sitting on the Supreme Court and it is hard to disagree with that assessment.
The ’70s saw the Democrat Party reflect more and more the radicalism that showed its head beginning in the ’60s. Oh, there was a reaction of unrest among the voters resulting in Nixon’s election. But the old habit of “go along, get along” did not result in major gains for conservative policy. The power and role of national government grew in almost all domestic corners. Even price controls were thrown into the mix. To convince yourself that the election of Reagan was simply a reaction to the failures of Carter would be missing the boat. The stage for them was set by the whole decade.
The Reagan years might have seemed a reset. He certainly had what was for the most part a conservative agenda. But creatures of government don’t like to see government lessened. The ’80s was the first time period since Coolidge when what we think of as conservatism ruled in the Oval Office, but that does not mean it made the GOP establishment comfortable. In fact, it was the opposite.
Reagan’s ability to go around the press, the Democrats, and the foot draggers in his own party helped a lot but it was hardly complete. The failure to do away with the Department of Education is an example and American education has been expanding and getting worst ever since.
One lesson that should have been learned in the 80s is that Democrats cannot be trusted to keep a deal. There is much made by some of the relationship between Reagan and Tip O’Neill. And they did reach some deals. With a split Congress, some dealings are necessary. But point to a time when O’Neill’s word was kept. It certainly wasn’t on the immigration bill, etc.
Reagan might have been the “happy warrior”. But the upper levels of the party were uncomfortable with his determined anti-communism and with pushing back on a social agenda from the left. Mostly, I feel, they were uncomfortable with the disapproval of the press.
After five years of a seemingly unprecedented parade of smears and mostly false attacks on Trump, the manner in which Reagan was perceived and presented in the press is dulled for us. Reagan was hardly accepted by the national media as a spokesman for America. And the establishment GOP was most uncomfortable with that.
It is no accident that phrases such as “kinder and gentler” and “compassionate conservatism” appeared as soon as Reagan left office. Instead of laying out the clear case for conservative principles and their better results and building that case, there was a conscious effort to distance from the press’s harsher view of “Reaganism”. Once again, I will say there is no such thing as “Reaganism” any more than there is “Trumpism”. There is only “Americanism” and the principles embodied in it. Attaching individual’s names to it is a distraction.
I will qualify here. I am using the Bush II years as an extension of the ’90s. The mid-’90s surge due to the Contract with America was soon pressed down by establishment concerns and DC culture. The tendency of establishment Republicanism has been to moderate toward the left when they can as if they can “conservatize” the overreach of government. The Bush years illustrate this.
In an attempt to appear “kinder, gentler and compassionate” under the false assumption that it would widen their “base” the Karl Rove clan expanded entitlements and extended the national government’s reach into education even deeper. They even let Ted Kennedy practically write the bill.
There was a helpful across-the-board tax cut that came with a time limit. There was never a strong counterattack to the constant chime of “tax cuts for the rich” that came from the media and the left (was that a redundancy?). Instead of fight from the administration, there were attempts to moderate as if it would draw the other side to the middle. Sorry, but the lessons of history put the lie to that false hope.
Bush even had a reasonable plan for beginning a fix for entitlements but abandoned it after resistance meant making a strong case and going toe-to-toe. So the administration simply came up with an entitlement of its own! Of course, there were corporate bailouts and the deep concept of “abandoning the free market to save the free market”. I will leave foreign policy for another time except to say that believing one can “democratize” a place that doesn’t already have a culture that appreciates liberty shows a lack of understanding of our own experience as well as all of history in general.
The grassroots Tea Party Movement was every bit as much a frustration with the Bush years as it was a rejection of the Obama administration. What was expected, wished for over the decades were results. And results were something that the GOP had been terribly short on. There was a deeper frustration when the establishment types pretty well held the Tea Party at bay with their presidential nominations against Obama. My opinion is that if either of those gentlemen had won, we would have had amnesty by now. With Obama in office, the attention was more on the healthcare takeover.
Without banging away at single events or personalities, the Trump administration saw more concrete results and implementation of policies and concepts than at any time since Coolidge. And most of it was uphill. For the first time since Reagan, there was an actual determined push for a genuine conservative agenda.
The list of items checked is impressive if you are really committed to results over appearances. Even the object of oh so many GOP candidate speeches and promises, ObamaCare, was on the verge of death only to be rescued by the votes of ……. Republican Senators.
Now so many of those long-awaited gains are being not just swept away but replaced with purposeful destructiveness. And we are only talking about a matter of a few months. And it was and is being aided by those who hide their preference for decorum over decisiveness behind an unconvincing countenance of ideological purity. I really don’t believe they even convince themselves. But they are not comfortable with just how desperate this moment or this fight is. So they refuse to believe it is that desperate and that like before there will be another day when we just start over without all the bare-knuckled ugliness.
But this is not the ’50s, or the ’70s, or the ’90s, or any of those other lost decades. They set the stage for the cliff we are now peering over.
For those with a taste for ancient world history, I suggest reading The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Empire by Mike Duncan. Read it with one eye in the present. You might be able to see some political class operatives being sweep along by changes they don’t understand. There might be a few radicals tearing down traditions. The keen eye could discover a power seeker or two taking advantage of radicals and selfish politicos. You might even find a Never Trumper or two unwittingly helping all of them.
Liberty was not intended to be comfortable or easy. It is a constant battle. It always will be. But it has real and deep benefits. Conservatism is certainly about liberty but it is also pragmatic. It works. It gets real results which affects lives. There was pragmatic proof of that in the few years before this slander of our history and our national purpose.
Those real results have to be a major part of our message as we try to hang on into the 2022 elections. Our message is not just shinning ideas. It is directed toward people who have day-to-day lives and concerns. It is they who matter, certainly not a political class who have already shown their first concern rests among themselves.
The changes we are facing at this moment can be fatal to our republic. That is their purpose. This very day could determine the fate of an “infrastructure” bill that would be a deep wound.
The “barbarians” are not at the gate. They are among us.Published in