Sunday, November 04, 2007

Glory Days

The other day I bought the latest book by John O'Sullivan, _The President, The Pope, and The Prime Minister_, about Reagan, John Paul II, and Thatcher of course. To the extent I update this blog, I'm sure that I'll have several go-rounds about it. But while the subject material of the book is near and dear to my heart, it fills me some dread anyway. The problem is, most of the Reagan hero-worship comes off as the political-cultural version of 80s nostalgia, like Members Only jackets and A Flock of Seagulls for those who watch the McLaughlin Group. Jonah Goldberg makes a similar point here.

Nonetheless, this first impression is wrong in the final analysis. The lessons of the 80s are still topical today, especially for those of us who would in some way be considered part of the American Right.

Let's start with simple political demographics. The electoral success of Ronald Reagan as President of the United States is the finest fruit of the Buckley Renaissance of American conservatism which started a few decades earlier. As a coalition it was pretty simple: anti-Communist in foreign policy, low taxes and pro-family domestically. This has been pretty stable since then. Now, the Communists are gone and the terrorists are here, so we can substitute anti-terrorism for anti-Communism and not miss a beat. Furthermore, this was also more or less a winning coalition until 2006.

Now, this is in a state of flux. 2006 was a bad year, not just for the GOP, but also for the coalition animating it. The scale of the losses were large enough, and the prospect of further losses in future elections plausible enough, to the point where the whole viability of the Reagan coalition is in question. But at the risk of sitting aroun' telling boring stories about the old days, that is still the best option for the GOP.

This is true for three reasons. First, the things that the voters rightfully blame us for (largely the Iraq war), we can't do anything about. Second, the other core conservative issues are still popular: there's no point in abandoning the base on guns, abortion, immigration or defense. Those are going to be the elements of the GOP resurrection if there's going to be one. Finally, we will never outbid the Democrats on domestic butter issues so it's futile to try.

What's left? Well, we can do our best to get rid of GOP negatives that the conservative base never wanted in the first place, ie, fiscal and sexual corruption in Congress and the cronyism of the Bush43 administration.

There's also one final point to be made about Reagan and principle, contrary to Jonah's article above. It is true, as Jonah asserts, that Reagan as President made all sorts of compromises and sellouts, some of which were apparent at the time, and some of which weren't. But Jonah is wrong to suggest that he was less a man of principle because of them. In Reagan's case, it precisely because he held a few basic principles so firmly that he could make compromises while still in steadfast pursuit of them. This is especially topical of the GOP Presidential field today. We as mainstream conservatives have real reason to think that Giuliani, McCain (and maybe Romney too) don't share the same principles as the GOP base. I suspect that nominating any of them will cause substantial unforseen problems.

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