Looking for Mr. Reagan
by Tom Donelson on August 16, 2011 at 6:20 PM
In 1980, I voted for Ronald Reagan which proved for me a personal twofer. Not only was Reagan the best vote I ever cast but it allowed me to make up for the worst vote I ever cast, for Jimmy Carter in 1976. I was given a do over and took full advantage of it. For the past three decades, Republicans and conservatives have looked for the next Ronald Reagan but in 1980, Reagan was not quite Reagan.
A leader of the conservative movement, Reagan began his campaign in 1979 with plenty of whispers that maybe time has passed him by. The establishment opposed him and even some younger conservatives looked for younger alternatives but as we now know, the rest is history. Reagan proved to be one of the giants of the twentieth century and his shadow still lingers over the Republican Party just as FDR's shadow still reigns over the Democratic Party.
Reagan is often the exception to the rule, a great leader who came at the right time with the right solution. As a child in Catholic school, I remember a nun saying in the aftermath of Pope John XXIII's death that God guides the College of Cardinals to pick the right man for the right time and this judgment proved prophetic when John Paul II was selected to be Pope in 1978. John Paul II, along with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, helped usher the end of the Cold War and the liberation of Central Europe from the yoke of the Soviet Empire.
You can argue that God's hands were involved as many great leaders arose at a time when Western democracy's economies were in turmoil and the Soviet Empire on the march in Africa, Central Europe and Afghanistan. Not only was John Paul II selected, but the British people elected Margaret Thatcher and American people elected Ronald Reagan. These three giants guided the Western alliance and essentially ended the cold war without a nuclear war and the surrender of the Soviet Empire while igniting a three decade global expansion. In 1980, the decline of West was the story, but by the end of the decade, America stood as the lone Super power.
Today, we face a similar crisis of spirit with riots in Great Britain and Greece, the European Euro is in trouble and our economy having been downgraded with trillion dollars deficits as far as the eyes can see. As the Obama Presidency shrinks before our eye, the Republicans are searching for the next Reagan.
Of course, Reagan will not march through the door and we are dealing with the candidates we have. It could be easily argued that maybe the next Reagan is amongst us and history will only tell. In 1979, many in Great Britain were simply hoping for the best and they probably never felt that they were electing the second great Prime Minister of the twentieth century behind Winston Churchill.
The lessons of Reagan victory is the same for Republicans today. Reagan was a long time activist who developed his street cred as a conservative, and this gave him an advantage with the grassroots, but his former Democratic roots allowed him to connect with a new generation of Reagan Democrats, middle class blue color workers, many of who were Catholic, and Southern Evangelicals, many of whom voted for Jimmy Carter four years earlier. His economic plans dealt with the economic situation of the day and most importantly, his opinion of what the economy needed. His ideas on foreign affairs conflicted with much of the establishment elites, whose ideas were failing and tired.
For modern day Republicans, the lessons are similar. The establishment emphasis on Keynesian economic theory on steroids has failed and left economic planners scratching theirs heads but there are some big differences compared to 1980. Reagan's embrace of Kemp-Roth tax bills was considered outside of mainstream, even of many Republicans, but today, there are Democrats and liberals who understand that tax reform, including lowering marginal tax rates in exchange for reduced deductions, are needed now. The Bowles-Simpson Commission report was the official surrender of the establishment who not only put together a Reagan’s tax reform package, but acknowledged that entitlements must be reformed. Outside the New York Times editorial board and upper echelon of Democratic Party, there is a consensus that a more free market approach is called for.
It is becoming clear that Obamacare will be a far more expensive proposition than originally thought by the Obama administration and oops, you may not be able to keep your current coverage. Obamacare is universally hated by the public and with good reasons, it is a disaster that will saddle this country with more spending without making the healthcare system better.
The middle class is under siege and much of what they have saved is slowing being wiped out and their home is no longer an investment but a dragged on their retirement. In many ways, the Tea Party is the revenge of the investor class who is close to retirement but realize that what they have saved is threatened and their children's future will be worse than theirs. Republicans have added a enthusiastic base with the Tea Party, voters who are willing to go door to door to oust Obama and the Democrats. In the past, evangelical Christians provided the foot soldier, but the Tea Party will increase those foot soldiers, enough to compete with the Union's get out of the vote efforts.
Reagan's program of restraining government spending, ensuring America’s defense is the strongest in the world, reducing regulations and marginal tax rates on both individuals and businesses plus restoring King Dollar is as applicable today as it was in 1980. The actual solution may differ but not the plan.
Which brings us to the question, who is the Next Reagan? The next Reagan will be the candidate who combines those ideas that lead to Reagan's victory and sell those ideas to independents and even to new generation of blue dog Democrats who no longer feel their Party belongs to them. Reagan was not part of the establishment, but its opponent and whoever becomes the standard bearer of the Party will find he or she opposed by a new establishment even more entrenched in power. We do not know if any of the present candidates are ready for the Presidency or becoming the next Reagan to establish a new era of liberty. The long campaign will allow one to come forward and take control. There were many who doubted if a former actor could actually be President, but they were proven wrong. Time will tell if providence will bless America one more time.
Of Romney opponents, McCarthy observed, “To the contrary, Romney’s competitors opined that the federal constitution barred states like Massachusetts from imposing an individual mandate as part of an effort to ensure that every citizen in the state was covered. And from there, the putative champions of limited government went haywire. Some want gay marriage banned. Some want abortion banned and criminalized. If you listened to them long enough, it was like listening to Democrats: If I disapprove of it, surely it must be prohibited. If I approve, surely it must be the law...I confess to thinking we’ve lost our way. The Framers gave us a federal constitution for a confident, self-determining people — people who could be trusted to make sensible choices, to govern themselves through legislation rather than be strait-jacketed in the uncompromising logic of law.
How far Romney takes this will be interesting, and I suspect that he won’t take it too far but in the case of health care, necessity forced him into the position. Which leaves us to campaign, Romney is now the front runner and showing that he learned from 2008 as he has become a polished debater and so far, no one has really touched him. He has been able to parry away anything coming his direction and directed fire on Obama. With his government experience combined with business acumen, Romney has the look of a legitimate candidate.
Romney now faces a different situation after the straw vote with Michele Bachmann becoming the darling of the Tea Party and Rick Perry coming into the race. Perry is attempting to unite Tea Party and elements of the establishment while cutting into Ms. Bachmann's evangelical base. Perry's announcement was strictly an economic affair and included references to the plight of minorities under Obamanomics. Perry sent the signal that he won’t ignore those members of the Democratic base who simply are getting the shaft under Obama's economic reign.
Perry is not the perfect conservative and perfectly willing to use government funding to reward political allies but for the most partTexas has balanced their budget, kept their schools open, created a ton of new jobs, kept the roads paved and has no state income tax. Perry has a story to tell, and he has yet to lose an election, and like that great Republican President, Ronald Reagan, he began his career as a Democrat. (The guy was an Al Gore man in Texas in 1988, something that one does not want on a Republican resume, but then Reagan was a New Deal Democrat.) The conservative Rick Perry supported Rudy Giuliani for President in 2007 so he is not adverse to go outside his comfort zone to garner support. If anything, Perry has shown a unique ability to form alliance where it benefits him, but this is a governor who has cut budget and managed a major state through good times and bad. No one can say that Perry lacks executive experience, since he has it in spades. After watching what happens when you allow a community organizer to run the country, having executive experience will certainly be a resume enhancer with voters.
Perry is the perfect foil to the more urbane Romney. Romney looks like a business executive and there is a feeling businessman Romney is simply telling Republicans and conservatives what they want to hear, whereas Perry is the son of tenant farmers and has killed a coyote while jogging. Both men have their strengths and their weaknesses, but in comparison to Obama, they both strike an impressive feature. If the election was held today, how many folks believe if either Perry or Romney would not beat Obama?
Ron Paul represents a subculture within the Republican Party, and as NRO Kevin Williamson noted that this subculture is made up of “bikers and nuns, veterans and pacifists, and students and students and students rallying to the banner of Ron Paul, celebrating an ornery and exuberant subculture that is in the Republican party but not necessarily of it..” This is a culture whose idea of a good time is reading Hayak or simply a ragged copy of the constitution. It is easy to dismiss Paul as a nut case but his jihad against the Federal Reserve is supported by many who have seen the Federal Reserve failure over the past four years. His isolationist foreign policy may be wrong but it does have the support of million of Americas who are tired of war.
Ron Paul is a movement center around the constitution, and while this is Paul's last hurrah, it may not be the Paul family's last shot as his son Rand Paul is helping to run his father’s campaign and is now prepared to take the mantle of Libertarianism within the Republican Party. In the 80’s, Paul was a member of the Libertarian Party and even its standard bearer, but I will suspect that he will garner more votes in the Republican primary than he did as the Libertarian candidate.
For Paul, the crusade begins with the constitution, but his reflection on the role of the Federal Reserve is what has struck a nerve. His crusade for the gold standard seems quaint and so 19th century but with the failure of fiat currency and the dollar standard; Paul's solutions are starting to look less crazy. As long as this administration deserts the dollar standard and attempts to inflate the currency with easy money, we are setting the stage for even more instability, and with the world no longer wiling to follow America’s lead much less allow the dollar standard to continue, what are the options? Paul at least has asked the question and the wise men and women of our generation have yet to come up with an answer.
Kevin Williams concludes about Ron Paul, “Paul’s high-grade libertarianism remains a distinctly minority disposition in American politics. But it is not inconsequential minority, and it is not one that Republicans can afford to ignore in 2012, regardless of who the nominee is.”