I first want to thank all those who linked to or posted on my TAC piece on Jimmy Carter’s infamous “malaise” speech. I appreciate your thoughts and comments.
It’s been said that my piece is part of the Reagan “revisionism” by some on the right and it’s something I wish to address. The dictionary defines revisionism as “one who proposes a course of action regarded as deviation from accepted ideas or established policy.” From that technical definition, my article is “revisionist” in looking upon Carter’s speech and Reagan’s electoral coalition from a different viewpoint than is generally held by conservatives and others on the right.
But revisionism has the connontation that one’s views or tries to re-state history or worse, distort it, in order to serve an ideological end. That was certainly not my intention. The coalition that put Reagan into the White House included a lot of Democrats as I pointed out. But to do anything one has to be elected first and the Democratic Party at that time had over 50 percent party ID. Reagan needed a lot of Democratic votes in order to win and that’s why he wasn’t about to trash Democratic heroes like FDR or Truman or JFK. In fact he quoted them quite often, especially FDR. Given the fact he voted for FDR four times, isn’t it interesting he never once repudiated all those votes and wished the he could have voted for Robert Taft? That’s why, unlike Goldwater, he became president. He was aiming for 51% percent of the vote not 39%.
Thus it is interesting to hear those attacking the New Deal nowadays not acknowledging the fact that Reagan himself said he was not running for President to repeal it.
Reagan’s move from New Deal liberal to Republican Conservative came in the late 1940 and 1950s and had much to do with Cold War and the influence his wife Nancy, who came from a right-wing Republican family, had upon him. And Reagan’s campaigns had far more dimensions to them than just reducing the size of government. There was the defense build up, there was standing up to the Communist Bloc, there was restoring America’s spirit and pride. There was standing up for moral values. Reagan probably saw himself as another FDR and Carter as another Hoover. He would play the same role. The political reality was that Reagan was more of a conservative Democrat than a Republican in the Taft/Goldwater/Charlie Hallack a tradition who fought against big government and lost every time. That’s why he won. And conservative Democrats, whether populists like George Wallace or Southern Bourbons like James O. Eastland or Northern Catholic ethnics like Ray Flynn, were not exactly the kind of people who wanted to smash the state.
If you believe that ending the Cold War with a victory for the West and taming the inflation monster that was destroying the economy was a victory for conservatism, then Reagan should be honored as a conservative hero. But if reducing the size of government is really is now the main focus of what’s left of the right, then we cannot escape the irony that a Jimmy Carter or even a George McGovern or Bill Clinton for that matter. would be better in that regards than a Ronald Reagan, because Carter, Clinton and McGovern would or did reduce the biggest parts of big government, the military-industrial complex, the national security state and the drug war whereas Reagan helped to enlarge all three. And was it not Bill Clinton who said “The era of big government is over” as he and a GOP Congress reformed welfare?
GOP plans to reduce the size of government (like the Ryan Plan for example) have no credibility whatsoever unless the party and its members deal with this paradox. And I don’t care how many military installations South Carolina and or Texas has. This doesn’t mean repudiating Ronald Reagan. It simply means being forthright with what you say you want. Otherwise, you’re better off being Tory conservatives. At least you’ll more honest and perhaps might accomplish more.