Archive for ‘Ronald Reagan’

June 23, 2009

Once upon a time…

by Smitty (h/t GatewayPundit)

…we had a POTUS who was packin’ the gear…

Update: (h/t Dr. Sanity)

I think this is incomplete. My office mate was talking about this, and he mentioned that Senator McCain had said something akin to “Mr. President, it is no mistake that their protest signs are printed in English, not Farsi.”

May 26, 2009

Hayekian, Reaganite or Texan?Essay on the Arrogance of the Elite

“It is just mind-boggling how some people think that an M.A. or a Ph.D. is somehow a bestowal of omniscience. . . . So why is it that so many academics believe that their word is final when it comes to anything and everything under the sun? As an academic myself, I can answer that question with one word: arrogance.”
Mike LaRoche, May 23, 2009

“The typical intellectual . . . need not possess special knowledge of anything in particular, nor need he even be particularly intelligent, to perform his role as intermediary in the spreading of ideas. What qualifies him for his job is the wide range of subjects on which he can readily talk and write, and a position or habits through which he becomes acquainted with new ideas sooner than those to whom he addresses himself.”
Friedrich Hayek, 1949

When I use “intellectual” and “elite” as putdowns, it is a Hayek’s conception of modern intellectuals as “secondhand dealers in ideas” that informs my disdain. The arrogance of their presumed omniscience, as Mike LaRoche says, is what renders them obnoxious.

Thomas Sowell (who far outranks me as a “top Hayekian public intellectual”) describes the liberal worldview as The Vision of the Anointed, a book that every conservative ought to read, re-read, and continue re-reading until it is thoroughly understood, if not indeed memorized.

When speaking about liberal bias in the media, I sometimes explain to conservative audiences what should need no explaining: The media elite hate you.

They hate you with a thoroughgoing contempt you cannot begin to comprehend. They hate everything you believe in and everything you stand for, and until you understand why they hate you, no defense against their hatred is possible.

The reason the elite hate you is because of your failure to acknowledge their superiority. What the elite cherish, above all else, is prestige. By questioning the truth of the elite’s belief, you deny their superiority and deprive them of prestige.

Have you ever wondered why evolutionists are so vehement in denouncing creationists? Among the elite, one cannot gain prestige by advocating biblical truth, creation ex nihilo as an expression of the transcendent soveignty of the Almighty.

If the Bible is true, then the elite are fools. To admit the possibility that “in the beginning was the Word,” is to suggest that Richard Dawkins is the intellectual inferior of the holy roller shouting hallelujahs at the Pentacostal revival in the hollows of eastern Kentucky.

Your Christian faith therefore is an insult to the elite, an attack upon their precious prestige, an invitation to whatever evil word or deed the elite employ against you. Creationism is a threat to the elite in the same way that the Ukrainian kulak was a threat to the Soviet revolution, or as Albert Einstein’s genius was a threat to Hitler’s vision of Aryan supremacy.

As the Marxist would say, those analogies are no accident, comrade.

“[E]very scholar can probably name several instances from his field of men who have undeservedly achieved a popular reputation as great scientists solely because they hold what the intellectuals regard as ‘progressive’ political views; but I have yet to come across a single instance where such a scientific pseudo-reputation has been bestowed for political reason on a scholar of more conservative leanings.”
Friedrich Hayek, 1949

For all that we are told about the need for conservatives to come up with “new ideas,” it is amazing how little the situation has changed in the six decades since Hayek wrote “Socialism and the Intellectuals.” Even the Nobel Prize (which Hayek won in 1974) has been tainted by being recently awarded to Al Gore and Paul Krugman.

The prestige enjoyed by Dawkins, Gore and Krugman is denied to Michael Behe, to Steven Hayward, to Thomas Sowell. To protect their status, the elite must deny prestige to their critics and it is this monopolization of prestige — not the pursuit or dissemination of sturdy truth — that eventually becomes the chief occupation as they seek to defend their supremacy against rivals.

You need not be an intellectual to understand this. Anyone who has ever worked in a dysfunctional office under an incompetent manager knows how this game is played. The manager has attained his position by deceiving his superiors into believing he is competent, and the object of the manager’s manipulations is to prevent the discovery that he doesn’t know how to do his job.

In this situation, the incompetent manager will:

  • Routinely take credit for the achievements of others;
  • Identify as enemies the most intelligent and competent of his underlings, since they are most aware of his ineptitude and most likely to benefit from his downfall;
  • Attempt by favoritism toward sycophants to create a Praetorian Guard to defend himself against criticism; and
  • Attribute all failures to scapegoats or circumstances beyond his control.

If you’ve ever been in the kind of toxic work environment where office politics is a bloodsport, then you understand how ambitious frauds can ascend to dominance, especially in environments where quantitative and qualitative measures of individual output are difficult to obtain.

This is one reason every bright, industrious student abhors the “group project” method that became vogue among progressive educators in the 1970s. Five students are assigned to the project, one or two do all the real work, sharing their grade with the slugs and dullards.

Students of Nicco Machiavelli, Antonio Gramsci or James Burnham equally understand how the organizational structure of institutions favor or disfavor various types of personalities and various means of advancement within those institutions.

Again, to borrow the Marxist’s maxim, it is no accident that incompetent backstabbers flock toward careers in academia. Who is to say whether one professor of women’s studies is superior to another? What are the criteria by which a dean chooses a new chairman for the sociology department? Now that Ph.D.’s in history, psychology and similar disciplines so vastly exceed the number of available tenure-track positions, the business of hiring and promoting in those fields has become notoriously arbitrary and politicized.

Academia is remote from the direct input of markets, and such is the prestige of elite institutions (e.g., the Ivy League schools) that the hiring process at Columbia or Yale can never affect the success and prosperity of those institutions unless — as in the notable case of Lawrence Summers at Harvard — they accidentally hire someone with the effrontery to criticize the elite’s belief system.

Yet it is a mistake to suppose that this sort of elitism exists only in academia or that elitism is only a problem among liberals.

“This is the issue of this election: whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.”
Ronald Reagan, 1964

As with Hayek, so with Reagan, one of Hayek’s most successful admirers. Isn’t it amazing how little things have changed? Truth is a sturdy thing and human nature is a constant factor in the equation, so that the elite always strive to impose their will, and the free man always struggles to resist.

If Reagan sneered at the elite, was he a “populist”? If he used “intellectual” as an epithet, did this make him “anti-intellectual”? No, he was merely expressing the Hayekian insight: Knowledge is so scattered among the population that, in the universe of facts, no one — no professor, no pundit, no politician — can ever have all the facts or claim such a superiority of knowledge that he qualifies to be an “expert” dictating the ordinary affairs of others.

That such arrogant presumptions of expertise are common among intellectuals is as obvious to me and Mike LaRoche as it was to Reagan and Hayek. And that those we might broadly descibe as the ruling class in Washington constitute an elite is self-evident. Reagan was therefore speaking of a real problem in American political life.

Having dealt with this intellectual elite in Washington for more than a decade, I know their habits and attitudes quite well. They habitually presume to know things they do not know, and react with hostility to anyone who questions their presumptions.

Ross Douthat, whose father is a successful attorney, grew up in New Haven, Conn., attended Hamden Hall Country Day School (tuition: $26K/yr.), graduated from Harvard University (tuition $32K/yr.), and married one of his Harvard classmates.

And the title of Douthat’s most recent book? Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream.

Douthat might be competent to suggest how Republicans can win the alumni of Hamden Hall and save the Harvard dream, but his only qualification to speak for the working class is the ubiquitous arrogance of the intellectual elite.

“You look back in the earlier times, there were no opportunities, so there were no opportunists. . . . Later on, you have all these people who figure it’s probably a pretty good political thing to do. And so they start talking about being conservative when they’re running [for office], but they really aren’t. So when they get to Congress or wherever they go, they’re pretty easily dissuaded.”
Al Regnery, The American Spectator

Douthat is the answer to a question that has long puzzled conservatives. When I abandoned the Democratic Party in the mid-1990s (hint: “From My Cold Dead Hands!”), one of the first things I discovered was that grassroots conservatives were perpetually peeved by the ineffectiveness of Republicans in Washington.

Living in northwest Georgia (Bob Barr’s district 1995-2003) this grassroots discontent was palpable. After I moved to Washington, I’d sometimes see people roll their eyes at any mention of Barr, whom even most conservatives in D.C. considered a reckless firebrand. I’d always tell them, “Man, if you think Bob’s an extremist, you ought to meet his constituents!”

The guy in charge of IT at the newspaper I worked for in Georgia was a federal licensed firearms dealer who used to tell me, “Hey, if you ever want to shoot a machine gun, just let me know.” Another grassroots leader among Republicans, the wife of a county judge, was also the head of the local Eagle Forum and an activist for the John Birch Society.

Bob Barr never could have been elected without the support of people like that, and if you believe in representative government, then it was Bob’s job to represent those people.

And that was my job, too. In 1997, I left Georgia to join the staff of the Washington Times, but not before all my conservative friends down home had thoroughly warned me not to forget where I came from. So it was that I came to Washington with a two-fold mission.

First, I would attempt to represent accurately the essential decency of the good folks I’d left behind — hard-working, God-fearing, patriotic and self-sufficient. If there is one belief that the elite never doubt for a minute, it is that the average citizen of Floyd County, Georgia, is demonstrably inferior to the average citizen of Chicago, Boston or San Francisco.

Bullshit. Want to argue, Harvard boy?

My second mission in Washington was to discover why the Republican Party failed so miserably to advance the kind of agenda that grassroots conservatives believed they were voting for. It took me many years to understand this, and the answer is complex, but it is also as simple as two words: Ross Douthat.

Well, the liberals had their intellectual elite, you see, and so conservatives decided they needed to get them one, too. Given the natural assumption that the finest minds in America had all been scooped up by the elite schools, there soon developed an intellectual superstructure in Washington of think-tank wonks, policy analysts, political advisers and journalists who came from the same elite background, and had attended the same elite institutions, as the liberal elite.

OK, fine. Let us match Ph.D. to Ph.D., expert to expert, in a sort of intellectual equivalent of the Harvard-Yale game. But while the liberal elite were directly and constantly associating with the liberals whose beliefs it was their job to translate into policy, the conservative elite were generally isolated from the kind of people whose beliefs they were representing.

The Democrat in Brooklyn may resent the arrogance of the Columbia University graduate who specializes in urban policy for the Brookings Institute, but the Brookings specialist is not immersed in an environment where that Brooklyn Democrat is sneered at contemptuously, the way a policy wonk at the American Enterprise Institute sneers as the constituents of the typical Republican congressman.

Whatever their differences in terms of policy, the Brookings wonk and the AEI wonk share the elite belief that the typical Brooklyn Democrat is somehow superior to the typical Georgia Republican. And from that shared belief — which I assure you is well-nigh universal among the intellectual elite in Washington — emanates the great divide between the Republican elite in Washington and the rank-and-file of the GOP.

The Republican elite is ashamed of its constituents in a way that the Democratic elite is not. Therefore, Democrats fight ferociously for their agenda in a way that Republicans seldom do.

The Republican elite in Washington crave prestige, you see, and they cannot gain prestige by sticking up for the typical GOP voter in Tucson, Tulsa, Tampa or Tulllahoma. You cannot become one of The Republicans Who Really Matter by defending Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh. No one can impress his friends at a Georgetown cocktail party by saying nice things about Sarah Palin or Joe the Plumber. No one in the D.C. elite — whether Republican or Democrat — can ever advance his career by quoting Michelle Malkin or Mark Levin.

You see why not only do Republican elites fail to defend their own party’s constituents, but they viciously attack anyone who attempts to represent the core beliefs of the conservative grassroots. Because if Michelle Malkin is a conservative, then David Brooks is not, and it is only his status as token “conservative” that assures Brooks of membership in the elite. If Brooks were just another liberal Democrat, after all, the New York Times already has plenty of those from which to choose.

So when you see some “conservative” sneering at Rush Limbaugh or mocking the Tea Party movement — what you are witnessing is the effort of elitists to signal to their fellow elitists that they are in on the joke, that they don’t take seriously the core values of grassroots types like Joe the Plumber.

“Even where the direction of policy is in the hands of men of affairs of different views, the execution of policy will in general be in the hands of intellectuals, and it is frequently the decision on the detail which determines the net effect. We find this illustrated in almost all fields of contemporary society. Newspapers in ‘capitalist’ ownership, universities presided over by ‘reactionary’ governing bodies, broadcasting systems owned by conservative governments, have all been known to influence public opinion in the direction of socialism, because this was the conviction of the personnel.”
Friedrich Hayek, 1949

What Hayek says here can be applied equally, you see, to the Republican Party and the various institutions of the conservative movement. If the think-tank wonks, the congressional staffers and the writers for conservative journals believe in same-sex marriage, global warming or universal health care, efforts to employ those institutions on behalf of contrary opinions will not be as effective as if those efforts were conducted by personnel who actually shared the beliefs they were paid to advance.

The elite cadre of the GOP and the official conservative movement constitute a bureaucracy, and the critique of bureaucracy are equally valid. The beliefs of the Heritage Foundation bureaucrat are in many ways more important in the operations of that institution than the beliefs of Ed Feulner or Ed Meese. The enemy within the camp is always the most to be feared.

Why, after all, does John Cornyn not hesitate to urinate all over the Republican rank-and-file in Florida by endorsing Charlie Crist more than a year before the primary? Because no one at NRSC headquarters, nor any member of Cornyn’s Senate staff, has any interest in the concerns of the conservative grassroots nor any incentive to represent those concerns.

Is David Brooks going to speak up for Marco Rubio? Will Kathleen Parker defend the rights of Florida Republicans to choose their own candidates? Do you expect Rod Dreher to tear himself away from the important work of defaming Mark Levin in order to tell his readers in Dallas what Cornyn has done?

“This is the arrogance of the intellectual elite, to imagine that their particular specialty — the expression of abstract ideals via the written word — is the only ability that matters, qualifying them as experts on anything and everything they choose to write about.”
Robert Stacy McCain, May 22, 2009

Michelle Malkin went to Oberlin, Mark Levin went to Temple and Ann Coulter went to Dartmouth. These are all elite institutions, and all three of these individuals engage in endeavors that qualify them as “intellectuals” in the sense that their work involves “shaping public opinion.” Why, then, are they at odds with, and scorned by, the people you think of as the “intellectual elite”? Chiefly because they do not look down at The Ordinary American, nor do they ever entertain the notion that their readers are morons incapable of thinking for themselves.

The greatest example of this respect for the grassroots, of course, is Rush Limbaugh. If you listen to Rush regularly, you know that sometimes he’ll get a caller who’ll say, “Rush, how can you say such-and-so? Everybody in the MSM is saying the opposite. The people will believe the MSM, not you!” And Limbaugh will calmly reply, “Look, you figured it out on your own. I figured it out. Don’t you think that other people see the same thing and can figure it out for themselves? Give people some credit.”

What makes Rush angry is the evident belief of so many Republican “leaders” that the American people can’t handle the truth. Among these truths is that the economic agenda of today’s Democrats is the exact same agenda that Hayek warned was being advanced by the intellectuals of 1949.

Begins with an “s,” ends with an “m,” and I don’t mean “sarcasm.” But don’t say it out loud, or Rod Dreher will call you a “crackpot.”

April 9, 2009

‘Kooks,’ Blue-State Republicans, Rick Moran, and the Messaging Problem

Hot Air headlined Rick Moran’s lengthy examination of the “kook” charges against Glenn Beck, which involves a discussion of the general problem that conservatives face in terms of messaging. This passage catches my attention:

I am losing contact with those conservatives who find Beck anything more than a clown – and an irrational one at that. Same goes for those who worship at the altar of Rush, Hannity, Coulter, and the whole cotton candy conservative crowd. I can’t take those people seriously. The fact that they are popular mystifies me. Our heroes 20 years ago were Reagan, Buckley, Fitzpatrick, Kirk, Goldwater, Anderson, and others who didn’t see conservatism as a meal ticket but as something to think about, to write about and contemplate man’s place in the world and his relationship to government and God.

“Fitzpatrick” and “Anderson” obtrude in this list. I’ve got no clue whom Moran means by “Fitzpatrick,” but fear that by “Anderson,” he means third-party presidential candidate John Anderson. If Anderson is your idea of a conservative icon, Rick, we need to talk about your definition of “kook.” The man was a “Jacob Javitz Republican,” which put him to the left of Rockefeller.

One of our basic problems now is that, in defeat, we always want to play the game described by Michael Brendan Dougherty, and thus dubbed “Dougherty’s Law,” which dictates that every conservative pundit must claim that the Republican Party would win “if it were more like me, and instead it loses because it is more like you.”

Thus, pro-lifers blame the GOP’s woes on insufficient fealty to the pro-life cause, et cetera, ad nauseam, ad infinitum.

One of the most egregious examples of Dougherty’s Law — and it sticks in my craw every time I think of it, more than a decade later — was Christopher Caldwell’s “Southern Capitivity of the GOP,” published in the June 1998 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. Caldwell mixed facts with half-truths with misconceptions in just such a witch’s brew as was calculated to appeal to the kind of intellectual snobs in his intended audience. As an expression of ignorance about the realities of Southern politics, and unmitigated prejudice against Southerners, Caldwell’s piece is the sort of thing that makes me share Zell Miller’s fond nostalgia for the age of “pistols at dawn, sir.”

Caldwell’s article has to be viewed, along with David Brooks’s infamous 1997 “National Greatness” essay, as an attempt at scapegoating on the part of the moderate Northeastern GOP elite who were embarrassed, first, by Bush 41’s humiliating defeat in 1992 and, again, by Bob Dole’s humiliating defeat in 1996.

This dissatisfaction of the elite was not mollified by the happy fact that these two presidential defeats were bookends to the 1994 “Republican Revolution,” which put the GOP in control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years, and you have to know a bit about how Washington works to understand why this was so.

Power vs. Prestige
In the federal government, as the Framers intended, Congress represents power. But with growth of the imperial presidency, the White House represents prestige, and there is nothing that the elite covet so much as prestige.

The difference between the GOP elite in Washington and the ordinary grassroots Republican in Tulsa or Tucson or Tacoma can be summed up in a single word: Ambition. And this one word explains the struggle between elite prestige and grassroots power in the GOP.

The Republican activist in Tucson wants to see his party win elections and enact conservative policies. Perhaps the Tucson Republican has personal ambition in politics — to be named county party chairman, to be a delegate to the national convention, maybe even to run for the state legislature — but he understands that any small ambition he has is dependent on winning elections, and thus expanding the party’s power.

For the Republican elite, however, a far different calculus is involved. Those who have attended the right schools, served the proper internships and made the right connections arrive in Washington at age 22 or 23 looking to scale the ladder of success. Whether they are think-tank analysts or campaign operatives, journalists or lawyers, these young people are almost universally dreaming of reaching the lofty heights of their especial avocations. It’s a very competitive environment which favors the shrewd and cunning.

To digress momentarily, it happens that I skipped all that myself. I learned the craft of a newspaperman at little papers in Georgia you never heard of, and was never a Young Republican who harbored the kind of ambitions that fuel the careers of the 20-something go-getters in D.C. I was a loyal but not particularly ideological Democrat until the mid-1990s, when circumstance and experience (including the first two years of the presidency of Bill Clinton, for whom I’d voted) caused me to become an ex-Democrat.

The story of my autodidactic conservative conversion need not be related here, but the point is that I arrived in D.C. in November 1997 as a 38-year-old married father of three, an award-winning professional journalist who knew a lot about newspapers, but very little about the ways of Washington. And one of the things I understood least was why the Republican elite was so intensely interested in presidential politics and foreign policy.

Assistant Deputy Undersecretary
Having won awards as a newspaper columnist in Georgia, I naturally hoped that I might repeat this trick in Washington. I’d been hired as a news editor at The Washington Times, but I occasionally managed to throw a column over the transom to the op-ed or commentary pages. These were mainly about cultural topics — women’s magazines, the decline of marriage, home-schooling, et cetera — because the business of opining about politics in Washington is a cartel jealously guarded by members of the punditry guild.

If the rise of the blogosphere has made nothing else clear, it has at least made clear that political insight is not monopolized by the likes of George Freaking Will and other elitists who get paid to opinionize on the op-ed pages and TV talking-head shows. How, then, did the commentariat maintain its hegemonic influence for so long?

Part of the answer lies in a phenomenon I call the Former Deputy Assistant Undersecretary Syndrome. During the late 1990s, I noticed that many of the thumbnail biographies under the op-ed page guest commentaries tended to read like this:

Elmo Rumburger Jr. served as deputy assistant undersecretary in the State Department during the Ford administration and was ambassador to Chile from 1981-83. He is vice president of the Coalition for American Unity and author of the new book, “Libya: Threat or Menace?”

In other words, Mr. Rumburger’s column was published more on the basis of who he was than what he had to say, let alone how well he said it. The quality of such columns might vary, and it might be that the Former Deputy Assistant Undersecretary made an important argument with clarity and eloquence.

Mr. Rumburger might be an excellent individual committed to the conservative cause, and I might applaud his column, but the point is that people like that get published on the basis of their biographies. They bring to the op-ed page a certain authority and prestige which you — the grassroots Republican — will never have, and the main reason you don’t have it is because you never wanted it. You drive a truck or you run an insurance agency or whatever, and have no interest in politics as a career.

Ambition and the Elite
This “ambition gap” is what really divides the elite from the grassroots, and it explains why foreign policy and winning the White House are inextricably linked as twin obsessions for the GOP elite. The power exercised by Congress is great, but the most prestigious congressional staff position — the Chief of Staff, of whom there are 535 on Capitol Hill — is essentially a behind-the-scenes management gig.

Compare this, then, with the prestige that a president doles out through his appointments. Cabinet secretaries and all their assistants and deputies, heads of agencies and bureaus, ambassadorships, staff positions in the White House — somewhere, I’m sure, there is a source that can tell you exactly the number of jobs to be had by political appointment.

The relevant point is, it’s a freaking crapload of jobs, and there is a huge prestige factor to even a fairly minor presidential appointment. In 2009, there are many middle-aged guys in Washington who earn handsome salaries in large measure because, when they were 24 or 25, they worked in the White House or one of the Cabinet agencies for a few months in some low-level appointment in the final year or two of the Reagan administration.

This is most especially true in the field of defense and foreign policy. If you are an ambitious, well-educated, well-connected Republican operative whose expertise is military and foreign affairs, your career goals will be thwarted unless the GOP regularly wins presidential elections.

There are only so many think-tank gigs and university professorships to be had, if you’re a Republican specializing in international policy. The relevant committees in the House and Senate only offer a relative handful of jobs, compared to the hiring bonanza when a newly-elected president starts staffing up the Defense and State departments, and being a Hill staffer carries relatively little prestige compared to all those Assistant Deputy Undersecretary gigs.

Perceptive readers are now starting to understand the tremendous frustration that so many Reaganauts felt during the eight years of the Clinton presidency. It was not merely a matter of policy, but of ambition.

Imagine the bright young Cold War hawk, with a degree in international affairs from a top school, who hired on at age 23 as a political appointee at the Pentagon in 1987 or ’88. He worked his way up a notch or two during the Bush years, the Soviet Union was vanquished, the first Iraq war was a triumph but then — purely because of domestic politics — this ambitious young fellow found himself dismissed from his job at age 28 as the Clintonistas took over.

“Oh, that damned Ross Perot!” said the gimlet-eyed Cold Warrior. “That Pat Buchanan! Those idiot domestic-policy populists who cost me my shot at becoming a Deputy Assistant Undersecretary before I was 30!”

Blue States and the GOP Elite
“Wait a minute,” cries the perceptive reader. “Why are we talking about foreign-policy elites? You’ve completely jumped the track with this digression — I thought we were talking about Rick Moran and why Glenn Beck is a kook. Moran isn’t a deputy assistant undersecretary wannabe. What kind of wacky non sequitur is this?”

Ah, but the two phenomena are indeed connected. Think about the fact that Rick Moran lives in Democrat-dominated Illinois, a state last won by a GOP presidential candidate when Bush 41 got 50.7% in 1988. Much like the foreign-policy Republican, the Blue-State Republican tends to have a greater interest in presidential politics.

Liberal Chicagoland so dominates Illinois politics, and has for more than seven decades, that electing a Republican governor or U.S. senator is a once-in-a-blue moon fluke — think of four words, “Senator Carol Moseley Braun” — that the GOP minority’s influence can best be augmented by electing a Republican president.

A real winner like Reagan who clobbers his opposition in a landslide will offer “coattails” for GOP candidates even in a heavily Democratic state, and so the Republican in Illinois (or New Jersey, or Michigan) takes a keen interest in presidential politics. This is why the GOP foreign policy elite and the Blue State Republicans so often sing from the same hymnal: Don’t pick fights over difficult domestic issues where a determined conservative stand might hinder prospects in the next presidential campaign.

Furthermore, Blue States are always blue for a reason, usually something to do with economics and demographics. One thing that Chris Caldwell got right is that the “Sunbelt” economy has boomed because of the right-to-work laws in the South and West, which outlaw the closed shop and thus make it very difficult for labor unions to take over entire industries. Labor unions by their very nature are constituencies of the Democratic Party, which is why heavily unionized states in the Midwest and Northeast are such tough terrain for the GOP.

There was a time, at the height of the Great Cold War Consensus (roughly 1948-68), when liberal or moderate Republicans enjoyed success by avoiding fights that would put them at odds with labor-union constituencies. If you go back to the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debate — where everything seemed to boil down to the tiny islands of Kemoy and Matsu in the Formosa Straits off the Chinese coast — you understand what George Wallace was talking about in his 1968 independent presidential campaign when he complained that there wasn’t “a dime’s worth of difference between the two major parties.”

The Great Cold War Consensus reached its apogee between JFK’s narrow 1960 victory and LBJ’s 1964 landslide, unraveled largely due to the Vietnam debacle, and the Democrats only staved off disaster after Nixon’s ’72 landslide because of the subsequent Watergate scandal. Watergate fueled a Democratic congressional landslide in 1974 and enabled the 1976 election of Jimmy “I’ll Never Lie To You” Carter, whose utter incompetence led to the Reagan triumph of 1980.

What is key to understanding all that history is the great degree to which the foreign-policy issues of the Cold War predominated in the GOP’s ascendancy. It was LBJ’s bungling of Vietnam, and Carter’s bungling . . . well, everywhere, that mostly explain why Republicans held the White House all but four years from 1969 to 1993.

The Republican Babel
You can see why, then, we now have such a Babel of ideological discord in the Republican Party. The GOP succeeded without ever having to forge a partisan consensus on domestic policy. From Nixon through Bush 41, as long as you agreed that the Democrats were hapless dupes of the Soviets — and this was obvious at the time to all but the blindest of Democratic partisans, as I then was — you were a Republican voter by default.

Furthermore, you see why the post-1994 showdown between the Gingrich-led Congress and Clinton over domestic policy was so bitter and fractious. Even with a stuffy snob like Al Gore as the Democratic candidate in 2000, Bush 43 lost the popular vote and only barely won the Florida deadlock that decided the Electoral College. Without any existential foreign policy foe to replace the Soviet menace, Republicans had a very difficult time winning the White House on domestic issues.

Then came 9/11. This was the grand opportunity, the key that would deliver the “permanent Republican majority” of Karl Rove’s dreams. The Global War On Terror enabled Bush and the GOP to gain an upset mid-term victory in 2002 and enabled Bush, in 2004, to become the first president elected by a popular-vote majority since his father won the “third Reagan term” in 1988. And then it all went to hell in a handbasket, and here we are with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and President Barack Obama.

Meanwhile, in a not entirely unrelated development, we see Rick Moran — whose native Illinois sent Obama to the Senate along with Dick Durbin — carping that Glenn Beck is a kook who “lacks the ability to think rationally,” that Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter are just using conservatism as a “meal ticket,” that there is something of the Hoftstadter paranoid tendency being exploited, and that we are guilty of fomenting “fear and frustration” if we don’t denounce Beck, et al.

This is not about Glenn Beck. This is about the long failure of the Republican Party (and/or, the conservative movement) to define and enunciate a clear philosophy of domestic policy that differentiates them from Democrats.

RINOs like Arlen Specter have muddied the waters, and advocates of the oxymoronic “Big Government Conservatism” have convinced too many Republicans that there is no hope for electoral success in fighting to limit or shrink the massive entitlements of the liberal Welfare State. I will quote once more something that American Spectator publisher Al Regnery said to me in an interview last year:

“You look back in the earlier times, there were no opportunities, so there were no opportunists. . . . Later on, you have all these people who figure it’s probably a pretty good political thing to do. And so they start talking about being conservative when they’re running [for office], but they really aren’t. So when they get to Congress or wherever they go, they’re pretty easily dissuaded.”

The success of the GOP has attracted opportunists who call themselves “conservative” because, as Rick says, that’s a “meal ticket.” But Regnery wasn’t talking about Rush Limbaugh, who certainly is not “easily dissuaded.” And I’m not guilty of acting in accordance with Dougherty’s Law when I say that a lack of common ground on economic issues is a basic problem of the Republican Babel.

The Austrian Insight
Maybe my perspective on all this is different because I am an ex-Democrat who became a conservative by reading Mises and Hayek and Ayn Rand, abandoning my native partisan loyalties in the mid-1990s when foreign policy wasn’t a big deal, and with no thought at the time of becoming a “pundit.” I was just a Georgia newspaper writer, reading stuff that interested me, and trying to make sense of why Bill Clinton — whom I had supported because I wanted to believe he was a moderate “Sam Nunn Democrat” — was pursuing a policy agenda straight out of the Dukakis campaign platform.

When I reviewed Rod Dreher’s Crunchy Cons, I noted that his book made no mention of the great Austrian economists who, as any Reagan biographer will tell you, had such a powerful influence on the Gipper. Because of its influence on Reagan, Hayek’s Road to Serfdom may rank (along with Witness by Whittaker Chambers) as the most consequential book of the 20th century, and yet Dreher doesn’t even bother to mention Hayek in Crunchy Cons.

The only economic thinkers Dreher mentions are Adam Smith, Karl Marx and the Buddhist-influenced Keynesian, E.F. Schumacher. This suggests a blinkered and stunted understanding of economics. What an easy trick to juxtapose Smith, the supposed ideologist of “capitalism,” against the arch-ideologist of socialism, Marx, and then — eureka! — the “Third Way” that delivers the reader from these two supposedly equal economic evils.

In fact, Adam Smith was not trying to create any ideology, but rather was trying to describe the basic facts of economics in order to expose the protectionist fallacies of European colonial mercantilism. It was Marx who is chiefly responsible for our thinking of Smith as advocating an “-ism,” and from this “Marx vs. Smith” duality much other mischief has ensued.

Why Socialism Fails
What Mises, Hayek and others of the Austrian school patiently demonstrated was that socialism (Marxian or otherwise) is based on a fundamental fallacy that ultimately makes socialism unworkable in practice. Socialism — the “planned economy,” as Hayek often described it — neglects the function of prices as information by which individuals make their own economic decisions.

When governments intervene in economic life, through various forms of regulation, subsidies and taxation, they inevitably influence prices in a way that substitutes the decisions of government officials for the decisions of individuals in the market. Because the underlying reality of supply and demand persists, however, and because of the diffuse nature of economic information — the preferences of individuals, their specialized abilities, the scarcity or surplus of goods and services, etc. — the actions of government planners cause harmful inefficiencies.

Socialism must therefore always fail. The more a system approaches the socialist ideal, the greater the economic inefficiencies that cause failure. And as socialist policies fail, governments determined to pursue these policies always become more coercive in their attempts to compel individuals to cooperate with the planning regime, to stamp out areas of economic freedom where prosperity remains. Thus the Soviets had to liquidate the kulaks (peasant freeholders) in order to eliminate competition with, and resistance to, the socialist regime.

Because even a minimalist government takes actions that influence economic activity, there has never been, nor will there ever be, such a thing as a pure free-market regime. Yet the policies of governments are either oriented toward economic freedom or against it. What Hayek saw in the policies of England and America in the 1940s were governments that seemed to have made a fateful turn against economic freedom, and were thus on The Road to Serfdom.

‘I, Pencil’ and Reaganism
Such is one layman’s summary of the Austrian insight, and academic specialists are free to tell me exactly how I’ve misstated the case. But at least I’ve read Mises and Hayek (and various of their students, such as Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams and Mark Skousen), and therefore can claim to have some notion of what it was that revolutionized Ronald Reagan’s worldview, turning him from a self-described bleeding-heart liberal into the almost universal hero of conservatives today. Look again at that list of conservative icons whom Rick Moran cited:

Our heroes 20 years ago were Reagan, Buckley, Fitzpatrick, Kirk, Goldwater, Anderson, and others . . .

Hayek and Mises are missing, as are Milton Friedman and other prominent advocates of economic liberty who were certainly influential circa 1989. Perhaps Moran has read these people and just doesn’t bother to mention them. Reagan and Buckley both frequently referred to the free-market intellectuals, and Goldwater was an avid defender of the free economy, so that it’s possible to have absorbed Mises second-hand, as it were.

Yet Rick Moran doesn’t discuss domestic politics like someone who’s spent much time with the Austrians and I therefore suspect his exposure to them has been minimal. And if you’ve never considered their perspective, you have to spend time with the Austrians before you can understand the insight. How many issues of The Freeman did I read before I stopped sputtering in angry protest and began nodding in agreement? I’d be willing to bet, as I said of Dreher, that Moran’s never even read Leonard Read’s brilliant little essay, “I, Pencil.”

The Missing Cornerstone
But just as this is not about Glenn Beck, it’s also not about Rick Moran. It’s about a Republican Party that ascended to power, and attracted adherents, based in substantial measure on its foreign policy disagreements with liberal Democrats. The party also attracted adherents dissatisfied with liberal positions on other issues — abortion, education, gay rights, environmentalism, etc. — and all of these GOP adherents will tell you that they are “Reagan conservatives,” but not all of them really are. Because if you haven’t read Hayek and Mises and the other economic thinkers who influenced Reagan, you are missing a fundamental cornerstone of Reagan’s worldview.

The Austrian insight can lead in many directions, as Lew Rockwell would gladly explain, but the one direction it never leads is toward the kind of Keynesian bailout/”stimulus” insanity we’ve seen from Washington over the past year — wrong-headed policies endorsed by Republicans and Democrats alike. These policies will not produce recovery, but will instead result in debt, poverty and misery. It is therefore the duty of every American who does not wish to see this “city on a hill” become a shameful tragedy to speak up in oppositon to these policies. (It Won’t Work.)

Rick Moran and some others have criticized the Tea Party movement as an incoherent populist publicity stunt, as if the nationwide rallies planned for April 15 will be about Obama’s birth certificate or FEMA camps. No — there is a specific focus on economic policy.

One also hears the grumbling that, because various Republicans have voted for bailouts or “stimulus” bills, it is hypocritical partisan demagoguery for conservatives to speak out against this economic agenda. OK, fine. Show me where Michelle Malkin, Glenn Reynolds, the Cato Institute or Americans for Limited Government — I’m kind of pulling names out of the hat here — have ever endorsed any of this stuff, even when George Bush and John McCain were enthusiastically pushing for it.

(Crickets chirping.) The Tea Party movement is not about Glenn Beck, Rick Moran, George Bush or John McCain. It’s not about re-electing any Republican in Washington, or electing any current or future Republican candidate for office. It’s about advocating a very simple idea of economic liberty as a fundamental principle of a free society.

If you don’t get that, fine. Stay home April 15 and grumble all you want about populist demagoguery, but I know where the friends of freedom will be.


UPDATE: Rick Moran says that “Anderson” was a reference to the columnist/author Martin Anderson and “Fitzpatrick” was a typo/brainfart: He meant former U.N. Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick. Oh, and Rick says he has read The Road to Serfdom, but not Mises. Yeah, but what about “I, Pencil”?

UPDATE II: Moran responds, and more linky-love is provided by Stephen Gordon at Liberty Papers, Dan Collins at Protein Wisdom, Physics Geek, Fisherville Mike and some blog with a long Latin name. (Dude, I can sling a bit of the Atlinlay when I want to impress people, but . . . seriously?)

Also, this is the place where I say, “Hit the tip jar, you ungrateful bastards.” The alternative is the Jane Hamsher whine-a-thon (“I’m blogging for The Cause, so pay up!“), and I’ve got too much dignity for that. I’m a greedy capitalist blogger, which is why I’m running a 2-for-1 special on nude photos of a certain prominent blogger’s wife. Of course, they’re just bad Photoshop jobs, but . . .

UPDATE III: Welcome, Instapundit readers! What an amazing coincidence . . . kinda like JournoList, huh?

UPDATE IV: Speaking of messaging and coincidences, guess what happens when an ACORN front group sends out a press release? And we’ve now got our own Memeorandum thread. (Rule 3!)

UPDATE V: Little Miss Attila links, as do Paco, Craig Henry and Mark Goluskin. Meanwhile, Dan Riehl says, “too long and prone to wander a bit.” My wife used to say the same thing, Dan.

April 1, 2009

Team Spirit, Leadership and Success

“You can accomplish much if you don’t care who gets the credit.”
Ronald Reagan

In a series of rants over the past few weeks, I have tried to fire up my fellow conservatives, to give them “faith for the fight.” In the words of one of my heroes, Gen. George S. Patton, an army fights as a team, and team spirit — esprit de corps — is essential to success in any group endeavor.

Whether it is war or politics, business or sports, accomplishing great things requires teamwork, which begins with the committed belief that victory for the team is more important than who carries the ball into the end zone. Once the victory is gained, even the second-string left tackle will be able to boast that he was part of the championship team.

Many years ago when I worked in Georgia, it was my privilege to interview World War II veterans who had served under Patton, and though those men had led successful civilian lives for half a century, there was a special pride when they said, “I was with Patton.” You’ll see the same sort of pride if you ever have the pleasure of meeting someone who worked with Reagan (and I’ve interviewed a few of those, too).

Nothing is more necessary to leadership than the leader’s concern for the morale of his followers, yet morale often suffers because many people who lack leadership capacity are also deficient in followership capacity. They’re always griping and grumbling about something, spouting negative criticism that tends to demoralize their comrades. The duty of the leader in such a situation is to rebuke the complainer and to tell him, if he doesn’t mend his ways, he’ll be kicked off the team. If a man is hurting the team, he needs to be told so bluntly.

The Coach and Joe Willie

Bear Bryant was arguably the greatest coach in college football history. (I say “arguably,” just to avoid bitter flame wars with deluded fans of other teams that are inferior to the Crimson Tide. Certainly, I would never question that Bryant was the greatest coach ever.) Coach Bryant called Joe Willie Namath the finest athlete he ever coached, but when Namath violated curfew, Bear benched him.

Despite protests in Tuscaloosa, where some Tide fans burnt Coach Bryant in effigy, he stuck by his decision, because a fundamental principle was involved: No one player was more important than the team, not even Joe Namath. And if you ever meet one of Bear’s former players, you’ll see that special gleam of pride in his eye when he tells you, “I played for Coach Bryant.” (Joe Namath himself has been known to get choked up a little when he talks about the coach.)

There has never been a great leader who was not the subject of complaints. Failure is easy, but success is hard. The leader must make hard decisions that provoke disagreement, that favor one team member over another, and that require some poor anonymous bastard to work his ass off, without credit, to help the team win. C’est la guerre.

Patton’s troops griped that their general’s nickname — “Old Blood ‘n’ Guts” — was the product of their blood and his guts, and they had a point. Yet somebody has to be the commanding general, and any victorious general owes his success to the sacrifices of his troops. And they are his troops. The reciprocal loyalty and common identification between a great general and his troops is like the relationship between Christ and the Christian. The loyal soldier takes pride in his service, he praises the name of his beloved commander, and when the commander says “go,” he goes.

Lessons From Nineteen
You ought to meet Pastor Sam Childers, “The Machine Gun Preacher,” if you want to know what I mean by real leadership. Like General Patton or President Reagan or Coach Bryant, Sam inspires intense loyalty. You’re either going to love him or hate him, and he doesn’t care either way, because Sam is serving God.

Let me tell you a little story: When I got over to Uganda in February 2008, I was about half-crazy from a bad reaction to the anti-malarial drugs that every traveler to Africa has to take.

OK, wait a minute, I take that back. Because I’m half-crazy all the time anyway, I was at least 75 percent crazy when I got off the British Airways jet at Entebbe International Airport south of Kampala. Plus, I’d had a bad experience during a long layover at Heathrow Airport in London (the Labour totalitarians had recently banned smoking in the airport), I was about to die from nicotine deprivation, and the airline lost my luggage, including a container of missionary supplies that Sam needed for his orphanage in Sudan.

Off on the wrong foot, and things just got worse from there, but that’s a whole ‘nother story. Uganda is beautiful and fascinating, the weather in February is lovely, and since this was my first trip outside of the United States, I wanted to see and learn as much as I could. My escort for these excursions was one of Sam’s soldiers, a guy called Nineteen.

Whatever his African name is, it sounds like the English word “Nineteen,” and so that’s what he’s called. He is a devout Christian who served in the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army during South Sudan’s long war against Khartoum, and he is utterly loyal to Pastor Sam. To see these two together when they’re relaxed and cheerful is like watching an older brother with his younger brother. Sam’s always doing little jokes with Nineteen, who knows the Pastor’s ways and puts up with the kidding because he knows Sam to be a mighty warrior for God.

Book-Shopping in Kampala
So, anyway, Sam had been telling me all about Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who is to modern Uganda what DeGaulle was to post-WWII France or what Adenauer was to postwar West Germany. Museveni has often been criticized, but he took Uganda out from under the backward socialist anarchy of its post-colonial phase and turned it into one of the more prosperous, free and stable nations on a continent where prosperity, freedom and stability can never be taken for granted. Uganda easily could have gone the way or Rwanda or Somalia or Zimbabwe, if not for Museveni’s wise and determined leadership, and he will deserve honor in his nation’s history.

Having heard Sam’s praise for Museveni, I was very curious to learn more, so one day, I told Nineteen I wanted to get some books about the president and Ugandan history. Off we went into downtown Kampala. My thought was that we were going to bookstore, but for some reason that was never made clear, Nineteen took me to the street market in a section of Kampala known as Coaltown, where mine was the only white face on the crowded street.

Nineteen took me to a place where a sidewalk vendor had secondhand books spread out on a tarp and spoke to the vendor, who produced an old paperback. Not what I expected, but I paid the man, took the book and we left. Only later did I discover that for a few cents, I’d gotten a rarity: A volume of the writings of Museveni’s National Resistance Movement, published in the NRM’s underground newspaper during the war to overthrow the socialists, and collected into one volume published shortly after the NRM’s victory that put Museveni in power. (I can’t recall the title of the topof my head; I’ve searched through my bookshelves, and it seems my wife has packed the book away.)

Of course, at the time, our trip into Kampala was tremendously frustrating to me. In America, if you want a book, you go to a nice air-conditioned Borders, take your time browsing the bookshelves, maybe have a cup of coffee, chat with the clerks — a leisurely and enjoyable experience. Yet here I was hustled through the crowded streets, led to a rundown sort of flea-market operation, and given exactly one choice, take it or leave it, not knowing when I’d again have the chance to come to town. Frustrating, like I said, but Nineteen was a man under authority.

The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.
Matthew 8:8-10 (KJV)

Nineteen was not authorized to discuss with me whatever instructions he’d been given by Pastor Sam, and a crazy mzungu (“white man”) like me had no authority with Nineteen. Rather, Nineteen was under orders to make sure I returned safely from this expedition. There had been riots in Kampala the first three days I was in Uganda, and the streets were patrolled by police and soldiers with AK-47s, and being an American journalist in that kind of situation . . . Well, an American press credential is not carte blanche over there.

Whatever Nineteen did, he did so as a dutiful soldier, in accordance with his instructions from his commander, Pastor Sam, and if I didn’t get exactly the book I wanted, this was far less important than the fact that Ninenteen got me back from Kampala in one piece. (And speaking of books, you really ought to buy Sam’s book, Another Man’s War: The True Story of One Man’s Battle to Save Children in the Sudan. I promise you’ll get a blessing from it.)

Nineteen is a team player, and my discontent with our book-buying expedition was a trivial annoyance to him, compared to the seriousness of his mission, and his desire to do to his utmost what Pastor Sam had instructed him to do. Nineteen is a humble and taciturn person, not given to bragging or trying to tell you what he knows. He does his job and is content to let his work speak for itself. His trust in Pastor Sam is as unshakeable as his faith in God, and when Sam put me under Nineteen’s care, my safety became like a religious obligation to him. I was his cross to bear, so to speak.

Now, when I began writing this, my heart was troubled at learning of staff troubles surrounding Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. When I learned that her scheduled June speaking engagement at a Republican congressional campaign event had been canceled, I instinctively recognized that there was a problem of divided authority among her staff, a gut hunch immediately confirmed by research. (Rule 3!)

This divided authority among her staff is a harmful blemish on the Governor’s reputation as a leader, and she ought to take immediate action to end the division. She must either have a loyal, faithful, efficient and united team of staffers to do her business, or else her own leadership capabilities will be for naught.

Reagan and Team Victory
The saying “personnel is policy” became a byword in the Reagan administration, and if you’ve got the wrong personnel on your team, you’re doomed. More than once, Ronald Reagan had to act decisively to try to unify his team and sometimes he didn’t get it right. Sometimes the wrong man got promoted and the wrong man got fired, and Reagan would have to go back and fix the personnel mistake he’d made. But he trusted his old friends — his wife Nancy, Ed Meese, Judge Bill Clark and a few other close associates who’d stuck with him through thick and thin — and despite his own jokes about being lazy, he was both diligent and shrewd in evaluating his staff.

Few men in history will be recognized as Reagan’s equals, and fewer still his superiors, but the fact is that he gets credit for what was really a team victory. Reagan’s achievements were actually accomplished by a vast army of fellow conservatives, most of whose names are scarcely even mentioned in the footnotes of the history books about Reagan.

For instance, just think about the men whose contributions not only funded Reagan’s campaigns but also funded the many non-profit groups that have helped advance the cause that Reagan led. Ron Robinson’s recent book, Funding Fathers: The Unsung Heroes of the Conservative Movement is an excellent account of what was accomplished, and how it was accomplished, by these philanthropists whose names you’ve never even heard of before. (Also, don’t miss A Glorious Disaster: Barry Goldwater’s Presidential Campaign and the Origins of the Conservative Movement, written by J. William Middendorf, who was Goldwater’s campaign treasurer.)

Now, I know what you regular readers are saying to yourselves. This is the part where I tell you, “Hit the tip jar, you ungrateful bastards.” Very smart readers around here and, based on personal observativion, the tip-jar hitters among you are not only smart but extraordinarily good-looking. (What praise can I withhold from you, The Few, The Proud, The Grateful Bastards?) Yet you remain nameless, and some of you have not yet even gotten an e-mail thank-you, an oversight entirely due to my habitual disorganization. Be sure, however, that I view your contributions as the answers to the prayers of a blogger whose wife is just now beginning to believe that maybe this blogging-as-a-career thing isn’t as crazy as it looks.

However, it is not (merely) to solicit your contributions that I make mention of the little-known conservative benefactors who funded, and who still fund, the cause Reagan believed in. Rather, I wish to call to your attention the spirit of cheerful teamwork that motivated their philanthropy.

These men were givers, not takers. They were generous because they were grateful. Their success they understood to be a blessing and, wishing others to benefit from their own blessings, they were generous in helping fund efforts to defend and strengthen the American way of life that had allowed them to enjoy their success.

Gratitude and generosity — this is the spirit of teamwork. Anybody who’s ever played football could tell you how grateful they were the first time they learned that they would be “first team,” in the starting lineup. It’s like your first Instalanche or your first front-page byline or your first . . . . Well, they say “you never forget the first time,” but it does tend to slip your mind after a while.

You take it for granted. You cease to be grateful for the blessing that once you cherished as the answer to earnest prayer. My wife is one of those blessings, a Proverbs 31 woman so wonderful that no man could truly be said to deserve her. To what shall my neglectfulness be likened? Well, think about all those Republicans who griped and grumbled their way through Reagan era, not realizing at the time that they were blessed for a few short years to be led by a man who — as we now look back — was one of the greatest leaders in human history.

Or how about this: A friend of mine had a great job, one that many people would love to have, but after a while, he and his boss didn’t get along so well. The boss was demanding and sometimes seemed capricious. My friend felt like he was being treated unfairly and he wasn’t doing the job he’d signed on to do. So after much soul-searching and prayer, he got another job that a lot of people would love to have. Guess what? His new boss was 10 times as demanding and capricious as the old boss. (I can’t tell you the names of my friend’s bosses, but trust me, you’d recognize them.)

Or how about this: When I worked at The Washington Times for Wes Pruden, there were people in the newsroom who hated the Old Man’s guts. There was a term, “Prudenizing,” which was used to describe what happened when Mr. Pruden personally edited a story. Well, then Mr. Pruden retired (which was when I decided to leave the paper) and I’m sometimes surprised to hear rumors of how many people in the newsroom nowadays find themselves pining for the Good Old Days when Wes was in charge.

That S.O.B. in the Mirror
“You never know what you got ’til it’s gone,” they say, and a basic cause of failure in human endeavor is this ungrateful, selfish spirit that causes us to complain about what we don’t have, when we should instead be grateful for all we do have.

We look around for someone to blame for what they’ve done wrong, or what they haven’t done right, and we want to pin the blame for our unhappiness and our lack of success on that other son of a bitch. We love to blame that other son of bitch, when it’s really that son of bitch in the mirror who is to blame.

What have I done wrong? What have I failed to do? Am I really so perfect that I am blameless even for my own failure?

If you are really honest about yourself, if you have the courage to face your shortcomings and admit your failures, you will never blame others for your own lack of success or happiness. And the ironic thing is, you’ll be a much happier and more successful person that way. Ingratitude and selfishness are not attitudes conducive to success, and still less conducive to happiness.

Nobody likes a selfish ingrate. You probably know people who are like that. “Kharmic black holes,” I call them, who at first glance seem favored by fortune. They go through life taking, taking, taking, seldom saying “thank you,” never doing anything from motives of sincere generosity.

If you’re looking at them superficially, people like that seem justified in their apparent belief that they are entitled to succeed by pushing other people around. And if you don’t have any firm moral commitments, you might succumb to the temptation to emulate their ways. Yet let’s heed the wise words of Frequent Commenter Solomon:

There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.
Proverbs 14:12 (KJV)

How those words ring true as we ponder the sad fate of the conservative movement in this dark hour. Personnel is policy, and somehow the Human Resources Department of the movement failed to screen out the unprincipled people who joined up for the wrong reasons or who turned down the wrong road, people who were selfish and whose ingratitude for their opportunities led them to abuse the positions of trust they’d been given. We need not name names.

Yet who is really to blame? Jack Abramoff? Newt Gingrich? Tom DeLay? George Bush? Karl Rove? John McCain? Or is it that son of bitch in the mirror?

On Election Night, I filed an American Spectator column from the headquarters of the National Taxpayer Union with the title, “You Did Not Lose,” in which I tried to remind conservatives that John McCain had never been their champion, that in fact he’d only gotten 47 percent of the Republican primary vote. Crazy Cousin John’s defeat was not, and ought not to be, a cause for conservatives to become demoralized and lose faith in their cause.

Yet, in some sense, you did lose. Whatever you did for the conservative cause, you didn’t do enough, or otherwise, the movement would have been strong enough (and smart enough) to stop Crazy Cousin John from getting the GOP nomination. And even with that untrustworthy RINO at the top of the ticket, Obama might have been stopped had the conservative movement been strong enough to persuade Maverick against his disastrous blunder in jumping onto the Bush bailout bandwagon.

You failed. I failed. We failed. However much we did, we did not do enough. We weren’t smart enough or hard-working enough or well-organized enough. We failed to unite and work as a team, because we allowed ourselves to become divided, listening to “leaders” who did not deserve to be followed. So what can we do now? Let me call your attention to the words of Frequent Commenter Ben Franklin:

Experience is a hard school, but a fool will learn in no other.

Fools though we may be, we at least have the hard-won wisdom of our disastrous experience. Learn the lesson, and resolve to move forward as a team. Don’t complain and grumble, just work as hard as you can.

Today is April 1 — April Fool’s Day, appropriately enough — and we are now just two weeks away from the nationwide Tax Day Tea Party. If every friend of liberty will unite now, and resolve to do all they can do to make that event a success, it might just be a turning point on the road to a great victory. Like Patton’s veterans, you may one day proudly tell your children or grandchildren that you served in the Tea Party Army that fought and won this great battle for freedom.


February 8, 2009

‘Rendezvous’ premiere

Friday’s premiere of the new documentary, Ronald Reagan: Rendezvous With Destiny, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, was a standing-room only affair.

Produced by Citizens United in association with Newt and Calista Gingrich, directed by Kevin Knoblock, Rendezvous With Destiny features interviews with Jack Kemp, James A. Baker III, William J. Bennett, Linda Chavez, Edwin Meese III, Mari Maseng Will, Richard Perle, Michael Reagan, Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, Natan Sharansky, Reagan biographer Lou Cannon, historian Douglas Brinkley, newsman Sam Donaldson and many more.

All of these people appear in the movie, but the star of the show is indisputably Ronald Reagan. The film footage and photos of Reagan in the movie are the highlights. His star quality carries the film. Here’s the trailer, and below that, some photos from the premiere.

David Bossie, president of Citizens United, at left; American Spectator publisher Al Regnery, at right.

Newt Gingrich talks with Seattle talk-radio king Kirby Wilbur, a member of the board of the Young America’s Foundation, which gave filmmakers access to the Reagan Ranch near Santa Barbara, Calif.

Me with Craig Shirley, author of Rendezvous with Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign That Changed America.

Philip Klein and J.P. Freire of the American Spectator with Ericka Andersen of Human Events.

Former Virginia Sen. George Allen talks with friends.

Cato Institute vice-president of communications Khristine Brookes and Fox News contributor James Pinkerton.

Fox News producers L.A. Holmes and Lee Ross.

Quin Hillyer of the American Spectator and me.

Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson and Jena Lenz of George Washington University Young America’s Foundation.

Former Virginia GOP chairwoman Kate Obenshain and Pete Parisi of the Washington Times.

Me and Kerry Picket of Newsbusters.

Kerry Picket, talk-radio producer Heather Smith and Quin Hillyer.

(Corss-posted at AmSpecBlog.)

February 6, 2009

‘Rendezvous With Destiny’

The premiere is tonight at the Kennedy Center.

Citizens United produced the documentary, and my friend Matthew Taylor was director of photography.

February 6, 2009

Happy Birthday, Ronald Reagan!

Video via Young America’s Foundation, and here I am at the Reagan Ranch in June 2007, with that exact same fence in the background.

I was in Santa Barbara for the 20th anniversary of the “Tear Down This Wall” speech, and got an A1 exclusive interview with Peter Robinson, who wrote that speech. The story was Drudge-linked.

(That spiteful twerp Birnbaum has removed my byline from the story in the TWT online archive, although anyone with Nexis can discover who wrote it. This is not personal, Jeff — it’s professional, since you also removed my byline from Reagan obituary. Before you set out to deprive a man of credit for his work, you ought to take an estimate of the man whose reputation you’ve chosen to attack.)

Excuse the digression into contemplation of vengeance. On a more appropriate note of Reaganesque optimism, JR at Conservatives4Palin says, “What’s that Mr. President? You want us to go out there in 2012 and “win just one more for the Gipper?” . . . You betcha!”

UPDATE: Philip Klein recalls when Robert Kennedy debated Reagan in 1967 — and got his butt kicked.

The premiere of the new Reagan documentary Rendezvous With Destiny is tonight at the Kennedy Center. It’s going to be SRO. They actually had to rescind invitations because they got too many RSVPs.

January 19, 2009

Buckley and Reagan

Ross Douthat reviews The Reagan I Knew — William F. Buckley’s last book — for the New York Times, and tries to address the arguments that Buckley would abhor contemporary populist conservatism:

Buckley began his writing life . . . as a quasi-apologist for Joe McCarthy and ended his career as a great friend to Rush Limbaugh. And he spent most of the intervening decades championing Reagan, the greatest right-wing populist of all — more authentically middle-American than Bush, a cannier player of the “jes’ folks” card than Palin, and as roundly disliked and disdained by the liberal commentariat as either one of them.

That’s about right, except there was nothing “quasi” about Buckley’s defense of McCarthy. But why quibble? I’ve read the book — it’s sitting on my desk right now — and I heartily recommend it. The witty repartee and occasional disagreements between two giants of 20th-century American conservatism are well worth remembering.

I had to study up on Reagan to write the feature obituary for the Washington Times, and in the years since, I’ve read several books on various aspects of his career. One thing that seems to get overlooked in the hagiographic retrospective view is the extent to which Reagan was a man of his time. He had been an FDR Democrat, a self-described “bleeding heart” whose liberalism led him to join (unwittingly) two Communist Party “front groups” in the early 1940s. So Reagan very much understood, at a deeply personal level, how humanitarian sympathies and naivete about communism could lead someone to become a “dupe” or a “fellow traveler.”

The pivotal moment for Reagan was during the Hollywood labor wars of 1946-47, when communist union organizers tried to shut down the film industry, at a time when Reagan was a leader of the Screen Actors Guild. The dishonest tactics of the communists awoke in Reagan the understanding that communism was a totalitarian menace no less dangerously evil than the Nazi menace.

Over the next 15-20 years, this revelation ripened into a deep and mature insight into the nature of the communist threat. Reagan’s job as a GE spokesman gave him the opportunity to hone to perfection a standard speech extolling America’s system of democracy and free enterprise, which he would contrast against the stifling forces of government bureaucracy, as well as against the totalitarian threat of communism.

These speeches were given to very diverse audiences — executives and plant workers, Chamber of Commerce types, etc. — whose political orientations were mixed and unknown. So Reagan struck patriotic themes in a way that wasn’t overtly political, and he aimed his rhetoric directly at the common sense of common people. His speeches weren’t a discourse intended for intellectuals, nor were they fire-and-brimstone partisan sermons. Rather, they were decent and respectable and generous, with a general tone of suggesting that all good people should be willing to fight for the basic ideals of American civilization.

American adults of the 1950s and early ’60s had been through common experiences — the Depression and World War II — and most of all they shared the patriotic sensibilities imparted by the public school system in the decades before historic iconoclasm came into vogue. There was a common cultural understanding about the heroes of Valley Forge, etc., and a near-universal antagonism to Soviet tyranny to which Reagan could appeal without being accused of jingoism or partisanship.

So when you see Reagan in his famous 1964 speech, “A Time for Choosing,” you’re watching a man who had spent more than a decade striking those same basic themes in dozens of speeches annually. He adapted these themes to the occasion, and the speech he gave was a humdinger. You want some Reagan populism?

This is the issue of this election. Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.

David Brooks would faint dead away, for certainly the advocate of “national greatness” has no faith in the ordinary American’s capacity for self-government, consistently siding with that “little intellectual elite” against the common sense of common people. Reagan never saw himself as part of that “elite,” and never had a good thing to say about it. And if you study Buckley’s early works — especially God and Man at Yale and Up From Liberalism — you know that for all his erudition, Buckley saw himself as an opponent of that elite (and vice-versa).

Reagan and Buckley respected and admired one another as equals, each independently seeking a common goal. What has changed in the relationship between conservative politicians and conservative intellectuals in the contemporary era, it seems to me, is that the intellectuals think themselves so infinitely superior to the politicians — and with good reason, generally, since few Republican politicians today show the kind of curiosity about ideas that Reagan so clearly had.

The real trouble is that this contempt for GOP politicians tends to fester into a contempt for GOP voters. This is where the David Brooks type so grievously goes astray, in smug condescension toward the typical Republican voter in Pennsylvania or Indiana or Ohio. The very fact that your average rank-and-file Republican likes Sarah Palin is, in the eyes of the Brooksian intellectual, reason enough to conclude that Palin is an unworthy idiot. By the same token, the fact that your average Republican likes Rush Limbaugh is sufficient cause to conclude that Limbaugh is harmful to the cause of “meritocratic aspiration” that a Brooksian considers “true conservatism.”

Reagan and Buckley were both populists in the sense that they believed that the ordinary American possessed basic common sense, and could do without the meddlesome superintendence of their everyday lives by Washington.

Buckley’s brobdingnagian vocabulary and his arch hyperintellectualism was meant as a challenge to the imagined superiority of mid-2oth-century liberalism, conveying to his reader the idea that one could be both intellectually sound and conservative (something the liberals of that era furiously denied). Reagan, on the other hand, spoke to people in a way that was simultaneously down-to-earth and inspirational — mixing the homey anecdote with the oratorical firepower of a latter-day Patrick Henry. Their methods were different, but their objective was the same.

Of course, it is grossly unfair to Sarah Palin to compare her to Ronald Reagan (though perhaps not as grossly unfair to Bill Buckley as comparing him to David Brooks). Palin has not had the advantages of Reagan’s experiences, having been so busy as a mother, a mayor and a governor that she surely has spent little time reading Friedrich Hayek or Whittaker Chambers. Yet she does seem to have a basic belief in the ordinary American’s aptitude for self-governance, and that strikes me as the right place to start.

UPDATE: JR at Conservatives4Palin has written two posts about The Reagan I Knew. One refers to this quote from Reagan:

For every problem, there are ten people waiting to volunteer if someone will give them a lead and show them where they can be useful.

Of which JR says:

This quote is great because it applies to the current state of the Republican party. We have a great “base” and grassroots network, from the fiscal conservatives to the defense hawks but we lack a competent leader, we lack what Reagan calls, “someone who can show us where we can be useful.”

You could relate this to Reagan’s famous maxim that you can accomplish anything, as long as you don’t care who gets the credit. The conservative movement today suffers from the “too many chiefs, not enough Indians” problem — it’s very hard to find capable, dependable team players who are content to labor in obscurity, as most political activists inevitably must.

In another post, JR quotes a letter from 1973 in which Buckley passes on advice from a “well-wisher” who says Reagan “refuse[s] to wrap [his] mind around foreign policy.” Here you see the vast gap between reality and perception. Reagan was keenly interested in foreign policy, especially the major issues of the Cold War, but because he was at that time busy with being governor of California, it was perceived that he didn’t “wrap his mind around” the issues. And here, I think, you see a parallel to Palin — the Katie Couric “gotcha” of what newspapers she read daily, as if the governor of Alaska should spend her mornings leafing through the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal (are those even available in Anchorage?).

January 7, 2009

Buckley & Reagan

Bill Buckley’s last book, The Reagan I Knew, gets reviewed by Hunter Baker at The American Spectator:

What one sees in the letters between the two great icons of 20th-century American conservatism is a conversation between equals. Buckley was not the Machiavellian manipulator liberals might have believed Reagan “the amiable dunce” needed. Instead, he was an ideological soulmate, a debate partner, and occasionally an opponent. These were two men working to the same end, but never shy to differ or to try to convince the other of their own position.

I’ve read the book, and it is absolutely charming. You will enjoy the inside jokes between Reagan and Buckley, who keeps promising to run away to Casablanca with Nancy, and refers to himself as Reagan’s ambassador to Kabul. You should definitely buy the book.