Friday, August 05, 2005

The Ebb of the Reagan Revolution?

Drafting on Wednesday's post about interesting developments within the Democratic Party, today we stop to consider the Reagan Revolution, George W. and the future of the Republicans. Over at OxBlog, David expands on Dinesh D'Souza's biography of Ronald Reagan to place today's Republican Party in some sort of historical context. Quoting D' Souza (writing in the 1990s):

The single most important reason for the failure of the Republicans and conservative intellectuals is that both groups have lost their faith in the American people. In the 1980s Reagan converted the right, traditionally the party of pessimism, into an optimistic movement. So perhaps it is not surprising that once Reagan left, the GOP and the conservative leaders reverted to their old familiar ways. If the Republicans fail to learn Reagan's lesson, they will lose their congressional majority and once again become a minority party and a marginal political movement.

But from where I sit, David misses D'Souza's point when applied to the World of W. when he writes

After all, who could possibly be more Reaganesque than George W. Bush, all the way down to the cowboy boots that his fans adore and that his critics resent?

But that's just it, isn't it? Bush harkens back to stylistic Reagan with his tough talk, cowboy boots and commitment to principle. Thanks to Karl Rove, he's certainly equipped with all of the accoutrements. However, Bush possesses very little of the skill, substance or indeed, optimism of The Gipper.

Regardless of circumstance, W. has shown a shocking and frustrating inability to persuade. And I'm not just talking about "strategery" or "won't get fooled again." No matter how noble or clever the president's objective, he is not The Great Communicator (or even The Decent Communicator) and his speechwriters fail to show the rhetorical flourishes of Peggy Noonan.

When it comes to ideological substance, Bush hardly passes the smell test of Reaganite conservatism. Domestically, ballooning deficits demonstrate an inability to make the hard choices and lack of commitment to the traditional conservative mantra of smaller government. Internationally, Bush shows precious little ability to lead where others will follow. Similiarly he's shown none of the strategic flexibility or skill which allowed Reagan to retain anti-communist credentials while shocking the Soviets (and the world) with a major arms reduction initiative at Reykjavik.

But it is on the issue of optimism where I find the greatest distinction. As D'Souza rightly points out, it was "Morning in America" and Reagan's indefatigable optimism which truly set him apart. It was this optimism which drew political friends and foes to him and his causes. Reagan believed in himself, his vision, America and the American people. Bush often seems tactically uncertain, and his administration, in my opinion, lacks any real faith in the American people. Rather, it seems far more focused on the consolidation of power and playing power politics.

Ironically, the image of W. as a direct, straight-shooter has not been borne out in a meaningful way. Plain talk is not the equivalent of frankness. How else can one interpret his unwillingness to level with the American people about the full rationale for the invasion of Iraq, much less prepare them for the sacrifices necessary to guarantee success? In general, his administration has treated us with virtual disdain, like third-graders not quite prepared understand the issues or to handle the truth. While one can understand the lack of political advantage in straight-shooting with an insatiable media yapping at your heels, that's precisely what a leader with the gravitas of a Reagan did. Bush continues to mumble and stumble about "smoking them out," "hard work," "making progress," and how "they hate our freedoms" without much elaboration or persuasive skill. As a result, when combined with his unwillingness to acknowledge false starts, course corrections or to maintain standards of accountability, his rhetoric rings hollow to a nation that desperately wants to follow. One doubts that Reagan would have ever allowed such a state of affairs to exist for long. And on the domestic front, this administration seems to have more in common with a Nixon administration which trusted no one and saw an enemy behind every tree.

As D'Souza rightly pointed out, Reagan was the exception to the rule in pessimistic conservative politics. While Bush cloaks himself in all of the trappings of Reaganism, there's no "there" there. He seems determined enough to pursue his dogmatic initiatives insofar as they will make DC permanently safe for conservatives. But then that isn't Reaganism, is it?

Without a fundamental faith in the people, a commitment to principle credibly rooted in reality, and the frankness and persuasive skills needed to make people believe that staying the course is a legitimate policy option, Bush increasingly looks to me like the concluding chapter of the Reagan Revolution. Like all successful political movements, the early years are characterized by a commitment to exciting new ideas and principle. In ascension, the movement grapples with governance and implementation. And in full maturity, it flatulently reckons with the challenges of establishing dominance, currying favor, and political nepotism. But that is ultimately the undoing of such movements unless they are able to regenerate with an infusion of new ideals and talents. George W. Bush's stewardship will be remembered for a good many things. But not as a regenerative era for the Republicans and the broader conservative movement.

2008 will mark a watershed moment for a Reagan coaltion which increasingly seems to be at odds with itself. In 1992, there didn't appear to be much light between Jerry Falwell and Pat Buchanan, and in many respects, Jack Kemp. But 2008 may very well witness significant swaths of agreement between Buchanan and Michael Moore as well as presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and John McCain. And who stands with the Falwells and Ralph Reeds? FoxNews?

Will 2008 portend the demise of the Reagan Revolution or will it mark a new chapter? Can the old coalition hold together? Will a new one be born? Or will the whole thing sink into the abyss?What hath the faux Reaganism of George W. Bush wrought?

Stay tuned.

No comments:

  • Better Living: Thoughts from Mark Daniels
  • Evangelical Outpost
  • One Hand Clapping
  • Camp Katrina
  • TPMCafe
  • Dodger Thoughts
  • Boy of Summer
  • Irish Pennants
  • tabletalk
  • Fire McCain
  • My Sandmen
  • Galley Slaves
  • Michelle Malkin
  • myelectionanalysis
  • Iraq the Model
  • Mystery Pollster
  • A Bellandean! God, Country, Heritage
  • Right Truth
  • The Fourth Rail
  • Counterterrorism Blog
  • Just One Minute
  • Broken Masterpieces
  • Kudlow's Money Politic$
  • Econopundit
  • Tapscott's Copy Desk
  • The Blue State Conservatives
  • Palousitics
  • Christian Conservative
  • Outside the Beltway
  • The Belmont Club
  • Froggy Ruminations
  • The Captain's Journal
  • Argghh!!!
  • Chickenhawk Express
  • Confederate Yankee
  • Reasoned Audacity
  • Taking Notes
  • ThisDamnBlog
  • Three Knockdown Rule
  • Dogwood Pundit
  • Dumb Looks Still Free
  • Unfettered Blather
  • Cut to the Chase
  • Alabama Improper
  • Austin Bay Blog
  • Michael Yon-Online
  • The Trump Blog
  • A Lettor of Apology
  • GM Fastlane Blog

  • Powered by Blogger

    Listed on BlogShares Who Links Here