Thursday, August 04, 2005

# Posted 8:22 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE BAD OLD DAYS: This post, like the one below it, draws on Dinesh D'Souza's book entitled Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader. D'Souza's book is definitely something of a hagiography, but is nonetheless valuable because it examines in great detail not just why liberal pundits and intellectuals resented Reagan so deeply, but why so many conservative pundits and intellectuals scorned him as well (a fact that most of them would now prefer to forget).

It was only while reading the brief epilogue to D'Souza's work (pp. 257-264, added to the paperback edition in 1999) that I began to get a sense of why the author was so well attuned to divides within the Republican party of the 1980s, a time now celebrated by most Republicans as a triumphant era of unity and purpose, all made possible by the Great Communicator.

The reason is that D'Souza was writing in the aftermath of Clinton's re-election, at a time of despair and recrimination within the GOP. The fact that Republicans now control every branch of the government often makes us forget how divided the party was less than a decade ago. By the same token, I wouldn't be surprised, if after Hillary's re-elections in 2012, neither Democrats nor Republicans remember how divided the Democratic party was in the age of Howard Dean.

Anyhow, I thought it might be a good idea to quote D'Souza extensively, since his criticism of fellow Republicans is something that hasn't been heard for quite some time:
Since Reagan made his exit from the scene, American politics has dominated by the search for his successor...

Bush was the annointed beneficiary of Reagan who, immediately after the 1988 election, seemed to forget the man to whom he owed his success. Even after working closely with Reagan for eight years, Bush seemed to have learned surprisingly little from him...

Bush entered the White House, distanced himself from Reagan's agenda, and began his own search for what he called "the vision thing." Americans eventually discovered that Bush's campaign rhetoric was an act, and that his real purpose in seeking the presidency, after serving in a series of high-level government jobs, was scarcely more than to complete his resume.
I think it would be fair that this sort of criticism has become almost entirely verboten within the GOP since Bush's son became president in 2001. It also illustrates why George W. Bush has been such an effective uniter (and not a divider) within his own party; he is the literal son of one wing of the party and the metaphorical son of the other.

Moving on:
After a series of showdowns with President Clinton, Gingrich's personal popularity plummeted, making him one of the most detested figures in American politics...

If Bush had been a terrible candidate in 1992, Dole was even worse. In the wake of his ignomininous defeat, the Republican party and the conservative intellectual movement are now aimless and frustrated. The 1998 midterm election was also a disaster, with Republicans losing seats in the House and Gingrich resigning in disgrace.

The GOP leadership now seems utterly bereft of either vision or the resolution to pursue any major new initiatives. Instead, the emasculated Republicans seem obsessed with preserving their fragile congressional majority by testing their ideas against public opinion surveys and focus groups...

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.
How remarkably strange that such prognostications of doom and gloom could have seemed plausible only a handful of years before the GOP consolidated its current dominance. Is the lesson here that such dominance is an illusion? That the Democrats may rise from the ashes at a moment's notice?

Or is this dominance perhaps an accidental vindication of D'Souza's hope for the emergence of a more Reaganesque GOP? 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?

Frankly, I'm not sure what the lesson here is. (Try writing that in an op-ed.) At minimum, the placement of current events within a bit of historical context serves to remind us how so much of what we take for granted simply was not so very, very recently.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments: Post a Comment