Reagan and Rand

It is easy to forget that Ronald Reagan was a radical. He was guided by conviction rather than consensus. Reagan is remembered for revitalizing the economy and for his bold determination against the Soviet Union, while less is said of his intellectual and philosophical foundations. Free markets, the moral supremacy of capitalism to socialism and an insistence that the citizen is above the state; these ancient principles had been steadily traduced over time by those who believed them anathema to egalitarianism. They were radical principles for their time because in order to reverse the postwar drift towards democratic socialism, radical change was needed.

In many respects, the modern conservative revolution was a visceral backlash to the systematic undermining of the American ideal. The “postwar consensus” that reigned in the western world until 1979 centered around managed economies and massive state subsidization. Democratic capitalism had only served to unleash dangerous elements of nationalism and profit-seeking which inevitably culminated in disastrous war. This idea was so prevalent among elites that the thought of a different way never really emerged. In Britain and the Unites States, this consensus led to stagnation, inflation, and loss of confidence. A neutral observer would have been hard pressed to conclude during the seventies that the Soviet Union was destined for defeat.

The left reacted to the Reagan agenda with horror because they understood that it was different from prior Republican agendas. Unlike his predecessors, Reagan sought to weaken progressive government creations such as the punitive income tax rate and activist regulation. His proposal to freeze domestic discretionary spending went against the very fiber of bureaucratic being. “Government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem” was an indictment of the administrative state, and as a result the left were painfully aware that the Reagan agenda was an assault on decades of progressive achievement.

Time has dampened the decibels of Reagan outrage and we are now far enough removed from the eighties that defiance has been replaced by begrudging acceptance. Outside of Bernie Sanders, no one in the Democratic Party is clamoring for a return to the seventies and its high inflation, gas shortages, price controls and general malaise. No one on the left openly complains about the west’s triumph in the cold war or makes nuclear weapons a cri de coeur. “Reagan Democrats” has no modern corollary with the right, much as our media would like to rewrite history to include a corollary in the form of Clinton or Obama Republicans. But they don’t exist. Naysayers like Paul Krugman continue to distort the legacy, but for the most part the left has abandoned its Reagan defamation project and settles now for another narrative besides Reagan the Failure. Now it is Reagan the Moderate.

It is an irresistible trolling device for partisans out to make conservatives squirm. Saying “Reagan couldn’t get elected in today’s Republican Party” because of the extremism of the Tea Party is guaranteed to gall the right, not because it is an uncomfortable truth difficult to square with Reagan mythology but because it is a lie. When Reagan challenged incumbent Gerald Ford in the 1976 GOP primary, the establishment freak-out was immense. Reagan was the standard-bearer for the Goldwater remnant, that leftover segment of stubborn holdouts to mid-century collectivism that balked at every bipartisan expansion of government. Needless to say, Goldwater conservatism did not enjoy establishment cache. It did not play well in 1964 – this ad might have had something to do with it – but neither did defeat signal its doom. Reagan’s bold ruffling of establishment feathers in ’76 likewise did not achieve overnight success, but it planted an ideological flag in the ground. By the time he reached the Oval Office Reagan’s conservative agenda finally proved accessible thanks to the tumult of the seventies amounting to one long primal scream for a different course. The electorate’s embrace of Reagan’s message was not a product of the candidate moderating his positions or of “moving to the center” but an explicit endorsement of the radical experiment on offer.

Rand Paul’s agenda for 2016 is as radical as Reagan’s in 1980. It commits to eliminating elements of the Washington Leviathan; not curbing, not managing more efficiently, not making leaner at the margins, but eliminating. The mission is to make parts of the administrative state go the way of the parrot. Among those agencies that will cease to be in a Rand Paul administration are the Departments of Education, Commerce and Energy. Expect the IRS, EPA and Departments of Labor, Agriculture and Interior to do with smaller budgets and fewer workers. Beyond the paring of departments and bureaucracy, Paul proposes a 14.5% flat tax with only a couple deductions as well as elimination of the payroll tax. He aims to “turbocharge the economy” by lowering the tax burdens for all while ending crony privilege and special interest prominence. Paul is not a perfect embodiment of the free market ideal, but neither was Reagan. However, each represents the vanguard of conservative rebellion at their respective times and speaks on behalf of intellectual and grass roots conservatives. Ultimately, what makes Rand the modern version of Reagan is the moral imperative threaded through his government critique.

Nowhere is this moral clarity more on display than in Paul’s focused drive to rehabilitate the Bill of Rights in popular Americana. Libertarians hold the founding principles particularly dear for their discrete, almost obsessive concern over the separation of powers. Far from the greedy landed gentry of progressive fever dreams, the founders were consumed by questions of unchecked authority. The point of the constitutional project was to limit the powers of the state. It was not to proscribe what freedoms Americans could enjoy at the mercy of the state. The ninth amendment to the Bill of Rights is an explicit reminder that American freedoms extend beyond that list of prohibitions on government action and intrusion. From this philosophical tradition do libertarian-minded conservatives like Paul derive their convictions and through this lens should Paul’s efforts at unconventional outreach be judged. Despite being a target for attack from both sides, there can be no doubt that on matters from criminal justice to the regulatory state to surveillance to education, Rand Paul is sincere. No candidate in recent memory has shined such a focused spotlight on the Bill of Rights, and even in this cynical age the reception he gets when addressing fundamental nonpartisan American freedoms shows the sustainability of constitutionalism. Liberal Joe Klein is impressed enough by Paul to note admiringly that “by the time his 15-minute stump speech is over, he has delivered a tutorial about the First, Second, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Ninth and 10th amendments to the Constitution.”

True convictions are not welcome in Washington, where elites hew to the dubious wisdom of Lord Keynes: in the long run we’re all dead. While Keynes’ pithy comment was in regard to his economic theory, it applies just as well to an establishment ethos which elevates short term considerations of lobbyists and interest groups while ignoring real exigencies such as debt and slow growth. Call it the normalcy bias; the tendency to shrug off systemic long run concerns afflicts establishments on both sides and perpetuates a status quo beneficial only to the connected.

Reagan is beloved by conservatives because he fought against this bias and won. But it was no cakewalk and, as Jeffrey Lord wrote in 2010, he faced as much opposition from his own party as from the left. “They didn’t like him. To be more precise, they thought him an extremist, un-electable, an ultra-right wing nut, dumb, ignorant and, more to the point, not one of their crowd. One out of six was absolutely correct. Ronald Reagan was not one of their crowd. Ever.” Reagan biographer Craig Shirley decided to work for the RNC in 1982 at the behest of Reagan allies concerned that the organization was dominated by George H.W. Bush loyalists, the same cohort that looks askance at Rand Paul today. Reagan’s agenda was so unsettling to the guardians of the status quo that Beltway Republican reaction to Reagan popularity was similar to Paulene Kael’s vexation that Reagan could win when she “did not know a single person who voted for him.” By going full speed ahead with his agenda and in the process convincing large swaths of the public on the merits, Reagan led a revolution. By the ’84 election there was little doubt his agenda had been a smashing success.

In times of economic uncertainty restless citizens tend to forego tribal passions and seek brave, articulate “political athletes” to rouse the country from its doldrums. In his failed bid for the White House Goldwater paved the way for radical conservative solutions the country was not yet ready to embrace. Reagan’s triumph built on the Goldwater gambit and thus upended the existing order for close to thirty years. The conservative rabble had finally heisted the keys to the kingdom from the establishment squishes, who remained in the shadows of the Reagan Revolution quietly dismayed by the sudden loss of power and prestige. Given the longevity of cabinet officials like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, Reaganites who became establishment, it is understandable that conservatives and libertarians would accuse the Bush presidencies of squandering the Reagan era. Today’s Tea Party-establishment contretemps is not a new phenomenon, but what is remarkable is the degree to which the Bush family has stood at the vanguard of establishment Republicanism since the seventies, usually in mild to open defiance of the Reagan ethos. No one understands this better than Rand Paul.

Paul attended the GOP convention as a thirteen year old in ’76 when the rancor over Reagan challenging an incumbent was at its peak. Sitting with his father in the Texas Reagan delegation, Paul witnessed first hand how passionately party bigwigs worked against the principled conservative in the race. It showed him that the powers that be on his own side were not exactly keen on returning to a focused free market constitutionalism. Is it any wonder then that Paul seems to relish taking on the same forces today that bedeviled the likes of Goldwater and Reagan in the past?

Rand Paul will not be alone in claiming Reagan lineage during the primary, but there is no candidate who better wears the label of principled rebel outsider. Like Reagan, Rand has establishment and partisan forces arrayed against him, left and right. Like Reagan, Rand has a passionate and growing following inspired by classical liberal principles and an appreciation for market supremacy over the distorting whims of the state. Like Reagan, Rand understands that not every fight is our fight, but you better believe we will retain the world’s strongest defense in perpetuity. Above all, Rand most resembles Reagan because he approaches the problems of the day with the most clear-eyed and radical prescriptions for our afflicted republic. Cronies and bureaucrats who are comfortable with the system the way it is will screech and bawl over Rand’s proposals just as they did Reagan’s. Like Reagan, Rand is best equipped to make an impassioned, articulate, inspiring case that persuades the electorate.

If conservatives wish to do more than just talk about the perils of the administrative state, the runaway executive under both parties and the costs of big government to human ingenuity and dignity, they need to move beyond reminiscing about Reagan and go ahead and nominate the guy who is the closest incarnation. If Republicans wish to emulate Reagan boldness in order to meaningfully win again, they should look to Rand Paul.

Hillaryious

katemckinnon

I will not be inclined to find any of this funny should Mrs. Clinton become President, as that is the day that laughter dies. But until then, and because I don’t think it possible for a vapid cipher of nothingness to con Americans into making her Queen, The Hillary Clinton Experience is an uproarious one.

The Washington Post saw fit to run a countdown clock on its website to mark the time since Hillary last took questions from the press (40,150 minutes between Q&A’s for those keeping score). Kate McKinnon has committed her considerable talent to what could perhaps become the best Saturday Night Live political caricature ever. But what makes this all such a riot is how the media is coping with it all, which is to say they don’t know how to deal with it. Should they cover her more aggressively and demand that she get involved in the daily give-and-take, if only to better prepare her for the general? Or should they adopt a satisfied detachment and remark on how savvy Clinton is to go this route considering her 100% name I.D. Right now they fall somewhere in the middle, with the more professional journalists angry at the situation and hungry to do their jobs versus the sycophants and hacks of cable news who will offer the same critique no matter what she does: “Bravo.”

It wouldn’t be this way if the Democratic Party were not so bereft of political talent and not married to a single candidate whose only virtues are her last name and gender. If Hillary had real competition the liberal press would be hounding her and demanding that she speak with the implicit message that there are other options and “we’ll spurn you in a second if you can’t convince us you’re the genuine article. We’ve done it before.”

Hubris and arrogance are not typically mined for their comedy, but man alive is Hillary funny in her entitlement. When Alex Seitz-Wald refers to your entourage as a “palace guard” on MSNBC, you might want to reexamine your methods. If I was a handler for a candidate whose sense of entitlement dwarfed her actual accomplishments, I would probably caution against her acting arrogant and above it all, especially when scandal threatens to follow you throughout. And of all the transparently self-serving no-no’s, the one that would sit at the top of my list would be Citizens United. I would say, “don’t talk about Citizens United.” All progressives loathe Citizens United v FEC but you know who really truly despises it? Hillary Clinton. That’s because the whole case was about her. Citizens United wanted to produce and air a critical documentary on Hillary Clinton in 2008, a fairly standard practice (Michael Moore, anyone?) and well within the law and of course protected under the First Amendment. But that is not how the left views speech these days. They wish to control the flow of money to campaigns by granting the FEC the power to regulate which political speech is kosher and which is not. Calling this a slippery slope is like calling the Grand Canyon a hole in the ground. They screech in terror about billionaires and disclosure and “dark money” when in reality they are saying that bureaucrats at the FEC should set the landscape for political giving. If a federal agency has the power to declare movies and books critical of politicians invalid then it is game over for the First Amendment. And I get that progressives move closer everyday to making repeal part of the DNC platform, but Hillary? Citizens United went to the Supreme Court because Hillary Clinton was unhappy about a movie made about Hillary Clinton. The Supreme Court said the First Amendment still stands and therefore it is well within the freedom of a corporation to make whatever damn political movie it pleases. Naturally, this does not sit well with Hillary and the left, but if anyone should be recused from criticizing Citizens United it is Hillary Clinton. That she went right ahead decrying big money in politics anyway (she who made $30 million in 2014 by giving speeches) shows the level of hubris and entitlement at play. Matt Welch looks at this and sees a “wonderfully clarifying campaign slogan for you: Elect me, and I’ll try to put my critics in jail!”

On CNN Jeff Zeleny offered that “this criticism was threatening to overtake her message” as he reported on the earth-shattering news that Hillary did in fact take questions from the press on Tuesday (five questions). The pros who want to do their jobs are beginning to chafe at Her Highness’ indifference to them. Jonah Goldberg suspects it may be time for the press to start punishing her.

Normally, when a politician tries to break the media’s food bowl, the media defends itself. Instead, I keep watching broadcasts that treat her gingerly. Sure, they mention how she isn’t taking questions. But they also say things like “Clinton took questions from voters” and “Clinton met with small businessmen to talk about the economy” and then they let her get her soundbites in. I can see the case, as a matter of journalistic ethics, for letting her get her message out. Though such ethics are often selectively applied to Republicans the press hates.

But why peddle the fiction that she is having authentic conversations with Iowans? When President Bush was selective about who he took questions from, the press ate him alive for it.

And Bush was far more open to the press than Hillary’s being (and he was the president). And Hillary is running unopposed which makes the press’s role much more important. Why not err on the side of the truth, particularly when the truth hurts? Every meeting with pre-selected human props should be described that way. Every “event” should be reported in hostile — and more accurate! — terms. “Mrs. Clinton held another scripted and staged event today where volunteers asked pre-arranged safe questions the scandal-plagued candidate was prepared to answer . . .”

I understand the press is liberal, but they also have a very high opinion of themselves. The Clinton campaign is making fools of them. It’s time for some payback.

One can dream.

Feeling Good on a Wednesday

“Yeah yeah, feeling good on a wednesday. Sparkling thoughts, gimme the hope to go on. What I need now is a little bit of shelter.”
-Randy Marsh

Few things delight me like the sight of elite liberal handwringing turning to meltdown on CNN and MSNBC during an electoral beatdown such as the one they suffered last night. Republicans fared better than punditry predicted, particularly in governors races in the Great Lakes and Northeast regions where Democrats typically reign supreme. Turning state houses red in Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts while maintaining important governor holds in Wisconsin, Michigan, Maine, Nevada, Ohio and Florida means that whoever is the Republican nominee for 2016 will face a friendlier environment in many important states.

The big story of course is that Republicans took over control of the Senate, relegating Harry Reid to minority leader and assuring that his legacy be forever tainted with the just imprimatur of “worst Senate leader ever.” He really will live in infamy as the most god-awful majority leader our hallowed deliberative body has ever seen. The demagoguery and flaunting of Senate rules and traditions are already stuff of legend, but his real sin lies in the comprehensive undoing of regular order he presided over, where the agenda was jealously guarded in order to protect the president and his vulnerable members from any accountability whatsoever. Amendments were virtually extinct in the Reid Senate, as were debate and appropriations. In lieu of anything substantive happening, the Reid Democrats instead spent their time and energy on such pressing matters as goading a professional sports franchise into sacrificing its nickname on the altar of political correctness. That and insisting on a daily basis that a couple of rich libertarian private citizens were a pernicious threat to democracy. Koch-shaming, like the “war on women,” climate change and race-baiting, failed to motivate people to vote Democrat and, if there is any cosmic justice, will mean the end of these cheap, dishonest, painfully cynical political tactics for the foreseeable future (I know it won’t, but a man can dream).

It was just a thorough repudiation of progressivism across the board, from federal to state to local. Sure there was the vexing and annoying fact that minimum wage measures won in several red states, resulting in just an epic face-palm. But fine, if the left thinks that the minimum wage is their silver-lining in this election, let them. I hope they try to make it the chief plank in Hillary’s platform, just to watch Rand Paul or Scott Walker or whoever calmly and judiciously explain why it is economic malpractice. But what does it say when this is literally the best news the left can take from last night’s election? It means the entirety of the modern progressive governing model (expansive government, robust public unions and government employment, high taxes and regulations, etc) is being given the thumbs down. The Democratic governor-elect of Rhode Island ran on an explicitly anti public union/pension reform platform and won. Eventually, even progressives and their kin in blue states get mugged by economic reality, and while they aren’t necessarily all ready to renounce membership in the identity politics tribe, they are apparently ready to give Republicans the reins in several of the darkest blue states. I say ten years until 90% of these United States have Republican governors.

The progressives got embarrassed last night, look embarrassed today, and should go to bed embarrassed tonight. Meanwhile, I am indeed feeling good on a wednesday. Ya ya ya.

 

 

Rand and The Establishment

I imagine quite the discussion going on at the RNC and within the broader establishment organs of the party right now regarding Rand Paul. He has just spent a full year demonstrating his promise in communities not known for voting Republican, while fending off vicious attacks from both left and right over everything from his thoughts on certain legislation from 1964 to charges of an isolationist foreign policy to his supposed support for “amnesty” (the latter claim is farcical, but popular in the comments of many a conservative publication). And he has maintained his popularity and appeal throughout, capitalizing on the mainstream media’s utter confusion about what to make of him, leading to their giving him all the more free publicity.

He essentially checks all the key boxes the party brass laid out in the 2012 autopsy as far as reaching out to new voters and expanding the tent for the GOP. In May, Paul polled 29% support among Kentucky blacks in a hypothetical 2016 matchup with Hillary Clinton. His outreach is working. If the GOP nominee in 2016 garnered even 19% of the national black vote, there would not be a bigger story in America. The blight of our urban cities and the fact that national democrats have cynically perpetuated poverty and misery for millions by cultivating victimization and contempt in the black community is an enduring national disgrace, and many blacks seem open to a message of just… something, anything different. Rand has been speaking to that in earnest for a whole year. 19% could be a low estimate of the breakthrough he could have with black voters.

And the same script applies to the youth vote, only double. Rand could easily win half the nation’s millennials, partly on the strength of his message and appeal, but also because they have been mugged by progressive economic reality and are ready to hear more about uber and less about the minimum wage.

The RNC and the big money donors have to see this. And yet, there is the obvious tension regarding foreign policy, which I think is overblown and based on a caricature of who Paul is, but nevertheless is grounded in principle and is a legitimate ongoing debate. But I really wonder what many donors and establishment types are smoking when they consider how Bush or Christie or Romney or Walker or even Rubio could make a serious dent in all these voting communities who have been giving Republicans the back of the hand of late. It really can only be Paul or Cruz if you want to be bold and grow the party through a concentration on liberty and reducing government’s imprint. They are really only the ones who both get it and can articulate “it.” I have my doubts that Cruz can expand the tent as much as Rand and I suspect he would ultimately lose, though I will not protest if he is the Republican nominee because at the very least he would offer the clearest of choices and is capable of eloquently making the case for free market capitalism and deregulation.

In the end, Cruz would be a great choice but Paul is the best choice.

And for all the anti-Rand sentiment that exists on our side, I do wonder why I never really hear anyone address how else to grow the party and make the brand more attractive to the young and marginalized who have been so dis-served by the left? Who else has a plan besides Paul? The establishment needs to recognize that it can’t implement its pet policies – whether on foreign policy or immigration or tax reform – without first securing victory. And if we know one thing about politicians of every shade and stripe, winning elections is the goal, as that is the business they’ve chosen. Given this simple reality and the fact that establishment consensus rests on another simple reality that says Republicans must reach out to non-traditional constituencies if they want to win nationally again, it seems obvious that Rand Paul and the establishment (particularly the foreign policy establishment) should declare detente and act together to leverage some of Paul’s outreach into a lasting presence with new voters. That cooperation depends on the establishment’s willingness to accept that the new voters Rand is courting are attracted to him because of his libertarian outlook on many issues. “Libertarian” still scares the pants off of significant swathes of the GOP, but thankfully libertarianism is trending in the right direction in the party. Rand has already demonstrated that he can be a team player and help elect establishment Republicans. In return, the Republican party impresarios need to acknowledge Paul’s inspiring effort to conduct outreach and resolve to see him, finally, as an ally rather than an enemy.