Few would take us to task for observing that conservatives are currently more disillusioned with the Republican Party than during any previous time in the GOP’s history. And for us to say something that few would take us to task for is nearly unprecedented, so permit us to bask in the moment. Okay, done. Now, allow us two additional points: First, that the GOP is about to implode, and second, no matter what immediate alarm this may cause conservatism, the ultimate result may be benign—even providential—for the American Right. To these auguries we boldly add our conviction that the GOP has never been a natural abode of conservatism, and is in most respects no less hostile to its doctrines than are the Democrats. See, now we went and made a lot of people angry—but we’re still the same lovable band of good-natured counterrevolutionaries we always were, so why not have a stiff drink and bear with us?
Consider the folly of assuming that most Republican candidates intend to pursue the programs of action they advocate while campaigning, or adhere to the broadly conservative philosophies they grandly enunciate. We contend that a scatter chart depicting the relationship between conservative assertions made by Republicans during campaigns with the levels of empirically demonstrable deception assignable to each assertion viewed in retrospect, would produce, in the majority of cases, an impressively positive correlation. That’s from a Cartesian standpoint. From the standpoint of a concerned voter whose beliefs lie in the conservative arena, such correlations are neither impressive nor positive–they are downright infuriating. Conservatives may also wish to consider the pathological implications of remaining, of their own volition, in a political “family” that not only deceives them in this fashion, but scorns and ridicules them whenever their backs are turned; a family that pesters them routinely for cash, promising specific outcomes, but having received the cash fulfills none of its promises and repays the contributors by pursuing outcomes antithetic to their wishes and contrary to the understandings upon which the funds were solicited. Put another way, American conservatives are treated by the GOP in a manner analogous to how Black Americans are treated by the DNC.
Birth of a Notion
The creation of the Republican Party was largely a result of the collapse of the Whig Party. Seen any Whigs lately? No you haven’t—and that’s because they vanished from the political landscape, victims of rancorous internecine conflicts that eroded their foundational vision until it became unrecognizable and unserviceable. And doesn’t that sound familiar? When we think of Whigs nowadays, which mostly we don’t, we tend to imagine a quirkish, ephemeral batch of regional lightweights who faded mainly because they had a dopey name and got no traction—but this is largely untrue. Initially founded in opposition to the populist caprices of Andrew Jackson whom they (quite sensibly) considered a dangerous mountebank spreading newfangled socioeconomic ideas by force of personality rather than Constitutional law, the Whigs sought to limit the powers of the executive and expand those of congress. Their numbers included Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, and William Henry Harrison.
Harrison won the presidency in 1840, pledging to serve only one term in keeping with the Whigs’ conviction that constitutional governance demanded strictly limited tenures in office. Harrison proved better than his word, delivering the longest inaugural address in American history (lasting two full hours despite frantic editing by Daniel Webster) and is popularly reputed to have caught cold during the event leading to his death three weeks later of pneumonia, or pleurisy, or enteric fever, depending on which historians one deems credible; but in any case, well within his self-imposed term limit.
Whig Zachary Taylor lasted longer in the presidency, but he too met an ignominious end. Independence Day in Washington, (1850), was a scorcher, and while celebrating the holiday Taylor reportedly consumed “raw fruit and iced milk” and fell ill. His doctor diagnosed him with “cholera morbus,” and despite intensive medical treatment, or possibly because of it, he died. Whig Millard Fillmore thereupon assumed office where he earned the distinction of being the only Whig president who didn’t die there.
He didn’t do much else, however, unless one counts ordering Commodore Matthew Perry to open trade routes with Japan, which, as we now know, ultimately resulted in the tragic death by suicide of Madame Butterfly, to say nothing of World War II. Also at this time, a young Illinois Whig named Abraham Lincoln (you knew we were getting there, right?) first gained attention as an outspoken opponent of expansion into Texas. But Abe soon abandoned politics, possibly after realizing how drastically misguided were his criticisms of the whole Texas thing, and returned to practicing law–during which period he famously appeared as Henry Fonda in John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln.
The Grand New Party!
But more to our point, as even the most benighted graduates of our annihilative educational system must be dimly aware, Mr. Lincoln soon returned to the political arena, and this time it was personal…
Today’s Republican Party was founded in 1854 by a confluence of ex-Whigs, Free Soilers (a short-lived single issue party whose purpose was to prevent slavery from expanding into the western territories), and other anti-slavery factions. The Whig Party was by then so riven with acrimony, ambivalence and dissent that it barely registered as a speed bump on the Republicans’ path to the schoolhouse in Ripon, Wisconsin, where their firm abolitionist policies and unyielding belief that slavery was an intolerable evil sufficed to unify the young party.
The first Republican convention began and ended on July 6th, 1854 in Jackson, Michigan. John C. Fremont actually won the first-ever Republican nomination and rallied the Northern states. He lost, however, to James Buchanan who managed to woo the support of a large segment of the “Know Nothing Party” despite the Republican Party’s vastly superior campaign slogan, to wit: “Free Soil, Free Men, and Fremont” which might have proved more effective had there been bumpers in 1856.
By contrast, Lincoln’s presidential campaign of 1860 was encumbered with the slogan “He’s the rail candidate!” But before you scoff, consider that besides bolstering the case for hanging inept punsters, this conspicuously flawed attempt at drollery served to further publicize the lanky Kentuckian’s image as a wood-splitting, incorruptible rustic. Historians generally agree the electorate’s fascination with Honest Abe’s back-story (embellished though it were) played a substantial part in securing his eventual nomination. We say eventual because Abe owed his nomination to the vagaries of a brokered convention. Yes, gentle readers, Lincoln secured his party’s nomination on the third ballot, thanks largely to a good deal of connivance, agitation, and back-room bargaining orchestrated by his devoted (and crafty) supporters, many of whom crept into the convention with counterfeited tickets. Withal, Team Abe pioneered groundbreaking techniques of skullduggery that took behind-the-scenes intrigue to a level that, in retrospect, seems almost visionary…thus the “Man from Hardin County” finished ahead of William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, and a sprinkling of less eminent contenders.
Given the well-known intellectual superiority of our loyal readership, it embarrasses us to rehearse such absurdly obvious particulars as the fact that Lincoln proceeded to win the general election, but we are obliged to risk incurring your displeasure for the sake of keeping our casual readers informed, some of whom may be Common Core products. Everyone else presumably knows that Lincoln defeated Douglas—and as a matter of fact, simultaneously defeated John C. Breckenridge, the breakaway southern Democrat, and the Constitutional Party’s John Bell. Of all the candidates, Lincoln was the only one who gave no speeches during the campaign, which may account for his success.
War torn Abe
Lincoln’s election so offended his southern states that they seceded from the Union. Lincoln took the view that secession was impermissible, thus necessitating the Civil War, which was really about slavery, but keep that to yourself. The Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in territories not under Union control. As “Uncle Billy” Sherman advanced farther south, more slaves were freed until all three million slaves held by the Confederacy were emancipated. Lincoln’s outspoken support contributed to the passage of the 13th Amendment, which criminalized slavery throughout the Republic even as Lincoln became the first president to blockade portions of his own country, or to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, an action that continues to draw criticism as unconstitutional, although Article I, Section 9, Clause 2 indicates (WOOF submits) otherwise.
Obviously, Lincoln secured his legacy while avoiding extensive criticism of his wartime executive actions by attending a performance of “Our American Cousin” at Ford Theater where John Wilkes Booth fired a single ball from a .44 caliber derringer into the back of Mr. Lincoln’s head. As the smoke cleared, Lincoln’s mootable abuses of constitutional writ as well as his ostensibly ambivalent civil-rights utterances became the province of obscure professors and historians—who argue the fine points to this day, unnoticed. The popular takeaway included freeing the slaves, reunifying the country, compassion for the South in defeat, and a persona of wit and wisdom. Oh, and a lot of really fascinating ghostly-slash-paranormal occurrences into which we have no time delve; but that’s why we have the History Channel, after all.
Fast forwarding….or the part you can skip if you already know it all.
To avoid unnecessarily boring anyone, we will now breeze swiftly through the list of Republican presidents who followed Lincoln, pausing here and there for lengthier discussion should their tenures warrant.
Ulysses Simpson Grant, 1869-1877: arguably conservative in his support of gold-based, anti-inflationary hard money and paying off the national debt with gold. He reduced government spending and limited the federal work force. His active reliance on the military to enforce civil rights laws and protect African Americans may be understood in terms of the postwar environment, especially since James West and Artemus Gordon didn’t really exist. Grant drank a lot and enjoyed cigars, which may explain Mark Twain’s support. His administration was organizationally corrupt, but like we said, he drank a lot and probably didn’t notice.
Rutherford B. Hayes, 1877-1881: Lost the popular vote but won an acrimoniously contested electoral victory when a Congressional commission ceded him 20 votes intensely disputed by Democrats. Unable to blame the Supreme Court until approximately the same thing occurred in 2000, Democrats conceded the election only because Hayes agreed to pull the military out of the Southern states, where Democrats strongly preferred leaving civil rights issues to the KKK. He may be credited with a Reagan-esque affirmation of the Monroe Doctrine in denouncing France’s efforts to build the Suez Canal, which didn’t matter that much because France proved unable to build it. He is occasionally described as a “fiscal conservative,” but the evidence is tepid.
James A. Garfield, 1881 – 1881: Strove to enhance free trade and modernize the navy but was interrupted in these endeavors through no fault of his own. A disgruntled underling concealed himself, progressively enough, by hiding in the ladies’ room at the Sixth Street Railroad Station whither Garfield expected to depart on vacation. Instead, he was shot in the back, following which the exertions of his physicians finished him off.
Chester A. Arthur, 1881-1885: Assumed the presidency after Garfield’s unscheduled departure. During his single term, the New York Sun wrote, “no adventurous project alarmed the nation,” and while that may not seem a solely conservative encomium, one can hardly avoid reflecting that no such comments will be uttered at the terminus of the current office-holder’s tenure.
Benjamin Harrison, 1889-1893: Son of William Henry Harrison, (who caught cold and died earlier, remember?). Harrison drove through the McKinley Tariff, imposing unprecedented protections on trade, while simultaneously attempting to federalize educational funding (at which he failed—but those were the good old days). He nevertheless managed to hike federal spending to the tune of one-billion dollars.
William McKinley, 1897-1901:Fought what were aptly entitled the Inflationary Acts and kept America on the gold standard, but imposed more tariffs on trade. McKinley is best known for getting shot to death by Paul Czolgosz, an Anarchist from Detroit who approached the President in Buffalo, opening fire with a .32 caliber Iver Johnson revolver, not the “Johnson .41,” immortalized by Charlie Poole’s 1926 folk tune. Glad we could clear that up.
TR: 1901-1809: Nowadays Theodore Roosevelt is criticized by conservative theorists for his trust busting progressivism and support for labor unions, perhaps without appropriate consideration given the zeitgeist. That aside, TR enlarged and brandished the Great White Fleet, settled the Russo-Japanese war back in the day when if a President won the Nobel Peace Prize it was for actually accomplishing something, and built the Panama Canal after creating Panama. While it is difficult to view TR’s crusades against the railroads and other perceived monopolies as conservative, his ebullient patriotism, full throated support for American exceptionalism and military might, his abhorrence of “hyphenated” Americanism, and his zealous support of the Second Amendment deliver him from the liberal camp. He also despised Woodrow Wilson, which is always an indication of sound judgment. Readers who doubt TR’s red-white-and-blue bonafides are advised to view John Milius’s 1975 masterpiece, The Wind and the Lion, in which Brian Keith “becomes” (as gushy film critics like to say) President Roosevelt. And if you can’t base your opinions on John Milius movies, what’s left, right?
William Howard Taft, 1909-1913: Roosevelt’s protégé, began office as a trust-busting, conservationist in the TR mold, but swung a bit starboard for Teddy’s tastes even as the former president swung further toward progressivism. Taft dabbled at trust busting, but directed his energies toward U.S. Steel, which TR had guaranteed immunity from such matters. The two men soon became enemies. Teddy therefore ran to Taft’s social left in the next election in an effort to unseat his former disciple. His plan was a partial success, since TR’s Bull Moose Party split the vote, ousting Taft but ensuring an easy path to the White House for the execrable Woodrow Wilson. Oops.
Warren G. Harding, 1921-1923: After Wilson gave us big labor, the federal income tax, World War I, a failed military adventure in Mexico, a failed military adventure in Russia, the Federal Reserve, abject racism in the Oval Office and prohibition, Harding seemed like a breath of fresh air…if not exactly presidential in the strict sense. At his inaugural he confused pretty much everybody by declaring “”Our most dangerous tendency is to expect too much from the government and at the same time do too little for it.” Immediately afterward, he left for Texas on vacation, after which he took a lengthy cruise. He drank in the Oval Office, engaged in open cronyism, invented the previously unknown word “normalcy,” enjoyed cards, cigars, and mistresses, but revitalized the executive branch’s support for civil rights. He died—probably of heart failure—during his first term. He was in no significant respect a conservative, but we still kind of like him.
Calvin Coolidge, 1923-1929: This is the man whose portrait graced the walls of Reagan’s White House because his presidency embodied the economic concept of laissez-faire. As was the case with most of his Republican predecessors, Coolidge strove to enhance the civil rights of Black Americans; while his staunch advocacy of small government, free-market economics, and a foreign policy unfettered by unnecessary entanglements and alliances, established the template for 20th century conservatism. He and Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon even advanced the novel hypothesis that lowering taxes would increase federal revenues, making Coolidge America’s first supply-sider.
Let us pause here, in the fond afterglow of Calvin Coolidge, gentle readers, to ask ourselves: What discernible lineaments of something we might call American Conservatism are detectable in this chronology? Occasional tropisms manifest themselves here and there, but the idea that the Republican Party is consanguine with conservatism in North America is a myth, and the swing of the Democratic Party toward the extreme left is as much responsible for it as anything accomplished by Republican office holders. If that seems an odd assertion, consider: Nothing more effectively vouchsafes the good standing of one sibling than the misbehavior of another—and the radical descent of the Democrat party into overt collectivism is as much responsible for the chimera of Republican conservatism as anything done or uttered by Taft or Coolidge, even if anybody in the GOP remembered anything uttered by Taft or Coolidge.
The notorious Herbert Hoover
The first Republican widely identified as “conservative” is, of course, the notorious Herbert Hoover, whose stars so aligned that his presidency collided with the Great Depression, meaning that the Liberal Establishment Media have made his name synonymous with food lines, joblessness, and conservative indifference. School children in the United States do not know much nowadays, but if they know anything at all about the depression, they know Hoover caused it, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt saved us from it. Ever since the smoke cleared from the Second World War, Americans have been deluged by entertainments and histories of every description dedicated to propounding this humbug.
Poor Hoover—even Coolidge disliked him, resisting his candidacy at first, telling friends that “for six years that man has given me unsolicited advice—all of it bad.” It didn’t help that shortly after his election, awash in the post-war boom that characterized the “Roaring Twenties,” Hoover boldly predicted the end of scarcity in America, telling an audience: “We in America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land.” Perhaps in anticipation, Hoover set about closing tax loopholes for the wealthy, enlarging the civil service, signing the inflationary Glass-Steagall Act allowing prime rediscounting at the Federal Reserve, doubling estate taxes and hiking corporate rates by 15 percent. When the depression hit, Hoover sought to counteract it by enacting the largest peacetime tax increase in history. He signed the Smoot Hawley Tariffs, which incurred a wave of international protectionism and deepened the panic.
He next championed the Emergency Relief and Construction Act, authorizing a flood of funds for public works programs, and created the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, putting government into the business of bailing out business. Hoover, in other words, was by no means the aloof practitioner of laissez-faire economics he is remembered as. In fact, Libertarian historian Murray Rothbard dubbed him the true father of the New Deal—a characterization Rothbard did not intend politely. Plainly, it is as ridiculous to view Hoover as the trickle-down free-marketeer who tried to ignore the Depression and pursue business as usual, as it is to portray FDR as the visionary egalitarian who saved us from it. In fact, the Depression demonstrably worsened under FDR’s presidency. It was ended in 1941 by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who planned and oversaw the bombing of Pearl Harbor…but he never gets any credit.
“Boy the way Glenn Miller played…”
In 1971, leftist TV producer Norman Lear introduced America to Archie Bunker, the cigar-champing, racist, ill-educated patriarch of the Bunker family on the wildly popular sitcom All in the Family. Archie (actor Carroll O’Connor) was intended by Lear to epitomize American conservatism, a perception that took root mainly among liberals (making them even easier to defeat in debate). Each week, Archie and wife Edith were viewed crooning the show’s opening theme, “Those Were the Days,” during which, Archie musically averred, “Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again!” This by way of shoring up our 31st president’s painstakingly artifiicialized legacy in which the name Hoover is deemed synonymous with right-wing indifference to the little guy.
Still today, Hoover’s main function in U.S. history is to exemplify the heartlessness of unchecked capitalism, and to serve as a heuristic juxtaposition to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose New Deal policies are portrayed as a knick-of-time intervention that rescued Americans from the death grip of the free market.
The rehabilitation of Annie….
Who doesn’t resonate to the sardonic strains of “We’d Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover!” from the musical Annie? But Annie exemplifies the distortion of reality imperative to liberal revisionism. Besides reinforcing the nonsense about Hoover, it blithely ignores the fact that Harold Gray’s original cartoon heroine despised FDR and all his works. In fact, Gray’s “Little Orphan Annie” strip, although massively popular, was banned by several major newspapers because it was deemed too critical of Roosevelt and his policies. The Broadway musical and subsequent film recast Annie as a worshipful moppet cuddled adoringly in Roosevelt’s lap, while Daddy Warbucks chuckles in good-natured acquiescence. (O, the infamy!)
A final layer of irony atop these falsities is the Right’s naive readiness to suppose, in keeping with the leftist agitprop, that Hoover’s legacy somehow anchored conservatism to the Republican brand.
“Irritable mental gestures…”
In 1950, Lionel Trilling assured his sophisticated readership that “in the United States at this time liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition…. It is the plain fact [that] there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in general circulation.” Trilling is often derided for his obtuseness in this regard, but unjustly. At the time, conservatism as an ideological influence in American politics was virtually undetectable. Trilling covered his bet slightly by adding that occasional conservative grumblings were more probably attributable to “irritable mental gestures which seem to resemble ideas.” Thus, the sprinkling of radio and newspaper commentators who took identifiably right-of-center positions were consigned to a kind of menagerie of idiosyncratic oddballs–but Trilling’s smugness was short-lived.
As the Cold War dawned in stark confutation of the carefully concocted fantasy that Mother Russia was our good friend and noble ally, it became inconveniently obvious that Democrats played the chief role in accommodating Stalin while placing America’s interests on hold (when not selling them out completely). Despite this, the anti-Communist reaction to the New Deal’s betrayals was surprisingly bipartisan. Today, of course, our children learn that this was that silly “Red Scare,” when otherwise sensible Americans began to hallucinate en masse, seeing agents of the Kremlin behind every tree and shrub. In fact, there were plenty of Reds to be scared of; communists practically owned the state department and guided presidential policies throughout the war and afterwards. They worked largely undetected as China fell to Mao and our nuclear secrets were channeled to Russia by “atom spies,” most of whom are now American folk heroes.
About HUAC: try to remember the good times!
The villains, of course, were the right-wing nutjobs manning the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which, while certainly subject to a variety of legitimate criticisms, was often an important vehicle of information, and never the Republican monopoly it is nowadays remembered as. Chairman Martin Dies was a Democrat, as was Joe Starnes of Alabama who memorably asked a witness during an investigation of the Federal Theater Project whether the Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe was a member of the Communist Party. John Rankin, Democrat from Mississippi, once explained that HUAC would not investigate the KKK because “after all, [it] is an old American institution.” Edward J. Hart, Democrat from New Jersey, headed the Committee in its vital investigation of Alger Hiss, although Richard Nixon (R) played a key roll in helping Whittaker Chambers expose Hiss as a Red agent. Nixon’s part in the pursuit of Hiss, immortalized for history by photos of Nixon staring fixedly into a hollow pumpkin (Chambers having hidden his photographic evidence of Hiss’s guilt in a pumpkin patch on his Maryland farm), seems to give liberals license to brand HUAC a Republican star chamber. Still more perplexingly, it is a rare liberal who won’t proceed to complain that the nefarious Joe McCarthy (Republican Junior Senator from Wisconsin) helmed the operation, driving it to ever-more-infernal excesses against the helplessly innocent. Even Bill O’Reilly once named Senator McCarthy as the House Committee’s chief villain, which, given a moment’s thought, is clearly impossible.
Remembering the Great Terror….
It is also curiously difficult to find liberals who recall the early ’50s who do not thereupon pause to lament the tragic death of an uncle, close friend, or treasured professor, who is always said to have leapt from an 11th story window “because of Joe McCarthy!” To hear liberals tell it, one might reasonably assume that walking a municipal street in 1953 meant hazarding one’s life, given the cascade of bodies steadily thudding into the pavement. In truth, the only corpse McCarthy’s exertions can reasonably be linked to is McCarthy’s. During HUAC’s primacy and throughout McCarthy’s supposed reign of terror, let’s say between 1947 to 1957, no American citizen was interrogated without benefit of legal counsel, no witness or suspect was arrested or detained without due judicial process, nor faced imprisonment without trial. Compare this to the complaints from Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) only last June that citizens cannot be effectively disarmed because “due process is what’s killing us right now!” Joe McCarthy never arrested anyone, sent anyone to prison, or forced anybody out a window. In fact, the only death by suicide related to the McCarthy committee was the mysterious suicide of Ray Kaplan, who (apparently) jumped in front of a truck prior to testifying—but historians rarely mention that Kaplan was a friendly witness looking forward to testifying before the Subcommittee. Hmmm.
If McCarthy’s early popularity represented an identifiably conservative backlash against the perfidies of the New Deal and the architects of postwar accommodationism, it hardly represented the Republican Party. It was, after all, Mr. Republican himself, Dwight David Eisenhower, who orchestrated McCarthy’s demise, and who did so by enlisting his vice president’s talents as a backstage cutthroat. Disbelievers may check out William Bragg Ewald’s Who Killed Joe McCarthy? which documents Ike’s issuance of a confidential fatwa against the Senator, prosecuted behind the scenes mainly by Nixon. It is one of history’s hidden ironies that Nixon, whom liberals loathed as “the man who got Alger Hiss,” also got Tailgunner Joe. In the establishment’s cherished tellings. the glory goes to Edward R. Murrow (first American to pioneer disguising maliciously edited propaganda as TV journalism). But in reality, McCarthy’s kamikaze-like dedication to anti-communism–his Black-Irish refusal to give an inch no matter the cost to himself or his career–worked in combination with his late-phase alcoholism to end his career and his life, leaving the Left to synonymize his name with the vilest infamies ever after. Somebody once asked Victor Gold whom McCarthy most reminded him of, and Gold replied without hesitating: “Evel Knievel!” Mister, we could use a man like Evel Knievel again.
In the aftermath of the New Deal, the renegade right-wing Ivy League professor Willmoore Kendall explained in a letter: “It is not, in short, my faith in the majority which I’ve lost. The majority has, in sober truth, arrived at no conclusions in the last couple of years that, on the evidence offered to it, I could fairly have expected it to reject. My concern, and disillusionment, is with the people who could have given them evidence of another kind.” He accused the wealthy and intellectual elites of “the most gigantic and unpardonable trahison des clercs of which History offers any record.” It’s only gotten worse. The idea of an enlightened aristocracy is wonderfully Jeffersonian. One can relate it to Ayn Rand’s ideal of the creative titan who bemoans our collectivist stumblings and takes us grandly to task. But, as Kendall presaged, another sort of aristocracy now holds sway–a ruling class of anti-American academics, wealthy capitalists who embarrassedly denounce capitalism, slavishly liberal media morons, and a compliantly leftwing glitteratti. In other words, Howard Rourke turned out to be Mark Zuckerberg, and Daddy Warbucks is dead.
But what about Eisenhower? Remembered now as the Republican conservative who gave us America’s golden era of postwar prosperity, he seems a likely mantle bearer for the Right; surely we can like Ike in confidence? In his 1959 primer Up from Liberalism, William F. Buckley, Jr. denounced the Eisenhower administration passionately and, we submit, accurately. On one occasion, Eisenhower, buffeted by predictable Marxist denunciations from Soviet Defense Minister Georgy Zhukov, became frazzled, remarking that it was difficult to defend Western civilization against such claims. Buckley rightly reproved the President’s ambivalence, writing that Ike “clearly did not know what he was defending, how to defend what he defended, or even whether what he defended was defensible.” Indeed, Eisenhower’s marked inability to stand against any communist demand in the European theater during and following, the war, bespeaks exactly such an absence of insight and conviction.
But Buckley wasn’t finished; he went on to denounce Eisenhower’s vision as: “…an attitude…undirected by principle, unchained to any coherent ideas as to the nature of man and society, uncommitted to any sustained estimate of the nature or potential of the enemy.” Eisenhower, Buckley lamented, seemed “to govern in a fashion as to more or less please more or less everybody.” This may explain why everybody liked Ike, but it also confirms that he was in no strict sense a conservative. It also explains why Richard Welsh of the John Birch Society accused Eisenhower of being a communist, a charge he demanded Buckley address at a conservative banquet. Welsh listed his compilation of Ike’s sins of omission, each of which, he noted, advanced the cause of international communism, and demanded, “So Bill, doesn’t that make him a communist?” Buckley replied, “No, Richard, it makes him a golfer.”
“What in God’s name has happened to the Republican Party?” angsted Henry Cabot Lodge as he staggered out of the febrile 1964 Republican Convention, “I hardly know any of these people!” And the most important person he didn’t know was Clif White. White parked himself in a trailer outside California’s Cow Palace and operated like a chess master. He had already led stunningly successful grassroots movements in several states recruiting delegates for the conservative cause, and now he orchestrated through a battery of telephones and walkie talkies, the seizure of the GOP convention for the advancement of an authentic conservative, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater.
White opened a meeting of his right-wing irregulars by explaining “We’re going to take over the Republican Party!” He didn’t say “take it back,” because he knew better. And he succeeded. But only for one election season. Goldwater’s repudiation at the polls made conservatism a dirty word to the GOP establishment, which reasserted its authority firmly in 1968. Barry Goldwater scared the bejabbers out of the Democrats and the Republicans. Eisenhower despised him and the Rockefeller Wing of the party hated his guts. Beyond that, the GOP elite never got past the drubbing Goldwater endured on election day, which occurred in part because of the candidate’s hopelessly bluff campaign style. “Sometimes,” he casually remarked, “I think we oughta just lob one into the men’s room at the Kremlin.” Offered a swig of a campaign soda beverage named in his honor (“Goldwater”), the Senator winced and opined: “This tastes like piss!” Meanwhile, the incumbent, Lyndon Johnson, was successfully persuading millions of voters that his opponent was a psychotic nuclear Napoleon who hated Blacks, hated the poor, and yearned to plunge us–horror of horrors–into a war in Vietnam. Most of all, RINOs resent to this day that Goldwater’s candidacy laid down stakes for conservatism under their “big tent.”
Even now, the liberal establishment continues to complain about Goldwater, generally maintaining the same standard of zany implausibility. A writer for Politico relates in all apparent earnestness, that “Goldwater had once proposed literally—to saw off the eastern seaboard and let it float out to sea. This was no mere figure of speech.” (Dear Lord, what a maniac!) Fifty-two years after Goldwater’s flippant crack, and eighteen years after the man’s death, the liberal media are still spouting absurdities about him. Meanwhile, his warnings about social security’s insolvency, big government’s encroachments on our liberties, and liberalism’s assault on our Constitution and ethical standards have reified. It is our contention that any authentic conservatism in American presidential politics began with Barry Morris Goldwater’s Quixotic 1964 campaign. It may have been a disaster, but it sewed the seeds of a powerful conservative movement–and one as savagely disparaged by the GOP elitists as by their Democrat counterparts.
And next comes….Richard Nixon. Yes, he faced impeachment for offenses that fade to insignificance juxtaposed to the enormities routinely committed by the Obama Administration, and yes, G. Gordon Liddy and Pat Buchanan supported him, but his presidency bore few conservative earmarks. He ended the conflict in Vietnam and might well have saved South Vietnam from being overwhelmed by the communist north had he remained in office—but he didn’t. His Kissinger-inspired mission of diplomacy to communist China during which he legitimated Mao Tse Tung on the world stage was, put succinctly, nauseous. He next unveiled his ultra-leftist “New Economic Plan,” featuring wage and price controls that exceeded Teddy Kennedy’s wildest dreams, explaining,“We are all Keynesians now.” Nixon also implemented federal affirmative action, proposed a single payer healthcare system almost 40 years before Barack Obama, and proposed a guaranteed annual income. He created the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration without whose assistance we might never have invented global warming. Three of four of Nixon’s Supreme Court appointees supported Roe vs. Wade. Worse, he paranoiacally placed himself in a position that ultimately required his resignation and ramified in the elevation to office of Jerry Ford—a man whom David Susskind described with unaccustomed acuity as a “well-intentioned mediocrity.”
About Ford it may be said that he was indeed well-intentioned, and predispositionally less liberal than Nixon proved, but he is also the man who, as a Michigan Congressman, informed Lyndon Johnson that he and wife Betty were about to embark on a fact-finding mission to Vietnam whereupon Johnson took Ford’s hand in that warmly crocodilian way of his, and oiled “Jerry, while you’re there-be sure to visit the pagodas, they’re beautiful!” Ford replied, “Mr. President, we’re not only going to visit the Pagodas–Betty and I are going to have dinner with them!” In other words, Ford was unequipped to grasp the intricacies of any profoundly felt political philosophy, in consequence of which he was, of course, a moderate. He might be viewed as reminiscent of Eisenhower in this respect, sans Ike’s familiarity with command, or favorable zeitgeist. While debating Jimmy Carter in 1976, Ford insisted his presidency had kept Eastern Europe free of Soviet domination (a lapsus lingua he might easily have walked back, but regrettably chose to to defend–ineptly–giving Carter the win). Carter pulled well ahead in the polls, especially with every news outlet in America proclaiming him a genius of previously unimagined proportions. Sound familiar?
As everyone now knows, Jimmy Carter’s only real genius turned out to be for messing the country up so badly that the only good thing about his term in office was that it virtually assured the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Reagan was our finest 20th Century president, a fact the Liberal Establishment remains devoted to obscuring by every means at its disposal. It remains mandatory liberal group think that Reagan was a clueless imbecile, but if so, he was an imbecile who saved the economy, made the energy crisis disappear, resurrected the military, cut taxes, rolled back the Brezhnev Doctrine in Grenada, bombed Gaddafi into reasonableness, and–yes–ended the Cold War, which particularly irritates liberals whose foreign-affairs gurus of that era uniformly preached the irresistible expansion of Soviet power and the absolute necessity of accommodation rather than confrontation. Asked what his strategy for managing Cold War tensions might be, Reagan smiled and rasped, “My strategy is pretty simple, really. We win, they lose.” Obviously, the Left hated him and hates him no less today–but it requires our attention here that the Republican party hated him almost as much, thwarting his 1976 effort to seize the nomination from President Ford, and resisting his 1980 campaign tooth and nail. Had it been left up to the GOP cognoscente, Jerry Ford would have once again led the ticket in 1980 despite his previously demonstrated inability to defeat Carter even as an incumbent. As with Goldwater, the party brass thought Reagan was insane. These are the voices that today prod Republican voters, in condescendingly avuncular tones, to accept Reagan’s inappositeness to our current situation.
Take Jennifer Rubin, a faux-conservative on the Washington Post’s payroll, who mocks opposition to same sex marriage, higher taxes, and come-one-come-all immigration as “the conservatism of yesterday.” “In fact,” she counsels, these “conservative“ positions are not necessarily conservative; they are part of an effort to avert the party’s eyes from the dramatic economic, social, demographic and cultural changes that have taken place over the past 30 years. They confuse the Reagan-era expression of conservatism with conservatism itself.” This is essentially a Maoist brainwashing technique–the manipulation of meaning and narrative to, in this case, make conservatism appear to be something conservatism cannot be, otherwise known as liberalism. Douglas MacArthur once reminded FDR that “the things I value never change,” and if this conservative axiom is replaceable by a pragmatism of the nonce, than nothing remains to conserve. Rubin goes on to lament that “reactionary” organizations like the Heritage Foundation have failed to evolve as she prescribes. Heritage has gone so astray, she says, that it now attempts to “insulate the party from heretics and cement an agenda it advanced 30 years ago.” Insulate the party? Is Rubin daft? The Party qua the Party fully expected to put Jeb Bush up against Hillary. It reviled Ted Cruz, whom Boehner called the spawn of Satan. Jennifer, your brand of “conservatism” is alive and well in the GOP. It is the conservative movement that is insulated from it. Your essential error, besides misunderstanding the conservative ethos, is confusing it with the Republican Party.
George the First
George Herbert Walker Bush—what can we say? The man who said “read my lips, no new taxes,” and then forgot he said it, (possibly because he couldn’t tell Reaganomics from “Voodoo”–or maybe because he forgot to read his own lips) may at least be remembered as leading us to a crushing victory over Iraq in 1991, even though the bad guy got away…and despite the fact that the Presidential nerve might have failed, had Margaret Thatcher not insisted at an auspicious moment, “Oh, George, this is no time to go all wobbly!” (Thanks for that, Mrs. Thatcher!)
George, son of George
Now about “W”—George 43 still enjoys a lot of right-of-center affection, and his support in general has grown considerably now that Americans have Obama to compare him to, but when you think about it, any American president compares favorably to the current office holder. And while “W” gets high points for tax cuts, supporting the sanctity of traditional marriage, opposing partial-birth abortion, and for his noble effort to reform social security through privatization (opposed by the Democrats who used their media machine to persuade Americans it was a crazed attempt to starve old people), it remains difficult to call his presidency conservative, especially given enthusiastic funding hikes for various government programs including the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health combined with “W’s” seeming unfamiliarity with the concept of the veto, creating spending explosions rivaling those incurred by Lyndon Johnson’s “Great-Society.” He must also be viewed as condoning illegal immigration–a blithe acceptance of foreign nationals streaming across our southern border that amounted then, as now, to dereliction of duty by the executive branch.
A brief apostrophe to the unhinged:
It is also necessary, we suppose, to observe Bush’s involvement in 911, when he and Dick Cheney posed as elevator repairmen in order to dump massive volumes of Thermite into the elevator shafts of the World Trade Center, and then, having some left over, decided arbitrarily to do the same thing in Building Number 7, which otherwise could not possibly have collapsed. Moreover, many consider Bush’s decision during Hurricane Katrina to blow up the dike system protecting New Orleans in order to drown Black people unacceptably racist and meanspirited. There, we got that out of the way, and now back to reality:
Culling all curs….
In examining current efforts too drive conservatism from the ranks of the GOP, let’s look at the term RINO and consider its inherent inaccuracy. Calling left-leaning Republicans “Republican In Name Only” bolsters the misapprehension that Republican officials are conservative except for rare instances of apostasy when this or that misguided freshman may utter some sentiment at odds with his party’s profoundly dextral values. We have spent quite a few paragraphs demonstrating the ludicrosity of this characterization, so why not adjust the terminology to better fit the phenomenon? A Republican majority capable of surrendering its power of the purse, rubber stamping Obama’s trade and budgetary disasters, cheerfully backing his errant globalism, “crossing the aisle” to seek “immigration reform,” ignoring its constitutional role in treaty ratification while permitting rule by fiat to continue unchallenged, and which preceded all this with a promise not to impeach the president no matter what–is in no respect a party of conservative opposition. It isn’t any sort of opposition. It is a confederacy of jelly fish…and the natural abode of John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Susan Collins, Paul Ryan, and of course, Lindsey Graham, as the Beaver.
In his Devil’s Dictionary (1911), Ambrose Bierce reviewed the traditional parliamentary use of “honorable,” informing his readers that “In legislative bodies it is customary to mention all members as honorable.” To demonstrate, Bierce offered his readers a sample locution, namely, “the honorable gentleman is a scurvy cur.” A “cur,” of course, is a dog, or, according to Merriam Webster, “a dog that is a mix of different breeds : a low, bad, or disliked dog,” and by metaphoric extension, ” a surly or cowardly fellow.” This serves nicely, we think, as a more descriptive acronym for Republican hacks who hide their progressive identities and play at conservatism until the rubes send them back to Washington. Such politicians may be 100% Republican–but they are only Conservatives Until Reelected.
The CURs, we submit, have damaged the GOP beyond repair. The new media have made it impossible for them to win elections pretending to be Barry Goldwater only to serve out their terms as Lowell Weicker; and simply having an “R” after one’s name no longer beguiles the yokels. As Romney’s loss in 2012 proved, faced with the option of voting for the lesser of two evils, at least 3 million registered Republicans won’t vote at all. Thus, while it may be perfectly defensible to say Republicans have no obligation to be conservative, it is equally true that without its conservative base, the GOP has no hope of winning elections, and conservatives have no obligation to be Republicans.
A quantum of solace…
The CURs (or RINOs) have yet to absorb this reality. When they do, they will not attempt to be more authentically conservative–they will blame conservative talk radio–which they already hate with a passion– and “cross the aisle” to look statesmanlike in their eagerness to help rid America of it. It won’t help. The rubes are hip, and the GOP elites have already exhausted what Ian Fleming might call the electorate’s quantum of solace. Promising to be good over and over won’t work in most districts–but even if voters in some states are preternaturally forgiving, other factors threaten destruction for other reasons.
The Trump card….
Talk radio is also widely blamed by the GOP for Donald Trump, an irony of near-Sophoclean proportions. Trump, no matter what else may be said of him, is a sort of political tulpa conjured in wrath by a scorned electorate. As such, he may wittingly or unwittingly become the agent of doom for the GOP. One may freely despise, love, or wax indifferent to Donald Trump personally and still see three ways he could terminate the Republicans. First, and most topically, the GOP may yet contrive to deny Trump the party’s nomination by steamrolling him at the convention and replacing him with some acceptable CUR–somebody they know we’d prefer, too, if we weren’t so stupid. The immediate result in Cleveland, obviously, would be blood on the walls–but this eludes the CURs, so nestled are they within the Beltway bubble. Besides, if Trump is unseated, he will run independently–and the GOP will come in third. If he wins the floor fight at the convention, he will run as a Republican, but the entire Republican infrastructure will go up in flames. The third possibility is one in which Trump receives the GOP nomination, runs against Hillary, and loses. This would entail substantial numbers of big-name Republicans siding with Hillary, some overtly, others implicitly or secretly. WOOF knows the Republican “leadership” currently favors this option–a gambit, they believe, in which a tactical sacrifice (the White House) conduces toward a strategic victory (the party leadership remains intact and retains its power). But a party that prefers keeping its Good Old Boys unruffled to winning the presidency is functionally moribund. The GOP is wilfully embracing extinction–a mastodon strolling heedlessly toward the La Brea Tar Pits, contemplating lunch.
For the time being, Mitch McConnell may be able to wheel, deal, backstab and fundraise on such a scale that his vow to “crush [the Tea Party] everywhere” seems plausible, but this is hardly to say rational. Once conservatives awaken to the level of philosophical rejection such rantings embody, and the chilling degree of amoral self-absorption they betray– they will storm the exits. Without them, the GOP cannot win elections. Trump supporters, taken as another subset of GOP voters, may overlap the conservatives, but in many important respects they are a distinct species. Lose the Trumpites and the party loses not only their passion and sheer numbers– it simultaneously writes off many freshly recruited Independents, Hispanics, Blacks, and yes, Gays, who arrived with Trump. At some juncture the CUR leadership may realize that saving the party from “threats” like Cruz, Paul, Lee, and such embarrassing rustics as Sarah Palin, leaves them with tickets exclusively featuring their squishy, unprincipled “moderate” chums, whom millions of registered Republicans rightly despise.
A cautionary prehistoric tale…
The precursor to the elephant, the mastodon, disappeared from the North American continent at the end of the Pleistocene period, around 11,000 years ago. Most contemporary theorists now agree that the population dwindled over centuries rather than vanishing as the result of some sudden catastrophe. It is increasingly theorized, moreover, that humans may have played a key role–a theory that met with establishment scorn until a 13,800-year-old spear tip was found embedded in a Mastodon’s ribs. Soon more spear tips showed up in Mastodon skulls and ribcages.
Did cavemen kill the mastodons and then dump them in tar pits as a counter-forensic ploy? Whatever the case, those little cave dwellers who were not even supposed to exist before the Clovis period, hunted the Mastodon, possibly to extinction, or at least assisted nature in effecting its demise. And despite growing evidence to this effect, many archeologists persist in RINO-like levels of denial.”Maybe,” one expert told London’s Daily Mail, “the reason was something completely different, for instance the climate.” And we suspect the Mastodons were just as dismissive of those pesky pre-Clovisians in their day. Perhaps they concocted derogatory nicknames for them– although nobody at this remove can recall the pre-Clovisian term for “tea bagger.”
Soon, we predict, the GOP will go the way of the Mastodon– a victim of its inability to adjust to unexpected phenomena like Donald Trump, and its failure to realize the stupidity of brushing off all those pesky neanderthalic tribespeople in flyover country. Something new and better suited to our epoch and our cause will emerge from the bone pile–necessarily a movement less dismissive of conservative and libertarian beliefs; a party free of fossils like Boehner, Ryan, McCain, Graham, and Jeb!–all evolutionary rejects writ large. Conservatism and pro-Constitutionalism will regroup and flourish beneath some more vibrant banner while the Republican Party follows the Whigs, the Know-Nothings, the Anti-Masonic Party, the American Vegetarian Party,and the never-to-be-forgotten Rent is Too Damn High Party, into obscurity.
In fact, years hence, when some intrepid reporter asks Boehner or Graham whether selling out the American Right, tantruming over primary results not to their liking, abdicating their constitutional authority, and consistently misrepresenting their intentions to voters might have contributed to their party’s undoing, we fully expect the interviewee to reply, “Maybe the reason was something completely different, for instance the climate.”