Saturday, February 28, 1981
“…A call…reported a boat load of Haitians approaching our shores. I’m all for opening the door to refugees from totalitarianism but this is more complicated. These are just people who believe they can have a better life here. They are in fact illegal aliens. We’ll have to deport them but it’s a long & complicated business due to our own laws.” Ronald Reagan, The Reagan Diaries.
Out of compassion, or being kinder and gentler, or maybe as an act of love to the natural born citizens of his country, Reagan wanted to protect the borders and the sovereignty of the United States. Reagan also confided in his diaries about having to secure the border in order to protect the sanctity of citizenship.
In fact, Reagan argued that it was the government’s duty to “humanely regain control of our borders and thereby preserve the value of one of the most sacred possessions of our people: American citizenship.”
For Reagan, the Shining City on Hill was an example to the world and not the world’s land grant college, where everybody is admitted regardless of merit.
Jeb Bush is not like Ronald Reagan, despite some recent claims. The afore is just one diary entry by Reagan on the matter of secure borders. As he pointed out, coming to America just because one wanted a better life was not enough of a reason. Certainly not enough to break the law, notwithstanding the assertions of Governor Bush several days ago.
The facts involving the schism in the GOP are well known and documented. Teddy White first catalogued them in “The Making of The President, 1960.” Even before, Bill Buckley and National Review represented a threat to the ruling class of the GOP. Buckley, a product of the best the East Coast Elite could produce, was nonetheless a true American conservative revolutionary. “I will not cede more power to the state. I will not willingly cede more power to anyone, not to the state, not to General Motors, not to the CIO. I will then use my power as I see fit.”
Reagan knew that the establishment–which loathed him and which he was disdainful of, believed in the rule of law–except when it served their purposes to break the law. This now includes corporations which knowingly hire illegals, and then hire high-priced lobbyists to plead with Washington for amnesty from fines or prosecution for hiring illegal aliens in the first place.
Now the divide is even deeper and the fight more vicious between the outsiders and the insiders. Just consider the personal assaults aimed at the Tea Party movement.
The differences are no longer just ideology or geography but also economic and cultural. The Reagan wing as it exists today and the Bush wing really have little in common anymore. One is organized around the idea of freedom and the other around the notion of security.
Freedom and security as governing philosophies have little in common, in fact they are nearly diametrically opposed. Why else would establishmentarians like Barack Obama and John McCain denounce Edward Snowden as a traitor but others like the anti-establishment Rand Paul and others celebrate Snowden as a whistleblower and patriot?
How freedom and security fit within the phrase “American conservative” is a good concept to consider. This is not about patriotism. It is about intellectualism.
High Tories, Neo Cons, Establishmentarians, Big Government Republicans, NSA Republicans, are American, and conservative of a sort, but they are not American conservatives. They frankly more resemble British Tories, which is why they often cite Edmund Burke as being the father of American conservatism. But Burke believed in the divine right of kings, never really challenged the authority of the elites who ruled London, and believed in institutions over individuals.
Even a recent sympathetic biography of the Irishman Burke by Jesse Norman said in his time Burke was denounced as “a blowhard and an irrelevance.” One scholar said Burke believed “revolution is the ultimate enemy of reform.” But as Founding Father Benjamin Rush said in 1783, “The American war is over; but this is far from being the case with the American Revolution.” American conservatism is centered around the belief in the continued intellectual American Revolution.
American conservatism’s biological fathers are John Locke, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, individualists, intellectualists, animated by the Enlightenment, the Protestant Reformation and the notion that power moves upwards from the citizenry to the government and not the other way around. What they prized was the freedom, dignity, and privacy of the individual, “endowed by their creator.” Reagan used the phrase
“Man with God” because he also believed in a spiritual individual.
Fittingly, Reagan frequently used one of his favorite phrases “We have it in our power to begin the world over again,” Paine’s powerful proclamation in Common Sense. (Reagan also often used the phrase “common sense.”) Reagan’s use of this idiom drove some High Tories and neocons around the bend because they had different beliefs in the origination of power, more akin to the Hamiltonian-Burkean notion of top down governance rather than the Jeffersonian belief in bottom up governance creating, establishing conflicting definitions of what ‘common sense’ was.
Therefore, Reagan believed the Cold War was winnable while the neocons rejected this as nonsense. They believed the Berlin Wall was a thing of permanence, the Soviet Union would exist forever and only the naïve thought anything else.
Which brings us to the Bush Dynasty. From the time George H. W. Bush stepped out of the Reagan shadow in 1988 and took the GOP in a direction away from Reaganism by calling for new government activism and seeing America as a nation of ethnic interests, rather than a singular creed of Americans, Bush ’41 and Bush ’43 never embraced the Reagan view of American conservatism.
The eight years of Bush 43 were an experiment in Big Government Republicanism. Republicanism experimented with the same temptations of power as that of Wilson and Roosevelt, notorious Democrats. Just as shiny federally led domestic imperialism, such as the New Deal, lost its gleam. The “common sense” touted by Reagan and his more ancient peer, Jefferson, held conservatives in line with the Florida recount and later September 11, 2001 ended nearly all internal debate. For a time.
The Bush Dynasty’s path forward led farther from its Reagan starting point. At 43’s second inaugural address, he extolled nation building like a true Wilsonian, and neo conservatism, sending off giant alarms in conservative circles. It was one thing to go into Afghanistan and all supported this but fourteen years later, most are asking what they hell are we still doing there? Iraq is considered by most conservatives as another failed Wilsonian adventure yet the establishment questions why American conservatives are skeptical about a US military presence in Syria or Ukraine.
And by 2006, after Harriet Miers, amnesty, bloated transportation, agriculture bills, new prescription entitlements for seniors, federal jurisdiction over marriage, and finally TARP and the bailout of Detroit, the American conservatives had had enough of the direction of the so-called conservative movement.
So the Tea Party rose up, embracing the tradition of American conservatism. In an attempt to preserve their power within the party the Bush wing denounced the Tea Party in the most personal terms and Bush himself called the Minutemen guarding the border “vigilantes,” a term of derision to those on high.
This political journey leads us to Jeb Bush. He represents the path taken by his father and brother, but also by Mitt Romney. He favors Common Core and “comprehensive” immigration reform and all sorts of mandates from Washington to the states, which is why he is having trouble with the Tea Party conservatives who embrace federalism. He should run. And Bushism should be put on trial and examined and judged, just as Reaganism was in 1980.
The GOP will never become unified until is decides what it believes. Bush should run if only to force that debate over what Republicans really stand for. Part of the reason Reagan won in 1980 was the field against him was divided. The establishment favored Ambassador Bush or John Connolly or Bob Dole or Howard Baker but Reagan forced the debate and moved the party to the right, where much of it is today.
In 2016 the right of center vote will be divided among Paul, Ted Cruz, and others, just as the conservative vote was divided in 2012, allowing the highbrow Mitt Romney to win the nomination.
If an outsider wins the nomination, establishmentarians can be counted on to hold their noses and be supportive, if only to maintain their proximity to power. But if an insider like Romney wins, it will be interesting to see if they can convince the Tea Party to stick around, as Mitt failed to do in 2012. Failing that, we could see the death of the modern, national GOP. And possibly the eradication of Reaganism as a governing philosophy.
Or, if Reaganism prevails again, as it did in 1980, 84, 88, 94 and 2006, we could see the departure of the neocons from the GOP, to go back to their natural home in the Democratic Party, where they were once call Trotskyites. And see Bushism fade as a valid governing philosophy.
This coming fight for 2016 will be the Gotterdammerung for the GOP–the “dusk of the gods”– as it will determine what it stands for, probably for a long time. No one can predict the outcome, but like Ali versus Frazier–or any contest over power–it will be utterly fascinating to watch.