Patterico's Pontifications


The ghost of Noonan past

Filed under: General — Karl @ 6:47 am

[Posted by Karl]

In 1992, Peggy Noonan reviewed R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr.’s The Conservative Crack-Up.  In that review, Noonan provided a brief history of the Reagan Era:

A party that had spent decades hanging on through low budget liberalism was finally changing. prompted by forces its establishment had not ignited and could not control.

From the West came the broad, grass-roots antitax movement signaled by passage of California’s Proposition 13. From the East came new writers with new assumptions, who argued for change in the journals of New York and Washington. The two forces converged to produce something fresh: a modern conservatism that could govern.

At the center was Ronald Reagan, who kept in one piece a naturally divided movement—social conservatives who would ban abortion, libertarians who would legalize cocaine—first by giving its members a winner when they hadn’t expected to have a winner in their lifetimes. Mr. Reagan’s interests were widely and openly conservative. He had come to his beliefs at a time when the right’s tenets were clear: budgets should be balanced; put a Federal agency in charge or the Sahara and it would run out of sand. But he was receptive to new thinking and generous toward all strains of conservatism because in a way he believed In them all. His respect for other conservatives spread as if by contagion. For a decade the people he brought to Washington functioned pretty well as one big fractious family.

However, winning the Cold War eroded the GOP advantage on national security, while Pres. George H. W. Bush squandered the Republican advantage on taxes.  This left social conservativism as the primary face of the party, but I digress (or do I?).  Noonan continued:

But this book is best when Mr. Tyrrell speaks of the distance, the utter disconnection, between the nation’s establishment—the press, academia, the arts—and its people…


There are, in 1992, many kinds of conservatives. Concorde conservatives crisscrossing the Atlantic to check on this election and that caucus, cultural conservatives, bristling supply-siders, spiky libertarians and others, all rent by 12 years of intramural fighting, conflicting ambitions and snubs. A dozen years of leadership will leave you tired; a dozen years away from the grass roots, when you used to be the grass roots, might leave you disoriented. It would be amazing if they weren’t fighting, and weren’t mean.

Another turn of the 16-year cycle, and here we are again.  As in the late 1970s, Californians are again poised to reject the big government policies that are wrecking the Golden State, policies that are the results of supposed moderation.  If California is a bellwether in this regard, its state GOP is a microcosm of what is wrong with the Republican Party nationally.  The state — and the nation — could use a Reagan, but is stuck with a Schwarzenegger.  Movie star governors just ain’t what they used to be.

Meanwhile, moderate pundits like Rick Moran are repelled by grass roots protests against the spend-and-tax extremism of the Obama Administration.  Moran also claims moderates are being purged from the party by those social con meanies on talk radio and the Internet.  In the real world, the GOP got the political exhaustion represented by the “kinder, gentler” G.H.W. Bush, the “compassionate” G.W. Bush, Maverick John McCain and an out of touch Congressional GOP.  One wonders what sort of party the Morans would build if fiscal cons and social cons are just too icky and mean.

Of course, there is plenty of blame to go around on all sides of the debate.  However, just as in the early 1990s, it would be amazing if they weren’t fighting, and weren’t mean.  Politics still ain’t beanbag.  People who only like their tea parties with lace doilies may want to stay in the parlor, and leave the arena to others.


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