Claremont Review reporters attended the Democratic and Republican Conventions and had the following reflections on them.
I. Democrats: Revenge of the Nerds?
By Steven Hayward and Ken Masugi
Revenge of the Nerds appears to be the theme of the Democratic Party in 1984. Like the Nerd fraternity of the summer movie, the Democratic Convention in San Francisco presented a coalition of resentful losers—intellectuals, technocrats, racial minorities, and homosexuals, not to mention former President Jimmy (“Here I go again”) Carter. But the movie Nerds won in the end, and the Democrats might too if their politics of revenge succeeds in attracting enough voters. After all, electoral politics is more the organizing of common hatreds than the rallying to the cause of a common love, as much as the latter is desirable. Hence Aristotle began the section on the passions in his treatise on Rhetoric with a discussion of anger, which is the elemental political passion, as poetry from The Iliad to Red Dawn makes clear. The Democratic Convention provides more than a few footnotes for Aristotle’s work, as our own first-hand look at it shows.
The rhetoric of the Democratic National Convention and the subsequent campaign strategy exemplifies this political understanding, from the politics of revenge implicit (and often enough explicit) in Jesse Jackson’s “rainbow coalition” to Ferraro’s vow “to get even” with her detractors. Historically, the redirection of hatreds is how the Democratic Party has been able to maintain its diverse coalition-ranging from Klansmen to intellectuals, from recent immigrants to xenophobes. Each part hated the other, but a common object of hatred (FDR’s unscrupulous money-changers) transformed and sublimated these deep emotions. Whether such a strategy is still possible, we will examine later.
A floor-fight over the “affirmative-action” plank of the party platform reveals well the essential place of anger in the Democratic coalition. From the floor, the convention adopted a minority plank watering down the original platform’s language explicitly rejecting quotas. This was certainly consistent with party practice, since the whole composition of the convention was determined by quotas for certain ethnic groups and women. Such group recognition, the party believes, will promote fairness by compensating for past injustices. Thus the memory of past injustice must be dramatically kept alive to justify the current delegate composition. Moreover, those who benefit from such quotas or who wish the support of those who do benefit will want to stress the existence of such injustice in the present. And of course they will have even more interest in exaggerating or inventing it.
Jesse Jackson’s “rainbow coalition” is the most extreme manifestation of this approach to politics that stresses getting even for past grievances. The coalition is forged from the flames of resentment and hatred-all the talk of love and compassion, quite to the contrary, is necessary camouflage for their explosive approach. Jackson’s friendship with Farrakhan and his comments about “Hymies” are part of his tactics. Achieve equality by getting even.
Consider his introduction to the convention as an example of his approach. In keeping with his rainbow coalition motif, he was introduced by nine people: an Arab-American, a blind black student from South Carolina, a Jewish holocaust survivor, an Hispanic from Texas, a Chinese-American woman, a farmer, an African Methodist bishop, a disabled-Hispanic-single-welfare mother from New Mexico (“If I went to work I’d lose my medical benefits…”), and, finally, mercifully, Mayor Richard Hatcher of Gary, Indiana.
All this build-up took almost forty minutes, during which time you couldn’t help but reflect: James Watt lost his job for talking about these people. Now Jackson is parading them in front of us.
Most noteworthy in the speech itself was what many took to be an apology of sorts:
If there were occasions when my grape turned into a raisin and my joy bell lost its resonance, please forgive me. Charge it to my head, so limited in its finitude; not to my heart, which is boundless in its Low for the entire human family. . . . Be patient. God is not finished with me yet.”
Fatuous as this is in print, Jackson was able to pull it off from the podium. Unspoken, but in Jackson’s prepared text, were the following extraordinary lines:
Water cannot wash away the blood of martyrs. Blood is thicker than water. Water makes grass and flowers grow. But blood makes sons and daughters of Liberation grow. No matter how difficult the days, and dark the nights, there is a brighter side somewhere. In Angola, Mozambique, Nicaragua, El Salvador, South Africa, Greenville, South Carolina and Harlem, there is a brighter side.
Whose side is Jackson on? The cheering delegates and the adulatory media forgot about Jackson’s advisers from the highly suspect Institute for Policy Studies.
But the best example of Jackson’s approach is a completely unremarked speech of his before one of the convention’s ethnic caucuses, the Asian-Pacific caucus, composed of 103 delegates and alternates. Now the caucus itself is something to marvel at. Common geographic origin (surely not common cultural heritage) is the formal basis for its existence, but caucus chair Thomas Hsieh is more blunt: “When we put all the bucks together across the nation . . . these are going to be big bucks, and when anyone walks up to us for support . . . I guarantee you they are going to have to tell us what they are going to do for us. . . . And they’d better take care of us.” Color this part of the Rainbow green.
How would Jackson employ the rhetoric of getting even before an audience whose average income is well above the overall national average? (Japanese-Americans, for example, make over 130 percent of the average national income.) After the typical Jackson litany of reaching out to the locked out, he attempted the following means of division, campaigning as though he were in some sort of third-world country:
Advocating a “no first-use policy” in nuclear weapons, Jackson intoned that “for Asians it means no second use of nuclear weapons.” Moreover, when we think “about Hiroshima and Nagasaki we should say, ‘Never again, never again.'” (Did Jackson consider, just to think along his lines, that some of the Chinese- and Filipino-American delegates may have taken special delight in the Bomb? Perish the thought.) Observing that “Asian people” are being used “as scapegoats for a collapsed economy,” Jackson launched into the following comparison:
It’s not your fault that while the Americans were making missiles you were making cars; it’s not your fault.
While we were trying to get moon rocks and dust on the moon, you got your watches and TVs. It’s not your fault. It’s your values.
While our managers learned how to fire people, Japanese managers learned how to expand and make room for people. It’s not your fault because you had a great idea about how to manage your work force.
Concluding with such standard comments as retiring “the repressive Reagan regime,” Jackson left to cheers and applause.
Although warmly received, the Jackson speech was criticized afterwards by some Japanese-American delegates as an example of ignorance of their primary status as Americans. Prominent, of course, in these delegates’ minds was the opprobrium, and much worse, many of them and their relatives knew in the days following Pearl Harbor. It was a stunning example of demagoguery and ignorance-bringing people in by reading them out-but an all-too-natural consequence of a mindset that has shunned equality of individual rights and the free pursuit of excellence in favor of group rights and class claims, (In an interview with another reporter, Hsieh rejected the whole idea of the rainbow coalition as “baloney.”)
Finally, consider the well-publicized, stormy black caucus meeting, at which some delegates hooted at Mondale supporter Mrs. Martin Luther King to the point at which she was unable to continue. “Black prostitute!” someone yelled. Some of the delegates muttered about how shamefully she was being treated, and she was alternately booed and cheered. The day before, on the convention floor, blacks vociferously booed Andrew Young (“Down with Tom! Down with Tom!”) when he argued for Mondale’s preference on a voting rights plank. (This was not simply occasioned by his support of Mondale-recall that a majority of the black delegates were pledged to him-but surely fueled by his support for Hosea Williams in a local congressional race. Williams was an old ally from civil rights days though in 1980 a supporter of Ronald Reagan.)
Following a typically waffling Mondale performance-after being faced down by a black woman holding a placard-Jackson entered the crowded room and took control of it. Basking in his convention performance the previous night, he calmed the crowd, and even chided them for the harsh reaction to Young and Mrs. King. (In response, a black delegate chuckled, “They were booing in their heads, not their hearts.”) He assumed leadership of all the blacks, noted how few their convention gains had been, and asked the black delegates to cast a “ballot of conscience” for him on the first ballot. (Some reporters, including a black from the New York Times, were spreading the story that they would; of course they didn’t.) He urged the delegates to keep busy and be even more deeply involved, for “the only protection against genocide is being necessary.” So much for Rainbow Racism.
What of the women at San Francisco? Might not the party win many a race by being the party of women’s rights and issues? Indeed, the convention displayed far more enthusiasm for Ferraro (the Democrats’ Mary Decker) than it did for Mondale. The mentality of the California delegation may tell us more than anything else. Feminist lawyer and delegate Gloria Allred briefly addressed the California caucus on the shocking conduct of San Francisco police, who had rated women delegates on their appearance (“10,” “6”). The hisses from the floor condemning the sexist pigs revealed correct thinking on that issue. But let us clarify once and for all the true meaning of the gender gap: In order to close it, Walter Mondale needed, as Dinesh D’Souza noted, to put a man on his ticket.
Mondale should have early on denounced Jesse Jackson and the feminists, and chosen, say, John Glenn as his running mate. Instead, Mondale showed himself to be a typical white liberal fawner over a black demagogue and allowed himself to be captured by unreflective media perceptions of the strength “a woman” could bring to the ticket. (An Alabaman told the convention that a woman would do fine in the South, since Alabama had elected Lurleen Wallace as its governor.) This woman may, of course, turn out to be a great drag on the ticket: Sometimes a woman candidate encourages many women voters to vote for a male rival; this Catholic candidate has publicly quarreled with her archbishop; and this Italian’s husband has had dealings to some unpublicized extent with organized crime figures.1
Of course, Mondale really wanted New York Governor Mario Cuomo, who is eloquent, quickwitted, and projects an aura of strength. He gives the appearance of learnedness without being a pedant. He has quite conventional liberal Democrat policies, yet no one would call him a nerd. He can provoke emotion, but with coolness and reserve. Can he, however, govern New York? Surely one cause of Cuomo’s rise to stardom is the Mondale-weary media’s fascination with his style more than his own policies.
The Democrats’ problem is how to placate one group without offending another. In the end it is impossible; Democrat presidential candidates of the future will be variants of Walter Mondale, who lead by caving in to pressures, unless they can find a “focus of evil,” to borrow a phrase from the Republican candidate, an object of anger which can make the party’s factions transcend their differences. But even more is needful, and at this point we see how weak the Democrats are. An electoral coalition cannot abide out of anger alone. A transcendent object of affection is the sufficient condition for lasting political success. (Hence for Aristotle friendship or mutual affection perfects the political community.) And whether the Democrats, in their present condition, can present such an object is a dubious proposition. It was a lot easier before the Democrats began viewing the world through the lenses of affirmative action, which cause severe distortions. Were the women delegates in San Francisco “representative” of women? Were the blacks? Were the delegates as a group? More importantly, isn’t representative government about something else altogether, rather than reflecting certain percentages of different groups? This is a most serious question confronting the world’s oldest political party.
And of course the Democrats did cut some people out. A search for the legacy of the late U.S. senator from Washington state, Henry Jackson, came up with nothing. Interviews with the Washington state delegation revealed no evidence of any lasting influence of his in the area of foreign policy, where he made his reputation by staunchly and persuasively arguing for a strong national defense. One Washington state delegate simply declared that Senator Jackson spoke only for himself, while others ducked the question completely. Jackson expressed quite well the views of the AFL-CIO, whose main foreign policy concerns are scarcely reflected in this year’s platform.
As for Mondale himself, all one need consider-aside from his promise to raise taxes-was the quality of his rhetoric. Having been so taken by “Where’s the beef?” Mondale apparently thought a few more allusions to television commercials would help. “A mind is a terrible thing to waste . . . I got the bags under my eyes the old-fashioned way: I earned them.” But the worst was: “You may not know me. I’m Walter Mondale.” Perhaps he was practicing for his future as an American Express Card commercial.
What will become of this Democratic Party? The views expressed by former Carter and Hart pollster Patrick Caddell at a pre-convention forum, “Whose Party Is This, Anyway?” are most revealing. Caddell’s solution to the Democrats’ impending defeat may be termed “supply-side politics”; that is, “expanding the base of the party.”
The Great Base that Caddell envisions is the baby-boom generation now coming of age in politics. Forty-six percent of the population was born between 1946 and 1964; these are the folks who this season are called “yuppies,” or “frumpies” by Tom Hayden (for “formerly radical upwardly mobile professionals”). These folks, being properly upwardly mobile, are more future-oriented than was the electorate of the past, and thus can be appealed to successfully with new ideas and future-oriented images, or so Caddell asserts.
The Democratic Party has been in a state of civil war since 1968—the street fighting of Chicago carried on inside the party for the last sixteen years. It has been the populists versus the old-line party regulars. The populist “reforms” the party embraced resulted in the nominations of McGovern and Carter—two disasters for the party. This year’s rules have an implicit message: No more populist nominees like McGovern and Carter.
But the fact that Gary Hart made it a close race, even with the rules stacked against him, demonstrates that the party establishment counterrevolution was less than fully successful. Caddell realizes this and knows that real opportunity exists for his Gary Hart-populist wing of the party in the future. “I could write a scenario for ’84,” Caddell said, finally getting down to the core of his view, “that has the Democratic Party in a shambles and on its way to becoming a minority party. Then it becomes a question of who will pick up the pieces-the Establishment and the constituency groups that have the party by the throat, or the new generation.”
Many others in the party quietly concur. “Several of us would be just as comfortable if Mondale loses,” says outgoing Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas, because “the next crop of candidates will all come out of our wing of the party.” So this is our clue in How To Think About The Democrats. The left-leaning populists—Tom Hayden, Michael Harrington, and Caddell—all know their day will come sooner if Mondale loses. At “Whose Party Is This?” the implicit answer was: certainly not Mondale’s. Crucial here is Caddell’s insistence that one of the keys to Reagan’s success was his willingness to lose if need be, while advocating his ideas. The same fervor must guide the Democrats, he concluded. But with this party, Caddell’s challenge could well be the rationale for electoral suicide.
Finally, one word concerning the coverage of political conventions. The media cliché is that they are overcovered (in San Francisco, 15,000 media representatives for 4,000 delegates), with reporters scrambling to find or invent stories. In fact, we found the San Francisco convention to be under-covered, because the media typically did not raise the right questions. Furthermore, television wants to be live, so it won’t take the time to cover substantial segments of caucuses, which will not be at prime time. Oddly, the networks would rather cover the roll call of the states live than most of the speeches from the rostrum. (Would that television were this appreciative of federalism more than once in four years.) Also, the East Coast newspapers, facing the problem of earlier deadlines than their Western counterparts, had spotty coverage of some major stories (e.g., the New York Times’ account of the black caucus session).
Also, consider that some of the events are too complicated to explain adequately in a brief space. Take as one example our own account of the black caucus meeting, which was held in a ballroom at a hotel. Were those who were booing actually delegates? Anyone could have walked into the room. Did any journalist say a line about the black delegates who booed the single woman heckling Mondale, shaking him? What of the final mood, especially after the singing of “Impossible Dream” which closed the meeting? When “reporting” simply selects out a few lines, a few episodes, it necessarily distorts. What is an objective reporter to do? Reporters’ unfortunate response to the chaos they observed was distressingly evident in the journalists’ lounge (free beer, snacks, and gossip): Frequently seen were “A Woman is the Ticket” buttons. So, when in doubt, make what you see fit your ideology. (Was there a connection between this self-proclaimed favoritism of Ferraro and the cheers for her at the end of her press conference about her finances?) If the Democrats manage to win this year or, rather, if the Republicans manage to lose, it will be in part through the Democratic coalition’s most powerful element: the media, the maximum misanthropes, characterized well by Sam Donaldson, the biggest Nerd of all.2
October 1, 1984
1All of this is not to mention Geraldine Ferraro’s record of political accomplishment, which appears in the main to consist of having outspent her opponents in 1978, using illegally obtained funds from her husband, and reverting from her married name Zaccaro to her maiden name, which had more voter recognition in Queens (no, the story about keeping her maiden name in honor of her mother was also a lie; see the New York Times, July 19, 1984, p. 13). Given the ignorance or disregard of Mondale’s staff concerning her past financing practices, not to mention some of her husband’s business dealings, it appears that she simply filled more of the quotas better than the other possibilities, in the process Gary Hart referred to as like “the old World War II movies, where you had one of everything in the lifeboat.”
2For documentation of the overwhelmingly liberal and Democratic party preferences of journalists, see, among other studies, S. Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman, “Media and Business Elites,” Public Opinion, October/November 1981, p. 42.
II. Republicans: Still the Party of Lincoln?
By Douglas A. Jeffrey
Winston Churchill once wrote that men must choose between nailing their lives to crosses of thought or of action. Yet who, upon studying Churchill’s career or Abraham Lincoln’s, could understand this choice in any simple way? It was the thought of these men, no less than their actions, which steered their regimes through times of utmost peril, which defended the particular existences of those regimes, and by so doing delivered from danger the liberty which is essential for any hope of contemplative life as we citizens of the West have known it. The lives of thought and of action are inextricably interwoven in our political lives.
The Republican Party, unlike the Democratic, appears to acknowledge our time as one of such peril as Lincoln and Churchill faced. Whether in its present condition it is prepared to meet the crisis seemed a question worth considering when the party convened in Dallas from August 20 to 23.
The Republican choice of Dallas for its Convention seemed as fitting as that of San Francisco by the party which would embrace Jesse Jackson even were he not aheterosexual Third World patriot. (In Dallas sodomy is still considered more offensive than smoking.) No Land of the Lotus Eaters ours, whose heat sent the protest groups packing almost as soon as they arrived. Here is a commercial city, founded as an Indian Trading Post in 1841 by John Neely Bryan, who turned to real estate development when the local tribe was wiped out by the army of the Texas Republic. But here is also a city with deep roots in the Bible Belt. It is a city with some of the largest church congregations in the country, but in which Bryan’s occupational progeny are in the process of stealing-to-destroy the school of the old Guadalupe Cathedral in order to run a road for an “arts district” which our city fathers have planned. It’s a city that likes to Remember the Alamo, but is seemingly embarrassed by any structure left standing which carbon dating may prove to antedate 1974. Mobil Oil’s red neon Pegasus no longer watches over us, surrounded as it is by glass boxes and needles which might best have been buried like San Francisco’s Moscone Center.
Dallas is engaged in a perpetual love tryst with the new. So it is in a sense ironical that it should be the setting for the nomination of a 73-year-old man who doesn’t even blow-dry his hair. These things are noteworthy because there is a struggle going on within the soul of the G.O.P., and perhaps within the souls of its brightest leaders, which reflects the paradoxical character of Dallas. Economic progress and political conservatism-understood here as a return of sorts to an earlier, let’s say Lincolnian, understanding of politics-needn’t perhaps collide. But they might, and for the Republican Party as for Dallas, there lies the rub.
It has been remarked that the political parties are beginning to take on the appearance of separate nations. Considering the contrast between their reactions to our Grenada liberation and their divergent positions on abortion, the observation seems fair. Political liberty and human life are among those things that a unified republican people should understand in common and hold sacred. So if Lincoln was right about a house divided, then one of our parties must become the American house or else we shall not stand.
The Reagan presidency appears to have set the stage for a realignment in American politics. The signs of a new Republican majority were distant but clear on the Dallas horizon. There was of course present the old country club set which got aroused at the appearance of Gerald Ford, who spoke on the second night, “moderate” night, before the Doles. But on the first night there was Jeane Kirkpatrick, whose speech on foreign policy electrified the floor as nothing but Reagan’s presence could do. Her thematic attack on the self-hating liberals, the Blame-America-First Club, suggested the attraction to Reaganism for what might be called the Truman Democrat.
Then there were the blacks. Roosevelt Greer of Fearsome Foursome fame, a close friend of Robert Kennedy, spoke for Reaganism on Monday, and E. V. Hill, pastor of the Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Watts, followed two nights later (“In 1947 I spent my first night in Dallas in a pig pen at the State Fair with my pig. . . .”). The message in both cases was that blacks desire to be treated as equal individuals within the One American People under God. Forget the popular vote breakdown this year: A proper Republican rhetoric, a Lincolnian rhetoric, stands a good chance of leading these sons of the sons of slaves out of “discrete and insular” minority status, out of slavery, that is, as it did their fathers.
The American Jewish Coalition, host of a number of receptions in Dallas, is the first organized Jewish group formed to back a Republican presidential candidate, besides being as well the only group in Dallas to treat the media properly; i.e., like dogs, having stern gentlemen assigned to keep them roped off and out of the way of real citizens. George Bush’s talk to them, which unfortunately was couched almost solely in terms of our support for Israel, was by no means the strongest appeal that could be made, especially in light of our wimpish reaction to the P.L.O.’s attempted conquest of Lebanon. One might wish that Bush and other Republicans would recall that the Jews, more than others, know the dangers of affirmative action. There is not enough said of this last, which brings to mind a problem in the Republican approach to the electorate in general.
The rhetoric of ethnic appeal by Reagan/Bush officials at one Asian-American Conference sounded too much like that of a Walter Mondale. Michael Sotirhos, Chairman of “Ethnics for Reagan/Bush,” introduced a line of bumper stickers advertising everything from Koreans to Armenians for the ticket. Anna Chennault, who heads “Chinese for Reagan/Bush,” called for a minimum of 100 Asian-American delegates in 1988. So when Cindy Shinja Daub quoted Theodore Roosevelt to the effect that Americanism is a matter of principle and character rather than ethnic classification, it seemed out of place. Some Republicans are playing a game they can’t win, but, more importantly, one that they shouldn’t be playing.
Behind this game are likely those in the Reagan camp whom the press labels “pragmatists.” These are they who tried to dissuade Barry Goldwater from repeating twenty years later the Aristotelian wisdom that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” These are they who fought what they call the “extreme right wing” platform, which includes nothing shocking, and who prevented the no-nonsense Mrs. Kirkpatrick from delivering the keynote address. One can only conclude that these are they who understand very little of pragma. Contrary to what they think, Americans who are cheering in large numbers for the Wolverines in Red Dawn are eager to be instructed as to why they should cheer (which the film unfortunately does not do in any intelligent way). Who in the political theater is ready to undertake such a task?
In this regard, Ronald Reagan delivered a speech worthy of reflection at an ecumenical prayer breakfast on the morning after his nomination. This was a well-argued statement on the separate cities of man and God in America, and on the morality that binds their interests. Reagan appealed to the Founders-Washington, Jefferson, Madison-and pointed to religion and morality as the foundations of the anti-slavery and civil-rights movements. And he spoke of the changed intellectual climate in our land that has led to the necessity of defending religion and morality against the state. This is the climate of Liberalism, which holds any mention of good and evil in the public discourse to be anathema. “The truth is,” Reagan argued, “politics and morality are inseparable.”
And as morality’s foundation is religion, religion and politics are necessarily related. We need religion as a guide: we need it because we are imperfect. And our government needs the church because only those humble enough to admit they are sinners can bring to democracy the tolerance it requires in order to survive.
We establish no religion in this country nor will we ever; we command no worship, we mandate no belief. But we poison our society when we remove its theological underpinnings; we court corruption when we leave it bereft of belief. All are free to believe or not to believe, all are free to practice a faith or not. But those who believe must be free to speak of and act on their belief, to apply moral teaching to public questions.
I submit to you that the tolerant society is open to and encouraging of all religions. And this does not weaken us, it makes us strong.
And he concluded:
. . . . without God we are mired in the material, that flat world that tells us only what the senses perceive; without God there is a coarsening of the society: without God democracy will not and cannot long endure. And that, simply, is the heart of my message: If we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God, then we will be a nation gone under.
It is a shame the President did not do himself and the nation justice by delivering any such clear and reflective address on the Convention’s last night. There instead was heard an unexceptional condensation of the platform, which avoided the tough issues and ended with a predictable allusion to the Olympic Games. And that was it: Ray Charles ended things with a “soul” rendition of “America the Beautiful” when one might have wished for the West Point Band and Cadet Glee Club leading the floor in the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” But at the mercy of a planning committee which opted for an earth-tone podium rather than the traditional red-white-and-blue, what was one to expect?
So where is the party to turn after Reagan? The toughness which will be necessary to see us into the next century appears to lie with the so-called Young Turks of the Congress, strong advocates for such sound ideas as High Frontier Strategic Defenses and urban enterprise zones, who held fast against the Welfare State appeasers during this year’s platform debates. Led by such bright and enthusiastic young men as Jack Kemp of New York, Newt Gingrich of Georgia, and Vin Weber of Minnesota, the Force seems to be with this most promising coterie. Asked recently of his project, Gingrich simply proclaimed that it was to “save the West.” But I saw and heard much of him and his crew in Dallas, and I have serious doubts as to the readiness of their salvific acumen.
The Conservative Opportunity Society (C.O.S.) which Gingrich formed, meets weekly in the Capitol to plan strategy and talk over books which they read together. But the books spoken of at a C.O.S. briefing were futurist titles like Megatrends and management “classics” like The Human Side of-Enterprise. What kind of statesmen will such readings form? What sort of language will comprise their rhetoric?
The C.O.S., said Gingrich, is out to “transform not only the U.S., but the world.” Yet the paradigm he gave of a great vision, vision being at the pinnacle of the “four levels of human behavior,” was not that of Jefferson’s America but that of Ray Kroc’s fast-food empire. When asked of principles underlying the Republican Party, Gingrich went on about new technology and what free enterprise could do for Bangladesh. Rep. Bob Walker, whose interest is in low-earth orbit colonization which might provide 20 million jobs, spoke explicitly at one briefing of a “society based on technology.”
It ought to be emphasized that these men are not miscreants. They vote with the President on “social issues” and speak of reviving “traditional family values.” But morality comes across in their speech as a sort of epiphenomenon of entrepreneurism. And the flavor of their language suggests a distrustful distance from the past which becomes unsettling. To be preferred is the attitude of Senator Goldwater in a press conference on the morning of his speech, in which by the way he appealed twice to the writings of Thomas Paine: “My ideas weren’t new,” he insisted. “My God, the conservative idea of politics has been going on since the Greeks.” And indeed the Greek philosophers and their students, among whom can be counted more than a few past American statesmen, would seem to provide a much more useful as well as beautiful antidote to the Malthusian gloom which is the proclaimed nemesis of the C.O.S., than do psycho-managerial tracts or even the one older writing motioned, The Wealth of Nations.
The young leaders of the party are not conversant in the questions with which their rhetoric must learn to deal. A few grew visibly irritated with questions regarding the basis of their opinions. “The Constitution is good enough for me,” exclaimed one angrily and unexpectedly when I mentioned the Declaration of Independence. “I’m not going to enter into a discourse on natural rights,” growled another, perhaps thinking I was some sort of sexual deviant. It gives one pause, for an ideology as deeply rooted as Liberalism will not blow away without strong arguments informed by a knowledge of our political heritage, of which such irritation reveals a startling unfamiliarity.
The fundamental symptom of Liberalism is not economic stagnation, but moral emasculation and loss of a public spirit. Love, as Lincoln taught, rather than rationalized or self-interested passions, must be the bond between our citizens and our government, while principle rather than effective administration must be the object of that love. And the principle must have a moral ground.
To paraphrase a passage in Churchill’s essay, “Fifty Years Hence”: Whether on a computer terminal in low-earth orbit or on a Chevrolet in rural Nebraska, the same simple questions will be most important to the happiness of the human soul. Why are we here? What is life’s purpose? Where are we going?
Reflection on such questions, in order, together with a spirited attention to American principles, is the only means to our provision of prudent men of the sort properly steeled to guide us, by noble speeches and deeds, out from under the thralldom of Liberalism.