October 27, 1964.
The polls were dismal. And they were accurate. Just over 38% of the American people were getting ready to vote for the first modern conservative to be nominated for president, Arizona’s Senator Barry Goldwater. Nonetheless, a fledgling conservative, actor Ronald Reagan, boldly committed to do a television commercial supporting Goldwater. The commercial was a version of a speech he had begun delivering around the country as he toured General Electric plants in his role as GE spokesman. The name of the talk was “A Time for Choosing,” and it aired the evening of October 27th, forty-three years ago this month. Eventually, the speech made Reagan president.
But why? And what does this have to do with Rush Limbaugh?
To say that Barry Goldwater and the conservative cause got 38% of the vote is another way of saying that Lyndon B. Johnson got 61% of the vote for the liberal cause. He campaigned explicitly on expanding the New Deal, the vast extension of government that was the brainchild of his political hero and role model, Franklin D. Roosevelt. LBJ crisscrossed America that fall of 1964 promising Americans a “Great Society” in which the government would declare war on poverty, spend billions on health care and education and housing and more, more, more. All of this combined with a promise not to send American boys to fight in Asia.
As the 2008 campaign gets under way, it is critical for Americans — and especially for conservatives — to understand what this campaign is — and is not — about.
It is not about Hillary Clinton. Yes, she has a terrible record as spouse of the president in the use-by-proxy of executive power. Yes, she is the only candidate in the race for whom a prosecutor once drew up a draft indictment. But it is the sheerest of follies to think that the decision in 2008 is about her (or for that matter, any other Democrat who may, however improbably, defeat her in the race for the Democratic nomination).
Nor is the 2008 election about Rudy, Fred, Mitt, John or the rest. Yes they individually have flaw A, B, or C. No, none of them are Ronald Reagan. But none of this is the real concern of 2008.
What the 2008 campaign is really about is the next phase in what has become an almost century old argument on the role of government in American life. And conservatism, from the moment Ronald Reagan’s image faded from the television screen that crisp October night, has been winning the argument. Contrary to appearances in 1964, it won then and it continues to win today. Why?
Elections, and 2008 will be no exception in terms of the way the dinosaur Old Media tries to present it to the American people, are not about personalities. On the surface? Sure. There will be much talk about the woman candidate just as there was about the glamorous candidate (JFK) or the extreme candidate (Goldwater) or the smiling candidate (Ike), the plain spoken candidate (Truman) and so on. It has ever been thus.
But all of this fluff masks the very central fact that the idea of more government running things in American life has been tried — and found to be an abysmal failure. FDR and LBJ won the day in their elections — but the downside was exactly just that. They did “win.” Their ideas were tried. In the short run, the American people liked what they saw. But inevitably, life never being static, as a result an entirely unanticipated reality began to come into view of what happens when government runs things in the fashion envisioned by FDR, LBJ, and now Hillary Clinton. Slowly, with that 38% of the American people in 1964 getting it first, the country began to understand what actually happens when liberalism “wins.”
HERE’S A SHORT LIST (a very short list!) of government programs inspired by the liberalism that so animated FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society, and their status today.
* Social Security — Reagan horrified liberals on the night he gave that televised speech for Goldwater by pointing out that Social Security, as run by the government, was “$298 billion in the hole.” The 2007 Social Security Trustees Report says the program, is, to use Reagan’s term, now “in the hole” in net present value terms for $6.8 trillion dollars more in benefits than it will receive in taxes. Projection? Massive annual deficits will begin running in just ten years.
* Medicare — The 2007 report from the Trustees of this program states that there is a “Medicare funding warning,” attached to this LBJ signature program and that “fund assets are projected to be exhausted” in a mere twelve years. Fraud is so extensive in the program that Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt recently asked Congress for $1.3 billionâ€¦.that’s billionâ€¦just to try and keep pace with the amount of corruption in the program.
* Medicaid — Estimates of fraud and waste in this program, according to the Heritage Foundation, run between $15-$25 billion annually.
* Education — The Detroit public school system, as pungently noted by Newt Gingrich, is a prime example of the problems that result from the bureaucratic mind-set so favored by liberalism. Run solely by liberals using every last tool of the liberal philosophical playbook, the Detroit system, as reported by the Gates Foundation, manages to graduate only one-fourth of its freshmen on time, with Education Week magazine saying the system manages to graduate 22% of its students. Some version of this problem has crippled big city school systems around the country, all of them using the liberal big-government, big-bureaucracy model. Here in my own state of Pennsylvania the Philadelphia school system was in such dire straits in 2001 (a deficit of $200 million) it prompted a takeover by the state.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?