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To be sure, these things did not just happen; some of them, like Buckley’s journalism and Goldwater’s candidacy, were the product of conscious decisions by courageous, principled, and imaginative people. But conservatives were also fortunate in their adversaries. Misreading their victories in the elections of 1964 and 1976, liberal Democrats proceeded to generate their own antibodies through policies that drove millions of working-class and middle-class people from their coalition, most notably through their solicitude for criminals (particularly violent criminals), their addiction to racial preferences and social engineering (busing), not to mention their profligate use of other people’s money for programs whose only beneficiaries were a new class of bureaucrats, civil servants, and racial “power brokers.” The liberal agenda reached something of an apogee (or nadir, depending on one’s point of view) in the Carter years, when Americans were instructed to overcome their “inordinate fear of Communism” and to apologize for their own history at home and abroad. As Kevin Phillips was to put it, “the world of Manhattan, Harvard and Beverly Hills was being exported to Calhoun County, Alabama, and Calhoun County did not like it.” Neither — and this is really the point — did a lot of the venues in the United States where Democrats had been winning elections since at least 1930.
Left-wing intellectuals and self-styled “progressives” are still not quite clear about what happened to them. How could these people (Dwight Macdonald called them “scrambled eggheads” writing for the “intellectually underprivileged”) possibly be serious competitors in the battle of ideas, much less elect politicians who subscribed to them? It must be due, they thought (and many still think), to money from obscure (and obscurantist) sources like the proverbial Texas oil tycoon.* It must be the money, they thought. What else could it be? The truth is that although some conservative donors and foundations did exist even in the darkest days of the movement, and they continue to exist today, they have never had a fraction of the resources liberals have long enjoyed. A perhaps surprising number of wealthy families have chosen to avoid conservative causes for fear of being “controversial.”**
Regnery has his facts and figures at hand. “The five largest conservative foundations’ total assets are less than the money the five largest left-wing foundations gave away in one year.” The twelve largest “progressive” foundations have combined assets of $11 billion as against $1.7 billion for the handful of conservative foundations that fund organizations like the American Enterprise Institute or the Heritage Foundation. Speaking of think tanks, Regnery points out that liberal ones spent six times what their conservative counterparts dispersed in 2002. The real difference is not money — far from it. Rather, conservatives use their resources more efficiency and intelligently. They take ideas seriously, and what perhaps gives them a crucial advantage over their adversaries, they take their opponents’ ideas seriously too.
IN A BOOK of this sort, which covers a vast range of phenomena, any reader is bound to have some quibbles. I feel that Regnery does not give sufficient importance to (though he certainly mentions) the valiant, principled, and successful efforts in the late 1950s by people like William F. Buckley Jr. to purge the movement of anti-Semites and loony conspiracists, most notably the crazies attracted to the John Birch Society. He also glides a bit too quickly over what liberals love to call the “Red Scare.” To put it bluntly, he does not share the view of many contemporary conservatives (or at least, neoconservatives) that Joseph McCarthy’s scatter-shot efforts to clean out the State Department were often counterproductive. It was not that there were no Communists in government — as recent works by historians like Ronald Radosh, Edward Herman, Allen Weinstein, Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes demonstrate, they were all too common and often in very high places. Rather, McCarthy’s particular style — lobbing careless and sometimes unsubstantiated accusations into our political space — allowed far too many people who were actually guilty to style themselves as innocent victims of a new “ism.” (For example, while the late Owen Lattimore was most assuredly a Communist or a fellow-traveler, he was not — as McCarthy at first claimed — an agent of Soviet espionage, as the senator himself was later forced to admit.)***
Regnery ends his book with a chapter entitled “We Are All Conservatives Now.” Going into the 2008 election, one might question his optimism. Certainly insofar as the Republican Party is concerned, there is no new Ronald Reagan, no matter how much individual candidates claim to be carrying forward his torch. Moreover, old divisions between libertarians and movement conservatives have (for the moment at least) apparently created an opening through which two rather improbable Democratic candidates seemed poised to walk. The very fact that the only difference between Senators Clinton and Obama is which of their government run “health care” plans is better, not to mention that both have plans to appoint the same kind of liberal judges (perhaps indeed the very same people) suggests that many of the battles fought in the 1960s and 1970s will probably have to be fought again. The difference between then and now — it is a point Regnery drives home at the end of his book — is that from the point of view of institutions and outlets, the right is far better positioned to enter the lists. Given the current prospects, it had better be.
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?