Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto
By Mark R. Levin
(Threshold Editions, 256 pages, $26)
I first encountered Mark Levin when our respective bosses, Drew Lewis (mine) and Ed Meese (Levin’s), were leading figures and friends in the Reagan era. Meese was counselor to the president and later attorney general, the conservative Reagan’s champion of conservatism; Lewis was the secretary of transportation who recommended Reagan fire the striking air-traffic controllers. The issue at hand was a minor one, a mid-level job in the Justice Department for an ex-Lewis aide. My task was simple: call Mark Levin, my counterpart, and see if Meese couldn’t help move the process along. The conversation that resulted was memorable. It turned out the ex-Lewis aide had been a Bush supporter in 1980. And while it was true that George H. W. Bush was now Ronald Reagan’s vice president, Levin took pains to instruct me on the importance of the conservative principles behind the Reagan Revolution.
Clearly, the job applicant didn’t understand them, or he would never have been caught dead supporting Bush. So, as sweetly as possible, Levin told me that Ed Meese would not be pushing a candidate who was less than devoted to conservative principles for even a mid-level job in the Reagan Justice Department.
Levin never actually used the phrase “Get off the phone, you big dope”—the line he has now made famous in his role as a star of the conservative talk radio firmament. But I found myself laughing after I hung up, sensing that in some form that was exactly the essence of the message just politely delivered.
Levin has now taken the time to put those principles into book form. It is an irony in light of the considerable success he has begun to enjoy with his ABC-syndicated talk radio show that his less public work as an attorney (the longtime president of the conservative Landmark Legal Foundation, he was also the attorney general’s chief of staff at Justice) is overshadowed by celebrity. Yet it is his first-rate legal mind, combined with an astute political sense, that has launched his veritable Renaissance-style career as lawyer, radio star, and writer.
That mind is well on display in Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto. The dawn of the Obama era has brought forth like clockwork the usual wringing of hands on the right. As Thomas E. Dewey whined about “impractical theorists” leading the Republican Party to destruction (this after twice losing the presidency as a moderate), so modern self-appointed “reformers” prattle about the need to “moderate” conservatism so that it can “win again.” As if winning to implement the wrong principles were not the classic Pyrrhic victory.
Levin will have none of this.
In a crisp series of essays he illuminates in detail essentially what he was saying to me on that long-ago telephone call. “Conservatism is a way of understanding life, society and governance,” he writes. Going back to original sources including Adam Smith, Charles Montesquieu, John Locke, and Edmund Burke, Levin briskly demonstrates how to apply conservative principles in policy areas as diverse as the free market, welfare, the environment, immigration, and the interpretation of the Constitution itself.
Pointing out that the classical definition of “liberal” is directly opposite to today’s authoritarian liberals, Levin prefers the term “Statist.” The word is a cogent description of the American left’s “insatiable appetite for control.” Says Levin of the Statist: “His sights are set on his next meal before he has fully digested his last. He is constantly agitating for government action…concocting one pretext and grievance after another to manipulate public perceptions and build momentum for the divestiture of liberty and property from its rightful possessors.” That constant agitation, he notes, is wrapped always in tones of moral indignation.
Levin is an originalist, viewing the Constitution as the philosophical bedrock on which America is built. “It is—and must be—a timeless yet durable foundation that individuals can count on in a changing world.” Issue by issue, he provides the reader an X-ray of Statism gone wild.
One issue is free market economics. This is an era when the president of the United States has fired the head of General Motors and a Rasmussen poll claims only 53 percent of the American people prefer capitalism over socialism. It is no small thing, then, for Levin to patiently explain that the “key to understanding the free market is private property.” He connects the dots among Statists, government, and recent disasters featuring Fannie Mae, the Federal Reserve, and the financial tool known as the derivative, a child of government intervention in the marketplace.
Nor is he afraid to connect the dots in the environmental struggle with Statists. Levin explodes the myth that conservatives reject science. Whether discussing the use of DDT as an insecticide, global warming, or automobile technology, Levin moves effortlessly from core principle to scientific fact, statistics, and research. He deconstructs the Statist reliance on bad science or no science, emotionalism, and faddishness. The latter could not have a better illustration than Levin’s recounting of Newsweek magazine’s alarmist 1975 article on the looming perils of “The Cooling World.” Said the magazine breathlessly: “The central fact is that after three quarters of a century of extraordinarily mild conditions, the earth’s climate seems to be cooling down.” By 2008, Newsweek was insisting that “Global Warming Is a Cause of This Year’s Extreme Weather.” Oops. In a flash of his radio show humor, Levin runs a two-and-a-half-page list of every phenomenon attributed by alarmists to global warming, from “better beer” to “gingerbread houses collapse” to “short-nosed dogs.”
This is a serious book written with great purpose by a serious man. A call to action, as its subtitle “A Conservative Manifesto” proclaims. Provided at the end of the book are tactical steps for conservatives to employ in the fight.
Hence it should not go unmentioned that Levin’s popularity as the growling, volcanic voice on the radio is more than mere shtick. It is a threat to all things left in that most sacred of leftist venues: the entertainment world. Without question, a real fear of Statists is the insistent acclaim of not only Levin but his radio colleagues and friends Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, both of whom get an acknowledgment in the book. A book signing on Long Island featuring Levin and Hannity produced a celebrity-sized crowd of 8,000 fans. These three have mastered the art of translating core conservative principles into a popular entertainment form. This is kryptonite to the American left, which views itself as the invulnerable arbiter of American culture in the media. The telltale mention of Hannity and Levin in a recent Vanity Fair hit piece on Limbaugh is a sure sign of just how outraged Statists are over the trio’s influence. This influence also irritates conservative “reformers” who don’t have 8,000 people standing in line for their books.
Mark Levin has written the necessary book of the Obama era. A book that he was born to write. Its best-seller success testifies not only to Levin’s smarts and popularity but also to the hunger in America for timeless conservative principles.
By the way: the guy I tried to get Levin to hire in the Reagan administration? He got his job. In the Bush administration.