Reading Reagan: Paleo-Con, Neo-Con, or Pro-Con???...And...Reagan as Market Populist
Ronald Wilson Reagan...
The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.
---George Washington, "Farewell Address" (September 17, 1796)
Accordingly, they [secessionists, rebellionists] commenced by an insidious debauching of the public mind. They invented an ingenious sophism which, if conceeded, was by perfectly logical steps, through all the incidents, to the complete destruction of the Union.
The sophism itself is that any State of the Union may consistently with the national Constitution, and therefore lawfully and peacefully, withdraw from the Union without the consent of the Union or of any other State....
---Abraham Lincoln, "Message To Congress" (July 4, 1861)
Consider, for instance, the rhetorical raids which have been made upon the writings of Thomas Jefferson. His works have been ransacked by Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, radicals and reactionaries, New Englanders and Southerners, to sustain elitism and equality, capitalism and socialism, states' rights and interventionism, isolationism and internationalism, rationalism and romanticism, atheism and Christianity, agrarianism and urban development.
He [Jefferson] has been quoted at length by Earl Browder in defense of Communism, and by Ezra Pound in the cause of Fascism; by Sukarno in the interest of "guided democracy," and even by Ho Chi Minh in the name of Vietnamese nationalism.
---David Hackett Fischer, Historians' Fallacies (1970)
"Rashomon," a celebrated Japanese film, presents four witnesses observing a single crime. Each witness perceives the situation so differently that the audience experiences what appears to be four distinct events.
---Lynn Scarlett, "Clear Thinking About The Earth," Environmental Gore (1994)
Ronald Reagan lives on in the minds of Conservatives!
Since the death of Ronald Wilson Reagan, Pat Buchanan has read Reagan as a Paleo-Con and David Brooks has read Reagan as a Neo-Con. I read Reagan as a clear and concise Pro-Con.
Are we Master Brand Conservatives engaging in the rhetoric for which Lincoln indicts secessionist sophists?
Are we Conservatives following the fallacy of "all things to all people," which David Hackett Fischer assigns to the followers and grand interpreters of Thomas Jefferson? More formally, are we Conservatives suffering from the fallacy of argument ad antiquitam, which is "an illegitimate appeal to ages past in order to justify acts present or future"?
Are we Conservatives "Reagan Rashomons" -- hapless mis-readers of Ronald Wilson Reagan?
As we celebrate the birth dates of Washington (February 22) and Lincoln (February 12) and Reagan (February 6) this month, we will publish our "Reading Reagan" in coming weeks.
Stay Tuned...as the Pro-Con R&R reveals the Real Reagan...
Note: Don Devine of the American Conservative Union Foundation sent me the following links to Ronald Reagan's speech "Our Philosophy of Government" (March 20, 1981): www.acuf.org/principles/p_philos.asp and www.acuf.org/principles/index.asp.
Update: Reagan as Market Populist
Ronald Wilson Reagan was a Market Populist in words and deeds.
Consider this 1985 excerpt from Reagan's 1985 Labor Day speech in Independence, Missouri:
"I'm here to declare to the special interests something they already know, and something they hope you won't find out. Our fair share tax program is a good deal for the American people and a big step toward economic power for people who've been denied power for generations."
Now consider the frame of Market Populism versus Elitism as developed by Jeffrey Bell (Populism And Elitism: Politics In The Age Of Equality, 1992).
Here is Bell:
"Populism is optimism about people's ability to make decisions about their lives.
Elitism is optimism about the decision-making ability of one or more elites, acting on behalf of other people.
Populism implies pessimism about an elite's ability to make decisions for the people affected.
Elitism implies pessimism about the people's ability to make decisions affecting themselves.
The argument between populism and elitism has become the most important one in politics today. Not only does it explain more of what is happening in the world than the usual distinctions between left and right or socialism and capitalism; it extends in one form or another into virtually every area of life." (Bell, p. 3)
And Bell again:
"The argument between populism and elitism is a disagreement about the competence of people to handle their affairs, not a form of class conflict. A member of a political elite may be a populist; and a member of the lower-middle class may have elitist views." (Bell, p. 5)
And Bell again:
"Why is Populism optimistic about people's ability to make decisions affecting their lives, relative to the ability of elites to make these decisions?" (Bell, p. 31)
Finally, Bell again:
"It was not until the 1980s that Ronald Reagan, the most completely populist president since Andrew Jackson, gave Republicans a coherent agendea." (Bell, p. 190)
Check out this site: www.ReaganVision.com