Well, Super Tuesday is over, and as Republicans survey the rubble left in its wake, we need to get an answer from our front runner to this question: “Mr. Trump, what will you build?” The answer to that question will not only decide the fate of our party, but also our country.
As I described in my last post, I came of age as Reagan set about designing and building a New Republican Party. His blueprint called for creating a new conservative party that restored the edifice of Madisonian government built on the foundation of the individual, the family, faith, private enterprise, and local and state responsibility, and to relight the beacon of America to guide the world away from the darkness of communism and toward a model of freedom. He called his vision “A Shining City on a Hill,” and he persuaded the GOP and the country to help him build it.
But almost as soon as he left office, all the old factions that he had tried to blend into this “new” party began to fight against each other to alter the blueprint to fit their own agendas. Soon, as we fought, the liberals and progressives reasserted themselves to continue their decades-long remodeling of our culture and politics away from the Madisonian model and towards a hyper-secular, European, democratic-socialist model of national, top-down governance. While we splintered, they remodeled; and, eventually, we and our elected leadership were reduced to simply forming picket lines of protest around the progressive worksite.
By 2009, many people had enough and wanted to break through the picket lines and tear down what the progressives were changing. By last summer, the anger of those wanting to stop the progressive work had reached a fever pitch, but our party leaders appeared incapable of doing anything but protest and picket.
Enter the great deal-maker and developer, Donald Trump. I, for one, do not believe that he was the best candidate to lead, restore, or unite our party going into the 2016 election; but, frankly that was never his intent. Instead, it is now clear that he planned to demolish both the Republican Party and the Washington “establishment” and start the construction work all over again. To those whose frustrations had boiled-over, Trump’s demolition of the remnants of the New Republican Party of Reagan was welcome, because they viewed it as the first step toward demolishing all that was wrong with what had been built over the last generation since Reagan went home to California. But the problem is, none of us really know what Mr. Trump plans to build after the rubble is cleared (other than a wall paid for by Mexico), and many of us fear that he really has no plan for rebuilding America after the demolition is finished.
But a good real-estate developer—and Trump has been a very successful developer—does not start demolition work without a plan for what he will build in its place; nor does he start a historical restoration of a landmark without a researched plan for the restoration work. So, it is time for The Donald to show us his blueprint to “Make America Great Again.”
This plan must not be just for one building, but must encompass rebuilding the entire “Shining City” that has been left in ruins by the work of modern progressives (and the neglect of post-Reagan conservatives). It must include clearing rubble and building new structures for a new century, as well as carefully designing restorations of great landmarks of our traditions and principles. It also must include a plan for relighting the beacon of freedom and stability to protect the world against the new threats we face in this century. If his design incorporates a strong foundation and infrastructure of the individual, family, faith, private enterprise, and local and state responsibility upon which a modern, Madisonian city will be built, I believe he eventually can persuade our party and our country to follow him to “Make America Great Again.”
But if his plan is just to demolish the ruins of the “Shining City” without more, then we conservatives must stop this project now before we lose the last remnants of what we worked so hard to build over two generations.
Mr. Trump, if you truly want to “Make America Great Again,” it is time to show us your plan.
After agonizing for months over my choice in the GOP Presidential race in this 2016 election, I voted yesterday. For the first time since I cast my first vote almost 40 years ago, I felt a sense of loss and bewilderment as I left the polling place.
Forty years ago this month, I began my personal journey as a conservative. On a cold evening in February, 1976, a friend of mine and I—both in the second semester of our senior year of high school—attended a small gathering in Peoria, Illinois, where Ronald Reagan was speaking to a group comprised mostly of old friends from his high school and college days in Dixon and Eureka, Illinois.
I was not there that night by accident. Twice before, due to my parents’ political and social ties, I had personally engaged with the future President. The first time, which I only “remember” through the stories that my father later told, the then-Governor of California was so bored with the adults who were seeking his attention, that he left their company and spent the better part of an afternoon talking and laughing with a 10-year old boy who was oblivious to who he was, but who enjoyed and monopolized his company. The second time, a few years later, I spoke with him over the phone twice during calls he made to my mother to plan a retirement party for one of his college football teammates, and he genuinely seemed to care about how I was doing in school and what my own hopes and dreams were. It was because of these experiences, and the coaxing of my parents and my friend, that I took a break from home work on a winter night in 1976 to attend the meeting in Peoria.
Reagan spoke that night, not as a stilted candidate, but as a friend to those of us in the room, about his vision for the GOP and the country, as well as his strategy for the upcoming Illinois primary. And what I heard that night would start me on my own political journey—one I still travel today. Much of what he said that night would find its way into the 1976 GOP platform, and then into his blueprint for a “New Republican Party,” which he unveiled in early 1977.
It is hard to explain to someone who did not live through those years the state of the country at that time. Like others my age, I had grown-up watching the country seemingly unravel through the riots, the Vietnam War, Watergate, and Soviet expansion, and it truly seemed like no one knew what to do or how to lead the country into the future. And yet, here was a man that exuded confidence and optimism about the future, and who seemed to deeply understand and love our country in a way I had never heard expressed. Though I would see him speak a few more times over the next decade, it would be what he said that night that changed everything for me.
I think the journalist and author, Theodore White, captured the predicament we faced in those years best in his two books: In Search of History and America in Search of Itself. At the end of the first book, written soon after the 1976 election, he saw a coming decision between
whether America would be transformed, in the name of Opportunity, simply into a Place, a gathering of discreetly defined and entitled groups, interests and heritages; or whether it could continue to be a nation, where all heritages joined under roof-ideas of communities within government.
Then, toward the end of the second book, published after the 1980 election, he made the following observation:
I write and close this book in a clouded time, not knowing whether it is twilight or dawn, an era ending or an era beginning. It is twilight if new policy carries us back to the old America, before its transformation; it is dawn if new policy carries us forward to release us from civil fear and the web of federal control. Somewhere, in the decades of upheaval, came a wrong turning. Another wrong turning could take politics away from traditional politicians and bring us convulsions in the streets.
For most of my adult life, I believed that—with Reagan’s guidance—we had come through the upheaval to start a revitalization of America based on the best of its principles, that the world had been made safe from totalitarianism through American leadership, and that a consensus had formed that “the era of big government was over.”
But then, we took another wrong turn that only now seems clear through our rear-view mirror. Through the tumultuous year of scandal and impeachment in 1998, the disputed election of 2000, 9/11, and the Iraq War, the new consensus broke apart to unearth grievances and ideas that we thought had been vanquished. Then, the responses to Katrina and the financial meltdown of 2008 showed how fragile our resurrection from civil fear and federal control had been. And over these last 7 years, even after the election of our first African-American President, the unraveling of the consensus and the re-emergence of federal control exposed the consequence of our failure to fully assimilate all of our neighbors into our American community. Adding to all of this upheaval at home, the progress we made to form a better world through American leadership has crumbled, with Russia, China, North Korea, and a totalitarian faction of political Islam, each threatening world stability—and America.
Frankly, I believe we are more fractured at home and abroad today than at any time since Nixon left the White House, and there is no Reagan to help guide us out of this mess. Instead, we are left with candidates who either lack the understanding of America to lead, lack an appreciation of current problems to lead, lack the skills to lead, lack the vision to lead, lack the experience and maturity to lead, or lack the integrity to lead. In this vacuum has emerged a convulsion of political extremes, which is leading us toward a choice between an entertaining populist who wants to tear the “establishment” down and start over, and two varying degrees of socialists. As the late Yogi Berra might have said, we’ve reached the fork in the road and we have to take it.
So, as I left the polling place yesterday I truly felt as though we had lost what we had worked so hard to re-establish over these last 40 years, and I’m bewildered with the fork we will take this fall. I honestly don’t know in the short term where we will go from here, and I am concerned that things will get worse before they get better.
However, as I think back to that night 40 years ago, I still believe that eventually the answer will emerge and we will find the right road to take. But it won’t be behind the leadership of another Reagan—that moment is over. Instead, the leadership, when it emerges will come from the source of strength that Reagan believed in—individual Americans applying our shared principles. When and if we embrace each other and our shared principles again, and we find the courage to use them again to build a strong society of free people, this moment too shall pass.
I believe this will happen, because it must happen. As Reagan reminded President Ford and the delegates at the end of the 1976 Republican Convention, in the battle for our exceptional country and society “there is no substitute for victory.”
Review by Steve Parkhurst
“Conservatism is at a crossroads.”
Matt Lewis does not open his new book, Too Dumb to Fail, with this warning, it shows up later after the facts have been laid out and the suggestions for survival have been made. But it is an important premise that was important throughout Lewis’ new work.
Too Dumb To Fail is a page turner for sure. Given the title of the book, you might suspect the book was written by a vitriolic blonde bomb-thrower from Fox News. Fortunately for those of us who want to win and grow the movement, this is not the case. The subtitle of the book illustrates its true purpose: How the GOP Betrayed the Reagan Revolution to Win Elections (and How It Can Reclaim Its Conservative Roots).
Too Dumb to Fail moves at a nice pace because Matt Lewis is an interesting writer. He writes clearly and does not overcomplicate topics that are easy to muddy-up. The difference between Matt Lewis and so many other writers is that he cares about the conservative movement. He is not looking back at 40 to 60 years of activism and then condemning everything about the future. Matt Lewis is as much a part of the future of our movement as he is a part of its past. Some of us campaign-types heard Matt teach sessions at party conventions, some of which included his first book, Teaching Elephants to Talk. Matt’s ability to teach us to talk, is perhaps what makes him such a good writer. He is not a lecturer; he is a teacher.
Lewis walks us through a brief, yet thorough history of the conservative movement, which of course includes Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign, an edited version of William F. Buckley’s arrival in the movement, and of course Ronald Reagan’s slow but steady rise to the highest office in the land. Chapter 1, “A History of Brilliant Conservatism,” concludes with a section titled “Conservatism Was Smart.”
That eventually leads us to a really interesting chapter that discusses the hucksters who fleece our movement of dollars, yet produce nothing. Lewis humorously identifies these people as the Con$ervative Movement. For instance, Lewis writes about a group of PACs that spent roughly $54 million, but not quite $4 million of that was actually spent on getting Republicans elected. $50 million in conservative dollars wasted, possibly extorted, just in the 2014 election cycle alone. That story will get your blood boiling. We did well in 2014, but we could have done even better.
Lewis similarly discusses the 2013 Virginia race for Governor where Ken Cuccinelli nobly took on Terry McAuliffe. One group took in over $2 million saying they were going to help get Cuccinelli elected, yet they spent “less than one-half of one percent” on Cuccinelli’s losing campaign. Lewis also briefly touches upon “Joe the Plumber” (a phenomenon I never understood) and his brief stay in the limelight of the Con$ervative Movement.
There are so many great examples in this book that really highlight the problems we are up against, even within our own movement. Lewis points to absurd statistics thrown out by Donald Trump, which is one thing. Then we realize he got the phony statistics from one of Ann Coulter’s books, and the statistics have been thoroughly discredited. Then there is Donald Trump’s lack of understanding that the money that funds Planned Parenthood “is fungible.” Followed later by Ann Coulter declaring, this time via Twitter, in response to Donald Trump’s immigration plan, “I don’t care if [Donald Trump] wants to perform abortions in White House after this immigration policy paper.”
One more point about Ann Coulter, and this is not covered in Matt Lewis book per se, but this illustrates the deeper point. South Carolina recently held their Republican primary and Marco Rubio finished behind Ann’s guy, Donald Trump. Coulter tweeted, “Could someone please have Marco’s bartender dad make me a mojito? I’d like to toast Trump’s amazing victory.” Marco Rubio’s dad passed away in 2010. This is why sometimes we seem like we’re swimming against the tide, within our own movement.
Lewis puts great emphasis throughout this book on intellectual thought in the Republican party, more of it in the distant past than in its present. Ours is a movement founded upon solid philosophical and intellectual arguments and principles. Lewis is not writing this to tell us that we are dumb now. He is telling us why this intellectual foundation matters. “When you lose intellectuals, you lose popular culture and, before you know it, you’ve lost the culture war,” writes Lewis.
Why did Obama’s “you didn’t build that” remark not really matter to the outcome of the 2012 election? Lewis has an interesting take on this in the wider view of our culture wars.
Lewis challenges us not to simply walk away from pop culture, but rather to influence it and affect it. “Christian conservatives must work to authentically engage the culture, instead of trying to ape what’s already popular.” As Lewis notes later, “By first rejecting the culture and turning inward, and then focusing almost solely on politics, conservatives now find themselves increasingly shut out of major conversations that average Americans are interested in.” Lewis arrives at a sensible and pragmatic solution, “The answer is for conservatives to make good art, not necessarily to make conservative art.”
Do you think pop culture and the conservative movement do not go together? Lewis correctly points out that, “Winning elections means having a tent big enough to attract a majority.” He follows that up later with an entire chapter titled, “Modernize, Don’t Moderate.” He was right to do this because too often the “big tent” concept gets labeled as something it is not, and those in pursuit of a bigger tent are labeled as well.
We have some demographic realities to face. Whether it is race, education, age, location, or marital status, our movement is losing ground in many of the numbers that matter. Lewis writes, “the conservative moment appears to want to keep the GOP a party almost exclusively for older, whiter, more rural Americans.” He continues, “For Reagan-Kemp conservatives, this is a philosophical and mathematical problem.” Rather than “doubling down on cohorts that are losing population,” Lewis is instead suggesting ways that we can grow the movement without dumbing down our principles.
On election day 2012, when Mitt Romney would fall short of unseating an incumbent President, exit poll respondents were asked about four qualities of each candidate, Romney and Obama. Mitt Romney won on three of the four qualities, but it was the one quality that Obama won that made all the difference. On the question about which candidate “cares about people like me,” Obama won in a landslide. Lewis tells us what that number was, and why it matters.
Lewis has a message for talk radio hosts, read the book to see it, it is important. Lewis talks about the faux warnings from some hosts and what he terms “apocalyptic punditry.” If we “never leave the echo chamber,” Lewis warns, we are more prone to believe the “apocalyptic punditry” or even buy into the unbelievable election predictions, like the one Dick Morris made in 2012 about Romney winning 300 electoral votes on his way to a 5 to 10 point win. (Romney got 206 electoral votes, Obama got 332, and Romney lost by nearly 4 percentage points). Lewis humorously notes, “Morris’s predictions were so egregious that Fox News actually dropped him as a contributor.”
So, what should conservatives do today? Lewis writes, “The real answer, I suggest, is to look to the Reagan model-but not in a way that looks backward or assumes nominating a hard-core conservative is a panacea. Reagan looked to the future, and so should we.” This will not be easy, change is tough. But change can also be our missing ingredient. The reality about the Right, is as Lewis notes, “it has to be better, stronger, tougher, smarter.” Too Dumb to Fail can help with all of that.
Finally, readers will get twenty book suggestions at the end. I am going to do what every author wants done and suggest you get a copy of the book and read the list (and the entire book) for yourself. Lewis’ book suggestions are not typical. If you go in expecting to see books by Sean Hannity, Dick Morris or Michael Savage, or any of Ann Coulter’s books, you will be disappointed. This list is deeper than all of that.
There is so much more in this book. For instance, what is pastor Tim Keller doing that is worth replicating within the conservative movement? What are “Ideological Immigrants”? Why are we implored to “Teach Your Children Well”? What about think tanks that are now becoming activists as well? What is “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind”? And what is the reality about how to “Appeal to Hispanics”?
This all amounts to a very interesting book at a very good time.
I have intentionally been vague on many of the topics discussed in Too Dumb to Fail because I want to really encourage you to read this book. It is a quick read, it is succinct and well written, it is a critique and not a condemnation, and perhaps as important, it is aspirational. Too Dumb to Fail is a book I will go back to over the next few years and make sure I have properly implemented many of the suggestions that Lewis makes.
As a final tease for Too Dumb to Fail, any book that can recall a scene from the baseball movie Bull Durham, which involves a great scene between Crash Davis and Nuke LaLoosh, and can relate that to political messaging, that’s a job well done. Enjoy.
By Ed Hubbard and Steve Parkhurst
By the end of this week, Congressman Paul Ryan will be the next Speaker of the House. Both of us believe that his election will be a great step forward for our party and our country.
Unfortunately, some among us will always be unhappy—even when they get what they want. They will continue to criticize, fundraise, and write books based on the division they continue to create, including now shooting their rhetorical guns at Ryan, whom many of these “conservative” critics adored just yesterday. Seriously, with friends like these, who needs the Democrats?
Regardless of the noise these dividers may generate, the truth is that the elevation for Ryan to the Speakership provides us with a rare opportunity to both reform government based on conservative principles, and to then actually govern using those principles.
For his part, Ryan has been offering insights into what he wants to accomplish as Speaker. In an email last week to his House colleagues, Ryan wrote, “I know many of you want to show the country how to fix our tax code, how to rebuild our military, how to strengthen the safety net, and how to lift people out of poverty. I know you’re willing to work hard and get it done, and I think this moment is ripe for real reform.”
For a real understanding of Paul Ryan, look no further than to his 2014 book, The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea. The reality of Ryan’s early life, including the loss of his dad, and his introduction to the political process, are all worth reading in further detail. Understanding Ryan’s family, and his commitment to and appreciation of time with his wife and three kids, is also worthwhile. All of these life experiences have combined with his commitment to conservative principles to create a coherent conservative reformer and leader.
As for the “real reform” that Ryan spoke of, as a leader in the Republican party, he already has demonstrated his willingness to buck the system as needed, and he has offered roadmaps for economic growth and entitlement reform.
A post last week by the Tax Foundation stated that under a Speaker Ryan, “the prospects for sound, comprehensive tax reform are bright.” This should be no surprise, after all Ryan had his economic and supply-side upbringing at the foot of the master, the late Jack Kemp. This finding was based on the ten months that Ryan has spent as Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and the work of that body in those ten months.
And Ryan’s commitment to Reagan’s and Kemp’s visions of the Republican party doesn’t end with tax reform, but extends to their dreams of giving all our neighbors a hand-up out of poverty through the creative use of the free market, the private sector, and local institutions. Fifty years of failure caused by the current model of a “war on poverty” is simply enough wasted time and money, and enough of the loss of dignity, pride and hope for the millions who got swallowed up by the insidious programs and offerings from big government. Ryan points a way for our party and our communities toward a better model.
Paul Ryan released his findings and offered a new plan in the summer of 2014. His plan went nowhere, as is to be expected with President Obama clinging to his pen and his phone. However, what Ryan seeks, a consolidation of redundant services that offer help to the poor and needy, and thus a wiser use of the money so that more of the money being spent is enabling those seeking a hand-up and not a handout, instead of being spent of bigger and bigger government.
Ryan’s embrace of civil society is true to the roots of conservatism. True conservatism is rooted in efforts of individuals and private organizations stepping in where government can be pushed aside. This line of thinking needs a greater embrace from Republicans and from conservatives. If you desire a more constitutionally limited government, this is one way to begin the march toward it.
Therefore, our emphatic support of Ryan should not be confused with an embrace of the idea that conservatives should “compassionately” do more at the federal level. As limited government conservatives, we want power restored to local communities, sooner rather than later. Instead, our support for Paul Ryan is an embrace of a new way forward. It is support for shining a light on problems that get us to stop tinkering around the edges, and instead adopt reforms that really help our neighbors live better lives and achieve their God-given potentials.
One way to gage Ryan’s potential is by the enemies he is already creating—he is the Speaker the Dems have always feared. According to the likes of the New York Times, Huffington Post, Mother Jones and Slate, the liberals don’t want him as the next Speaker. In fact, John Hart candidly noted in his editorial for Opportunity Lives, “Ryan is the Speaker conservatives have always dreamed of and liberals have always feared. Let the battle begin.”
Rick Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government, wrote for Investor’s Business Daily last week, “If Paul Ryan is speaker, he will have a chance to lead. A chance to show his critics that he can truly unite the Republican Party around limited government principles and make progress in stopping Obama’s agenda.” We agree.
In his email to House colleagues last week, Ryan stated, “we can show the country what a commonsense conservative agenda looks like.” Again, we agree. Let’s finally unite to press that agenda.
As we see it, Paul Ryan is the best choice for Speaker of the House. He is the right man at the right time.
By Steve Parkhurst
Finally! It may have taken six and a half years after his passing, but there is finally a book decidedly about Jack Kemp. Due for release in bookstores and online this coming Tuesday, Jack Kemp: The Bleeding-Heart Conservative Who Changed America by Mort Kondracke and Fred Barnes, offers readers a fresh recap of the life of “the most important politician of the twentieth century who was not President.” A sentiment I agree with fully.
Any reader of Big Jolly Politics knows of the regular mentions of Jack Kemp on this website, primarily by Ed Hubbard and myself, but not limited to the two of us.
While Jack Kemp is not an authorized biography, this is the first attempt to explain a man and his legacy that deserves understanding and studying. Jack Kemp is well documented and it reads fairly well as it never gets bogged down in mush the way some political narratives can.
The authors rely on news reports of the day and official documents to back up plenty of fresh interviews with those who worked with Jack Kemp over the course of his days as a football player, a Congressman, a Presidential candidate, a Vice-Presidential candidate and finally as a think tank entrepreneur.
Kondracke and Barnes spend a lot of time weaving their way through the two biggest domestic legislative accomplishments of the Ronald Reagan presidency: the Economic Recovery and Tax Act of 1981 and the Tax Reform Act of 1986. Jack Kemp was crucial and necessary to both.
The supply-side economics which were the basis of the large tax rate cuts voted and signed into law in 1981 are but one part of the success story. The 1986 Tax Reform Act was at least equally as important, though seemingly less talked about in political writing. Much has been written about the supply-side economics movement on the 1970s and 1980s, but the 1986 story is told less often.
Both stories are shared in Jack Kemp in great detail, with Jack Kemp not necessarily playing the hero, but showing true leadership, much of it based purely on principle. And readers are offered a play-by-play for both, and for good reason.
The twenty-five years of prosperity that the tax rate cuts engineered are impossible to argue against, though many on the Left are still trying to debunk. And the tax reform was so monumental it garnered “the largest audience for a bill signing during the Reagan presidency.” And as Kondracke and Barnes note, “Reagan called the measure “the best anti-poverty bill, the best pro-family measure, the best job-creation program ever to come out of the Congress of the United States.”
The authors also editorialized, “The 1986 tax reform stands even now as a model for leaders of both parties who hope to make the tax code simpler, fairer, and more economically efficient.” Reading Jack Kemp makes this statement clearer, and valid.
These were stories worth reading. For some, the play-by-play will be too much minutiae to digest. For students or researchers, there can never be enough. It is a fine line to tread with a book such as this. Congressional and policy battles can be that way. And the policy fights are not limited to economics, but also reach into foreign policy and matters related to the defense of the nation.
Jack Kemp offers much in the way of campaign reporting on Kemp’s campaign for President in 1988 and his campaign to be Bob Dole’s Vice President in 1996. But compared to the policy battles of the day, the campaigns were given considerably less space.
One disappointment in Jack Kemp, is the lack of focus on Kemp’s work in what we would call “civil society,” though there are many differing views on what that actually refers to. Yes, there is an entire chapter titled “Poverty Warrior” which recounts Kemp’s years as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). But this chapter really does not do justice to what Jack Kemp wanted and what he was actually fighting for.
During the years of the first Bush Administration, 1989 and 1993, there was only one point where a Kempian approach to things could have really changed perceptions and reality for President Bush. That point came in 1992 when Los Angeles erupted into riots after the Rodney King jury verdict. Jack Kemp was probably the last best hope to save the Bush administration and earn it a second term in office.
But, it was too late to save the Bush presidency. The work that Kemp had pursued could have changed history, had there been a more receptive audience, both in the White House and around the country. By the time the Bush administration cared about what Jack Kemp wanted to address, Bill Clinton had already told audiences he felt their pain, and he was on his way to unseating an incumbent President. The riots earned a mention on parts of 6 pages, total. For a book that consists of 327 pages of content, this is a real shame.
Jack Kemp spent plenty of time and political capital fighting for community-saving ideas like urban enterprise zones and parental choice in education. Kemp was indeed a “poverty warrior” wanting to offer a light at the end of the tunnel for those in the worst of despair, and refusing to turn his back on “the least of these.” Kemp saw economic growth as a vital element to turning the tide, or in the “rising tide” that would lift all boats. While he could be long-winded, as Kondracke and Barnes point out, and Kemp could talk more than some audiences were willing to listen, he never stopped believing in or advocating for economic growth as the ultimate solution.
The authors record their ultimate conclusion this way, “The full Kemp model—“bleeding heart” and “conservative”—is what the nation needs. Politicians who are principled, dynamic, positive, cheerful, inclusive, bipartisan, optimistic, unorthodox, disposed to compromise, committed to courting minorities, urban oriented, pro-growth, and antibureaucratic—and interested in ideas and action, not political tactics or personal attack. Idealistic. Visionary.”
We can quibble about these words until the end of time, and we probably will. Though it is hard to argue against them and remain true to them at the same time. But, the vision that a “Kemp model” (as the authors see it) offers, is the possibility of a return to greatness.
The reason to seek the “Kemp model” again now is rather simplistic in its nature, especially from a political point of view. In their interview with Norman Ornstein, he told the authors, “if Kemp had prevailed, we would be looking at a majority Republican party today” and they put forth, “because a Kempian GOP could win 40 to 50 percent of the Hispanic vote and 15 to 20 percent of the African American vote (versus 27 percent and 6 percent, respectively, for Mitt Romney in 2012).”
It is hard to argue against that math.
There are many reasons why the Kempiam model did not succeed in the ways that it could have. Some of these reasons are covered by Kondracke and Barnes, other reasons will have to wait. What Jack Kemp makes clear, is that it can be done. It just cannot be done alone. Whether is a single politician who takes up the mantle against the D.C. machine, or by a society that sends elected representatives to Washington and just hopes for the best. Jack Kemp needed Ronald Reagan, and vise versa. But even then, they were two men against the world.
What we need will require a team.
Leaders, whether church, business or political, cannot make themselves the things that make up the “Kemp model.” Not overnight anyway. But we can nurture these things in our young people and in our next generation of leaders. To not do this, to not pursue these ideals, is to witness more of the same that we have watched since the day Ronald Reagan boarded Marine One for the last time and waved goodbye.
The price for such inaction is way too high.
Finally, there is a Jack Kemp story beyond the Washington D.C. area code waiting to be told. That story will be told. This narrative is not offered in this noble work by Mort Kondracke and Fred Barnes, but this book is an important first work in the telling of the Jack Kemp story and I highly recommend it.
As the title states, Jack Kemp “changed America”, it was not the other way around. To see the real possibilities that America can achieve, start with Jack Kemp add some Ronald Reagan, and begin the real work from there.
On the final night of the Republican National Convention of 1976 in Kansas City, Ronald Reagan was invited by Gerald Ford to come to the podium to give some final remarks that closed the convention. Lately, as I’ve tried to make sense of all that seems to be happening here and abroad, my mind continues to return to those final remarks delivered almost 39 years ago:
…I had an assignment the other day. Someone asked me to write a letter for a time capsule that is going to be opened in Los Angeles a hundred years from now, on our Tricentenial….Then I tried to write—let your own minds turn to that task. You are going to write for people a hundred years from now, who know all about us. We know nothing of them. We don’t know what kind of a world they will be living in…And suddenly it dawned on me, those who would read this letter a hundred years from now will know whether those missiles fired. They will know whether we met our challenge. Whether they have the freedoms that we have known up until now will depend on what we do here. Will they look back with appreciation and say, ‘Thank God for those people in 1976 who headed off that loss of freedom, who kept us now 100 years later free, who kept our world from nuclear destruction’[.] And, if we failed, they probably won’t get to read the letter at all because it spoke of individual freedom, and they won’t be allowed to talk of that or read of it. This is our challenge; and this is why here in this hall tonight, better than we have ever done before, we have got to quit talking to each other about each other and go out and communicate to the world that we may be fewer in numbers than we have ever been, but we carry a message they are waiting for….There is no substitute for victory, Mr. President.
It didn’t take 100 years to know what happened when America met that challenge in the 1980s. Pope John Paul II may have summarized the result as eloquently as anyone during his address to the UN in 1995:
The revolutions of 1989 were made possible by the commitment of brave men and women inspired by a different, and ultimately more profound and powerful vision: the vision of man as a creature of intelligence and free will, immersed in a mystery which transcends his own being and endowed with the ability to reflect and the ability to choose—and thus capable of wisdom and virtue. A decisive factor in the success of those non-violent revolutions was the experience of social solidarity: In the face of regimes backed by the power of propaganda and terror, that solidarity was the moral code of the—power of the powerless, a beacon of hope and an enduring reminder that it is possible for man’s historical journey to follow a path which is true to the finest aspirations of the human spirit.
Sadly, we have squandered so much of what was accomplished by the “brave men and women,” including Reagan, who the Pope described. Today, while still facing the perennial problems caused by the under-education, underemployment and over-incarceration of too many of our neighbors, so many of the positive accomplishments of that generation seem to be unraveling both here and abroad. It is time for the adults among us to finally say, “Enough is enough!” …“to quit talking to each other about each other” … and to go out and do the hard work of rebuilding a functional federal system at home, and a stable world abroad. If we don’t change the trajectory of the course we are on, our children and grandchildren will pay dearly for our descent into madness, and those people in 2076 will not forgive us for squandering the legacy of their birthright as American citizens.
Much has been written about President Obama’s desire to be remembered as the left’s Ronald Reagan, but I don’t think he has ever comprehended who Reagan was, how he earned his position of leadership through decades of work and persuasion, how he lead both this nation and the world, and what he helped accomplish. Rather than provide Reaganesque leadership, Obama’s tenure in the White House has accelerated the polarization of politics in Washington, and the demise of constitutional law and responsibility within and among the political branches of the federal government, to an extent not seen since the last years of Woodrow Wilson’s administration.
Those final months of the Wilson years, when Wilson and the Senate refused to even talk to each other let alone properly function, helped turn the hope of a positive peace into the seeds of a devastating worldwide conflict that stretched from the 1930s through the 1980s. With today’s available weapons and technologies that are capable of destroying all semblance of civilization, we can’t afford to keep sowing these old seeds.
We can all recite the slings and arrows shot between our warring political and cultural camps over the last 50 years, which we believe caused or contributed to our present dysfunction, but we no longer have the luxury to wallow in the blame game over who started it, and who is wrong—it needs to end. And it needs to end with a re-acceptance of the proper spheres of responsibilities within our system of self-government from the individual, to the family, to the neighborhood and its private institutions, to the schools and local governments, to the states, and to the nation; with a re-acceptance of the proper role of federal government to secure and protect our system, to stabilize the world to allow people to prosper and realize their God-given rights; and with a re-acceptance of the proper responsibilities of Congress and the President, including the proper limits on those responsibilities.
Tonight, there will be children going to sleep in neighborhoods in Houston, in Ferguson, in Kiev, in Tel Aviv, in Ramallah, in Mosul, in Kabul, in Tehran, in Moscow, in Pyongyang, in Havana, in Caracas, and in thousands of other communities in a hundred more countries. All of them deserve to dream of a future in which they are free and safe to use their God-given rights and talents to work and earn an income, to raise a family, to contribute to a community, and to worship and believe as they choose, so they can live a wonderful and full life. Whether or not we like the responsibility history has placed on us, these children’s dreams have no chance of being fulfilled without a functioning American government that continues its great constitutional experiment in self-government, and that honors the promise it made over half a century ago to make the world safe so that freedom in all its aspects can take root, grow and reach full bloom. For tonight’s dreams to be fulfilled, we must start to re-build our constitutional self-government today.
Unfortunately, we face about 22 more months of a Presidency that is ideologically and intellectually committed to continue the unraveling of the historic American constitutional experiment, and of America’s promise to protect and stabilize the world for freedom. The most we adults can hope to accomplish in Washington over these last months is to thwart any further unraveling, cauterize the wounds to our system as much as possible, and persuade the American people that we will meet the historic challenge to fix the problems accelerated by the Obama Administration if given the chance in the Election of 2016.
But there is much we can and must do at the state and local level to prepare for a new day in Washington. First and foremost, we—all of us—must accept our responsibilities as free citizens for self-government. The acceptance of these fundamental responsibilities for the care and maintenance of ourselves, our families, and our neighborhoods is the most direct way that most of us will ever become, as Pope John Paul II described, men and women “of intelligence and free will, immersed in a mystery which transcends his own being and endowed with the ability to reflect and the ability to choose—and thus capable of wisdom and virtue.” Unless we accept these fundamental responsibilities, re-establishing a modern Madisonian republic will be virtually impossible, because limited government requires that citizens fill the voids left by the limitations on government with their own actions.
If we accept these fundamental responsibilities, we will summon the courage to demand that our elected officials reform state and local governments (including school districts) to re-assert and meet their constitutional responsibilities, and to retake control of their own budgets. Never in our lifetimes have we had the opportunity to re-assert our responsibilities and make the necessary reforms, because we now control a substantial majority of state governments. Let’s re-imagine state and local government responsibilities and budgets as if the federal government no longer interjected its regulations and funds into the operations of state and local affairs, and then begin the hard task of planning reforms based on that re-imagined future.
By re-taking control of our own lives and communities, and of our state and local governments, we can create the necessary conditions for re-establishing limited government at the federal level and re-establishing our priorities at home and abroad. If we succeed, we can rebuild the trust of our allies and the respect of our adversaries, so that tonight’s dreams will become tomorrow’s reality of a free and prosperous world.
We all aspire to be “immersed in a mystery which transcends” our lives, as were Reagan and the revolutionaries of 1989—we all want to do more than just exist, we want to be a part of something larger than ourselves. The exceptional American experiment in constitutional self-government has always given us this opportunity—all we have ever been challenged to do is to seize it, rather than allow a faceless bureaucracy to fill the vacuum left by of our inaction. This moment in history again has given us the challenge to seize this opportunity. If we frame the issue before us in this way, we will keep our focus on the right questions, and the right answers, in the long days ahead. If we succeed, we will have met our generation’s obligation to “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity,” and those citizens in 2076 will honor our memory.
“There is no substitute for victory”.
Review by Steve Parkhurst
“It should be known that at the beginning of the dynasty, taxation yields a large revenue from small assessments. At the end of the dynasty, taxation yields a small revenue from large assessments.”
Ibn Khaldun, a 14th century philosopher, may have been the first person to summarize supply-side economics, some 600 years before Congressman Jack Kemp’s Jobs Creation Act was introduced as legislation and supply-side economics was given its name.
The Pillars of Reaganomics: A Generation of Wisdom from Arthur Laffer and the Supply-Side Revolutionaries, edited by Brian Domitrovic, represents a stellar addition to the supply-side economics library. What Brian Domitrovic has done here is he has taken monumental statements, monumental documents, and he has added some context and some history around them, and he has presented them in pretty much their entire original form.
This deeper, modern day context is really enlightening. And invaluable.
From a title that includes the word “pillars,” this book is exactly what you would expect it to be: Foundational documents that outline supply-side economics. What the title doesn’t tell you is that the commentary included in the book spans time from before Reaganomics (in the form of the Kemp-Roth tax bill), to the early days after passage and implementation, to the post-Reagan Presidency era of George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.
The content is most interesting because it is taken from papers prepared by Arthur Laffer or his staff from 1978 to the present. These papers consist of material not commercially available, even online in this day and age. I tried to Google some of the materials, and that proved a fools errand. For many years, other than in the Laffer archives, these papers may only be readily available because of the work of Brian Domitrovic in reproducing them.
The Pillars of Reaganomics includes original content from Arthur Laffer, Bruce Bartlett, Warren T. Brookes, George Gilder and Stuart Sweet. These writers, in the course of their scholarship, all offered great wisdom from others in the history of tax policy.
For example, Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon had this to say in his 1924 book, Taxation: The People’s Business:
“The history of taxation shows that taxes which are inherently excessive are not paid. The high rates inevitably put pressure upon the taxpayer to withdraw his capital from productive business and invest it in tax-exempt securities or to find other lawful methods of avoiding the realization of taxable income. The result is that the sources of taxation are drying up; wealth is failing to carry its share of the tax burden; and capital is being diverted into channels which yield neither revenue to the Government nor profit to the people.”
And there is this gem from Ludwig von Mises in his 1949 book, Human Action:
“Every specific tax, as well as the nation’s whole tax system, becomes self-defeating above a certain height of the rates.”
Somewhat billed as a “running commentary” of the supply-side revolution, this volume does prove to be a running commentary, but it’s also a historical document full of historical context. Even saying that could possibly do it injustice in the sense that this is not just commentary, it’s a substantive, well researched, well put together, contextual volume that helps relay what was happening, why it was happening, and how it was happening. This all plays out like a novel at times, even a novel where you know the end of the story, but you forgot about this person or that incident.
Any book about the Ronald Reagan presidency includes timeless quotes from the Gipper, and this book does not disappoint on that score. Bruce Bartlett recalls a classic early-1981 quote from President Reagan in describing the nations economy:
“There were always those who told us that taxes couldn’t be cut until spending was reduced. Well, you know, we can lecture our children about extravagance until we run out of voice and breath. Or we can cure their extravagance by simply reducing their allowance.”
And Milton Friedman wrote this in Newsweek in 1978 to make a similar point:
“I have concluded that the only effective way to restrain government spending is by limiting government’s explicit tax revenue – just as a limited income is the only effective restraint on any individual’s or family’s spending.”
Putting the sheer content of this volume aside for a moment The Pillars of Reaganomics is an outstanding addition to a library simply because of the work involved on the cover, which has an etching of a Ronald Reagan caricature holding a drawing of the Laffer Curve, and the interior of the book covers contain the tiled, gold-colored logo of The Laffer Center which published the book. This is just a really good physical object to hold and will make a great addition to the library of any Ronald Reagan fan or student of supply-side economics.
Because several authors are represented in this book, there are changes in style and wording, but that’s not only because of the writers involved, it’s because of the changes in our language over time. I found that refreshing.
The Pillars of Reaganomics serves as a great place to start an education on what supply-side economics is, how the concept was implemented in various decades, how the numbers stood the test of time, and how the world is looking at the economics policy now. This book is an enjoyable read, it’s not wonky. Let us hope there is more of this to come.
I will conclude this review with the words that open The Pillars of Reaganomics, on the dedication page, because after reading them, you may be as convinced as I was that this book, and potentially this series, is headed in the right direction:
In Memoriam Jack French Kemp.
And choice in education is the wave of the future because it represents a return to some of our most basic American values. Choice in education is no mere abstraction. Like its economic cousin, free enterprise, and its political cousin, democracy, it affords hope and opportunity. – Ronald Reagan, 1989
This past Sunday, Republicans in Harris County took a step toward the future.
Houston Young Republicans, led by Sandi Steinbacher, the Federation of Hispanic Republicans and the Harris County Republican Party Outreach Committee, of which I am the current Chairman, brought together a group of willing Republican volunteers to help families register their children for charter schools in the areas where they live.
This group spent three hours in the meeting room of a Spring Branch community center, assisting families with applications for various charter schools. Many of the schools have upcoming deadlines, which allowed us to help these families beat the deadlines and our team was equipped with answers to most questions.
Chris Carmona, a Republican State Rep candidate who embraces not only Parental Choice in Education, but also the concept of connecting with the community, was there to talk with families and he assisted several in filling out their applications. Republican precinct chair and former Houston city council candidate Trebor Gordon was there to assist as well, he worked hard for us and was very passionate about getting this job done.
To maximize the effectiveness of our group, we used four laptop computers, two iPads and an iPhone. The task was not easy, don’t be misled there. Various schools had varied deadlines. There was also the obstacle that some families were looking at schools for various age ranges, but we helped find elementary schools, middle schools and high schools for all. We don’t have a final count on the number of applications we filed. Some parents registered multiple children.
Moms and dads know that opportunity through education is the surest way to have a real shot at the American Dream. A good education can help avoid the traps of poverty. A good education can also give a lift-up to those in poverty. Connecting with these families over these principles is important and it is a vital step that our party needs to take on a massive scale. Our party is at a point where words mean nothing, if there is no action, then we are just empty suits.
The outreach committee of Harris County Republican Party will lead the party towards a very new place in activism, highlighting the importance of rebuilding our civic institutions, healing our neighborhoods, and exemplifying what it truly means to be a conservative. We cannot ask voters to simply believe our public policy proposals, we must rebuild the private safety net before others agree with us to scale back the public safety net.
Review By Steve Parkhurst
Mark Levin’s newest book, The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic, is a different sort of attempt at a national dialogue than any we have seen in recent history.
As national dialogues go, in 2011 President Obama disgraced himself in his attempt at a “dialogue,” which escalated into demagoguery, after the horrific shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. As you will recall, the president spoke that month in Arizona at a mini-DNC rally disguised as a memorial service, where he quickly resorted to typical left-wing tactics, attacking the Second Amendment and calling for tighter gun laws, restrictions and bans. The Presidents attempt at a “national dialogue” was short lived, poorly planned and altogether un-serious.
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich has attempted to initiate a few dialogues, including one in 2010 where he spoke to the Mackinac Policy Conference in Michigan and suggested ways for Michiganders to save Detroit. Gingrich was attacked, as usual, and earlier this year, well, we all know what happened to Detroit.
Congressman Paul Ryan authored the Roadmap to Prosperity, a plan to reform some aspects of government and start to reverse negative trends while providing the chance for individuals to choose an alternative to the failing social security system. As usual, the Left went on the attack, lying their way into history as defenders of the failing status quo. You may recall the commercial where a faux Paul Ryan pushes a senior citizen in a wheelchair over a cliff. Yes, that was “Leftist Dialogue for Dummies” if there ever was such a title.
Fast forward to 2013 and Mark Levin has authored a very important book that since its release two weeks ago has taken me some time to read, comprehend, appreciate, embrace and now fully advocate. This attempt at a national dialogue is more serious and substantive than anything attempted by the permanent campaigner. Levin begins his premise from the United States Constitution, where he takes Article V (not to be confused with the Fifth Amendment) and shines a new light on it. (the underlined portion is the aspect that The Liberty Amendments focuses on).
The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress; provided that no amendment which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first article; and that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.
This look at federalism is refreshing and modern, and Levin is a great writer with a pristine intellect, as he demonstrates here:
Clearly there is much political, social, and economic diversity among the states. Some states respect the individual more than others. Some are downright oppressive in their imposition of regulatory and tax schemes. But people can move from state to state, and often do, to escape one state’s burdens for another state’s opportunities. Federalism is not about any single state or small faction of states imposing their will on the nation. It is about states serving, in the aggregate, as an essential buffer between the central government and the people, safeguarding the citizen from authoritarianism’s consolidated rule, thereby preserving and promoting self-government. After all, self-government is a fundamental feature of a constitutional republic. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “It was by the sober sense of our citizens that we were safely and steadily conducted from monarchy to republicanism, and it is by the same agency alone we can be kept from falling back.
We can all agree to disagree on the specifics of Levin’s actual proposals (not that I personally disagree with any of these). Things like term limits for members of Congress and the Senate. Term limits for members of the Supreme Court. Having state legislatures, those officials most responsible to the people, go back to selecting the United States Senators. Significantly reducing out of control and unregulated bureaucracy. Calling for a 30 day period between the time a bill is completely written and the time it is voted on. Strengthening voter ID laws. Reforming the tax system.
The bigger issue is this idea, an idea as old as the Constitution itself, that the people can take back power from the federal government and return it to the states when they have had enough of the oppressive, heavy hand.
The founders did not intend that politicians would make a career out of “serving the people.” They reasonably figured someone would be elected from their community, would serve a short time, and would then return back home to their community, and their career. The idea of the career legislator, the professional politician, serving 20, 30 or 40 years, would have been a foreign concept to those great men. As Levin points out though:
“History demonstrates that republics collapse when demagogues present themselves as their guardians to entice the people and cloak their true intentions.”
What Levin is advocating for will not happen overnight. It will not happen in the next election cycle, or the election cycle after that. This will be a long, time-consuming effort. The effort will be frustrating. Is this endeavor worth the effort? Levin offers this thought in Chapter 1, for those not willing to undertake the challenge or even consider doing so:
“Still more may be resigned to a grim future, preferring lamentation to the hard work of purposeful action.”
Let that sink in.
The Liberty Amendments is chock full of notes and references, including much high praise for founders like James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and George Mason. The book is well researched, the writing is very good, it is not hard to understand or comprehend but on the contrary, it is very informative.
Pick up a copy of The Liberty Amendments. Give it a chance. If you agree with the underlying idea, that Article V provides a way out, get involved locally. Take “purposeful action.” Have meetings with small groups. Share ideas and get people thinking and talking. When you meet legislators or candidates, educate them and demand they consider these ideas. Those who refuse to listen, there is always another election cycle. Mark Levin is on to something here, and those ready to take part now have a guide.
As a note on modern politics, campaigns will have to go on as usual. Politics will still exist. We will still debate, argue and converse. This new concept that Levin is promoting will not take hold after 2014, or after 2016. But the slow work, the longer task, is to build up a grassroots army of individuals and legislators willing to take this next step. So, while you are preparing for 2014 and 2016, find a way to also advocate for Article V and a return to federalism. For in the end, it may be the last best hope at controlling Leviathan.
I will end this review with the words Levin used to close out his book, for he can say it much better than I ever will:
In the end, the people, upon reflection, will decide their own fate once their attention is drawn. As President Reagan stated, “You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope for man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness. If we fail, at least let our children and our children’s children say of us that we justified our brief moment here. We did all that could be done.”
Let us do all that can be done. Let us be inspired by the example of our forefathers and their courage, strength, and wisdom. Let us be inspired by the genius of the Constitution and its preservation of the individual and the civil society. Let us unleash an American renaissance in which liberty is celebrated and self-government is cherished. Let us, together – we, the people – restore the splendor of the AmericanRepublic.
Time is of the essence. Let us get started today!