Jeffrey Hart Says Republicans Must Reject Bushism And Rediscover Eisenhower

Jeffrey Hart, a former editor of National Review, and former speechwriter for both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, writes that the conservative movement that backed George W. Bush “is now dead.” He urges the Republican Party to move away from “Bushism,” and Reaganism and begin to model the Party to align with the thinking and actions of Dwight Eisenhower.

Excerpts from his article The GOP Must Change or Die:

  • In a recent poll, 98 percent of historians rated George W. Bush the worst president in American history. Bushism was a disaster, and the conservative movement that backed him in everything is now dead.
  • The conservative movement has stuck to George W. Bush like a limpet on all his discredited policies: Iraq, banning abortion, the block on stem cell research, income tax cuts for the wealthy, attaching Social Security to the Stock Market (!), repatriating 12 million illegal immigrants instead of offering them a road to citizenship (“amnesty”). All of these have been losers.
  • The model for the revival of the Republican party should be the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower. It is no good conservatives trying to revive Ronald Reagan, for whom I used to write speeches. Historians may rate Reagan as a near-great president. But our problems now are different from the ones he addressed. And “supply-side economics” is now widely recognized as nonsense.
  • First, the Republican party must distance itself from evangelicalism as the policy preferences of evangelicals have only minority support.
  • Second, science today, empirically based, has great authority because of its manifold achievements, from the interior of the molecule and the human cell to the age of the universe (13.7 billion years). Therefore science also has cultural authority. No administration has been so comprehensively hostile to science as the Bush administration. It has cut funding for research and development, manipulated data on global warming, and exaggerated uncertainties about climate change so that millions of Americans think global warming and its causes are matters of opinion.
  • Third, both Bushism and movement conservatism forgot the founder of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke, who understood abstract (republican) theory as the basis for revolution in France, but also understood historical force of social change.
  • Fourth, Burke and Leo Strauss are the indispensable conservative political philosophers and should guide the leaders of any form of modern conservatism. But the immediate paradigm for the revival of the Republican party should be the successful presidency of Dwight Eisenhower.
  • In 1953 Eisenhower ended the Korean war with a nuclear threat against Beijing, built the nuclear-powered navy and brought forward the unstoppable Polaris missile, initiated the U-2 spy-plane flights, began to build the interstate highway system, and also balanced the budget three times. He certainly would not have trapped an American army in Mesopotamia. He was practical, solid, and surely a near-great president.
  • Movement conservatism, RIP. The common sense Republican party will rise again. It must. Or it will go the way of the Federalists and the Whigs.

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3 Responses to Jeffrey Hart Says Republicans Must Reject Bushism And Rediscover Eisenhower

  1. Stan Hirtle says:

    Politics today are as volatile as the stock market. Defeat is an orphan so all the conservatives and Republicans have their theory distinguishing Bush from themselves, even though Bush has to be the most conservative administration in history. But conservatives are really a coalition of interest groups, and one that has in the past held together well. This time it did not. I see Republicans as composed of the corporate business and ownership class, which generally wags the rest of the dog. Then there are small business people, many of whom are part of the suburban middle class. There is the military industrial complex or “war party” which ranges from aggressive neoconservative intellectuals, defense contractors and working class people particularly in small towns and rural areas for whom military service is the most valued part fo their lives. Then there are social conservatives, including the religious right and many working class “Reagan Democrats”, all of whom relate to social issues involving authority, sexuality and gender roles. Throw in conservative intellectuals, pundits and political pros who staff the movement.. Republicans have dominated politics since 1968, in part because of the wealth and power of some fo their factions and in part because their coalition holds together well and does not compete against each other for the benefits of power, compared to the Democrats and “left” whose interest groups are frequently in conflict (labor v. liberal businesses, working people v. college educated social liberals, minorities v. working class whites).

    This time the Republicans coalition did not hold together. Part of it was that Bush made a mess out of most of what he touched, alienating business people who value competence. The poorly thought out war split the war party from the rest of the party, while the bailout split out the anti-tax anti-government spending people and Reagan Democrats from the business class who wanted the bailout. The Christian right and the anti-science movement, personified by Palin, alienated college educated suburban people. The nativist anti-immigration people turned off non-European descendants of recent immigrants, particularly the growing Hispanic population. Still the Republicans got 46% of the vote with a candidate that had few enthusiastic supporters, did not look as good on tv as his young vigorous opponent, and arguably traded away his best argument (his comparative experience) by selecting the base-energizing Palin. Negative campaigning, long a Republican staple, seemed not to work as well this time. Plus McCain had the misfortune of having his weakness, the mess Bush made of the economy, thrust forward during the crucial election period instead of say a terrorist attack.

    So how much does Bush’s experience show that conservatism is a bad idea? How much is just part of the we screw up, they screw up cyclical nature of politics? How much is based on how well Obama did as a candidate, overcoming several potential handicaps such as African heritage? How much just reflects that Bush was, despite his political assets as a candidate, not really up to the job? How big a deal is the idea that Obama used the internet better in his campaign?

    Republicans are presently having the too conservative, not conservative enough argument, and perhaps dreaming of Obama-like young candidates like Palin and Jindall. One question may be whether they can nominate them. Obama, after all, had some good luck in the way the primaries were timed.
    Eisenhower was such a unique figure in such a different time that I am not sure how relevant he is. He was almost a bi-partisan president in a time where Democrats were still the majority had controlled Congress most of the time. Plus few people left today remember Eisenhower, let along honor him. Republicans must worry that fewer voters are emotionally tied to the culture wars of the sixties which have dominated politics since. Large numbers don’t even remember Reagan.

    Republicans will be back soon enough since they have money and infrastructure, and a loyal regional base in the south and midwest. Most importantly, Obama faces enormous problems with very small resources, and a constantly changing world. Some Democrats will likely alienate people, do corrupt things or overplay their political hands. Obama will not please everyone who voted for him or keep his image at its current level. America faces enormous problems with the national and global economy, jobs, energy, the middle east, wealth and class divisions, debt, education, retirement, health and well being and the meaning of life. As a debtor nation we will face unpalatable demands. There will be plenty of fodder to Republicans.

    Issues Republicans might think about:
    Should they reorder their interest group priorities so that the social conservatives have less clout than the middle class suburbanites?

    Do they have “core values?” If so, what are they? Is complaining about taxes, taxes, taxes relevant to today’s problems? There is also talk about needing ideas and solutions to today’s problems.Will tax cuts and privatization solve all today’s problems?

    Republicans have been most effective at harnessing, and also fanning, the negativity, animosity and grievances that are a part of today’s diverse and changing society and perhaps of the human condition. These may be reactions to insecurity, mistrust, fear of the differences of others and fear of chaos. Demeaning one’s opponents has been a staple of Republican tactics and perhaps their major contribution to our era’s politics. It may also be how their leaders attain their power and influence. We often see debates where people throw lists of negatives at, and past, each other. Certainly the underlying situations that generate anxiety and suspicion are not going to change. Our response to them might, particularly if we look at whether they make our political system better or worse. Are there other better ways to deal with anxiety and suspicion? Or are we just more likely to separate into hostile camps? If so, what will the effect of this be?

    Are highly motivated but unreasonable people good, bad or do they just need to be used properly?
    Is America really a “center right” country and what does that mean?
    What are you going to do about all the nation’s problems if you get back in?

  2. Mike Bock says:

    Stan, what is amazing is how good McCain actually did. You write, “Still the Republicans got 46% of the vote with a candidate that had few enthusiastic supporters, did not look as good on tv as his young vigorous opponent, and arguably traded away his best argument (his comparative experience) by selecting the base-energizing Palin.”

    This 46% is astounding considering all of the factors that weighed against McCain — including the significant fact that Obama had much more money to spend than McCain. So, it is amazing to me that given the Iraq War, the crumbling economy, the tremendous debt — all caused by Republicans — that the Republicans did as well as they did. My lord, if our democracy had any vitality, Mike Turner would be out, out, out, and Obama would have a much much bigger mandate.

    It is interesting to consider who, actually, we are referring to when we talk about the Republicans or Democrats. Here in Montgomery County only a fairly small group of partisans in the Montgomery County Democratic Party call the shots — and do so in a way that is oppressively undemocratic. The same is true of the Republican Party. It is amazing, for example, that both parties aggressively suppress competition in their own gerrymandered Ohio House Districts! This undemocratic practice should be seen as outrageous to the rank and file, the grassroots of both parties, but the grassroots of both parties in Montgomery County seem soundly asleep.

    My theory is that what can be observed in the microcosm of the political parties here in Montgomery County is writ large in how the parties function at both the state and federal level. Vitalizing our politics so that our democracy can begin to work to produce higher quality candidates, higher quality solutions, long term planning, etc that is desperately needed, I believe, can best occur through a vitalization, via a grass roots movement, of our political parties — starting at the local, grassroots level.

    We are not a center right country; the will of the people, as seen in poll after poll, is regularly thwarted by the political process — by a process that honors big money and the concerns of big money much more than average citizens or the concerns of average citizens, what may be called the general good. It is the political process that must become aligned with the values of ordinary people and this alignment, I believe, will best occur by vitalizing the grass roots to become in active participation in local political parties.

  3. Stan Hirtle says:

    Eisenhower is probably best remembered for his warning to avoid the domination of the military industrial complex, with which he was intimately familiar. We did not listen to him

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