« Cato Institute: Obamacare Would Cost Money! | Main | Plouffe: Obama Boxed In Clinton in Early States »

Reagan, the Beginning of the End?

From the "sometimes somebody else expresses my sentiments better than I can" files, the always interesting Paul Krugman, writing in Monday's New York Times, took a look at the role of Right-wing paranoia in today's Republican Party. Krugman noted that paranoia itself isn't particularly new, citing a piece by historian Richard Hostadter, who back in 1964 wrote that Americans on the extreme Right feel that,

"America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion."

Krugman recalls that when Hofstadter wrote that statement, the Right wing had not yet won the favor of a major political party, but with the election of Ronald Reagan, Republicans found a winning formula in playing to the fears of angry Right-wingers.

Which brings me to a pet theory that I've given a lot of thought to lately. That is: the election of Ronald Reagan was actually the beginning of the end of Republican legitimacy. Electability, of course has been another matter altogether, but that's the point. I credit Reagan with replacing legitimate conservatism with jack-off conservatism; 100 percent feel-good, zero percent substance.

It was Reagan, after all, that taught us that deficits don't matter. Reagan cut-and-ran after a suicide truck bomb demolished US military barracks in Beirut (but he reasserted America's manhood on the tiny island of Grenada). To that end, Reagan himself wouldn't be able to win a nomination in today's Republican Party. And, of course, Reagan gave us possibly the most condescendingly elitist economic policy in recent American history in the form of his "trickle-down" theory. – This, of course, was the idea, taken to heart by virtually all Republicans and more than a few Democrats, that if we just let the richest Americans become as rich as mathematically possible, then when they spend money on themselves some of it might trickle down to the rest of us peons. Reagan's declaration that, "government is the problem," underscored an attitude that government regulations should never interfere with profits.


This toxic combination worked for a while, but it was really a house of cards. Sort of the way the first few drinks make you feel good, but if you don't stop you wind up face first in the toilet. Bush 41 and Clinton moderated these positions, but the Bush 43 Administration took them to a whole new level. Couple trickle-down economics with the "free" trade agreements between America and second and third world nations, and you have a giant vacuum sucking the wealth right out of America. That money is now trickling into communist China. Oh, the irony!

This brings us to the Teabagger movement. One the one hand, there sure is a lot to be pissed off about. On the other hand, these Teabaggers are virtually exclusively Republicans who are victims of the monster that they helped to build since 1980. In the names of "freedom" and "small government" they have effectively redistributed America's wealth right up and out of the country. For the life of me, I can't imagine why a conservative wouldn't look at the economic state of America today and pat himself on the back with smug satisfaction. Why shouldn't we bail out bank executives? If they get good and rich, their wealth should just trickle down to the rest of us, right?

Americans are reaping what the modern conservative movement has sown. The problem is that the attitudes that have deposited us in our current predicament have been very carefully and deliberately engrained into the American sub-consciousness to the point that for many it is a virtual religion. It is going to take some bold moves to rectify the situation. As much as I like President Obama, I don't think he can afford the political risks associated with directly challenging this deep-seated mentality, and I think he knows that.


Reagan successfully divorced We the People from the Big Bad Government--all the while leaving the government door open to corporate raiders of all stripes. I think he was smarter and kinder than many people give him credit for; yet no less naive, and as toxic an influence on our culture as any countercultural idea.

Post a comment

Get GLONO merch!