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During the 1980s, conservative politics and Reaganomics held sway as the Berlin Wall crumbled, new computer technologies emerged and blockbuster movies and MTV reshaped pop culture.
The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America: Then and Now
EDITORS’ NOTE: This article is adapted from remarks delivered by the author at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s Leadership Retreat in Phoenix, Ariz., on April 9, 2016, and at a conference held at the Hauenstein Center in Grand Rapids, Mich., on April 16, 2016.
A few years ago, the New York Times’s technology columnist, David Pogue, listed the five stages of grieving when you lose your computer files: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Moving to Amish Country. It sounds like a fair description of the mood gripping many American conservatives today.
Have conservatives lost their “computer files”? Reacting to our current political upheaval, many observers think so. But before we can assess conservatism’s present predicament, we need to understand how the present came to be. I propose to do this through the lens of the intellectual history of American conservatism after the Second World War, when the conservative community as we know it took form.
Modern American conservatism is not, and has never been, monolithic. It is a coalition with many points of origin and diverse tendencies that are not always easy to reconcile.
At the close of World War II, no articulate, coordinated conservative intellectual force existed in the United States. There were, at most, scattered voices of protest. Some of them were profoundly pessimistic about the future of their country and convinced that they were an isolated remnant on the wrong side of history. History, in fact, seemed to be what the Left was making. The Left — liberals, socialists, even Communists — appeared to be in complete control of the 20th century.
In the aftermath of the war, there was not one right-wing renaissance but three, each reacting in a different way to challenges from the Left. The first of these groupings consisted of classical liberals and libertarians, resisting the threat of the ever-expanding collectivist state to individual liberty. Convinced in the 1940s that post–New Deal America was rapidly drifting toward central planning and socialism — along what Friedrich Hayek famously called “the road to serfdom” — these intellectuals offered a powerful defense of free-market economics. They helped to make the old verities defensible again after the long nightmare of the Great Depression, which many people had seen as a failure of capitalism.
After World War II, there was not one right-wing renaissance but three, each reacting in a different way to challenges from the Left.
Concurrently, and independently of the classical liberals, a second school of anti-modern-liberal thought emerged in America: the so-called “traditionalism” of such writers as Richard Weaver, Peter Viereck, and Russell Kirk. Appalled by totalitarianism, total war, and the development of secular, rootless mass society during the 1930s and 1940s, the traditionalists (as they came to be called) urged a return to traditional religious and ethical absolutes and a rejection of the moral relativism that in their view had corroded Western civilization and produced an intolerable vacuum filled by demonic ideologies on the march. More European-oriented and historically minded, on the whole, than the classical liberals, and less interested in economics, the traditionalist conservatives extolled the wisdom of such thinkers as Edmund Burke and called for a revival of religious orthodoxy, classical natural-law teaching, and communitarian institutions mediating between the solitary citizen and the powerful state. Why did they advocate this? In order, they said, to reclaim and civilize the spiritual wasteland created by secular liberalism and by the false gods it had permitted to enter the gates.
From Russell Kirk’s monumental tome The Conservative Mind (1953), the traditionalists acquired something more: an intellectual genealogy and intellectual respectability. After Kirk’s book appeared, no longer could contemporary conservatives be dismissed, as John Stuart Mill had dismissed Britain’s Conservatives a century before, as “the stupid party.” Indeed, without Kirk’s fortifying book, the conservative intellectual community of the past three generations might never have acquired its identity and its name.
Third, there appeared in the 1940s and 1950s , at the onset of the Cold War, a militant, evangelistic anti-Communism, shaped by a number of ex-Communists and other ex-radicals of the 1930s , including the iconic Whittaker Chambers. These men and women formerly of the far Left, with their allies, brought to the postwar American Right a profound conviction — that America and the West were engaged in a titanic struggle with an implacable adversary, Communism — that sought nothing less than the conquest of the world.
Each of these emerging components of the conservative revival shared a deep antipathy to 20th-century liberalism. To the libertarians, modern liberalism — the liberalism of Franklin Roosevelt and his successors — was the ideology of the ever-aggrandizing, bureaucratic welfare state, which would, if unchecked, become a collectivist, totalitarian state, destroying individual liberty and the private sphere of life. To the traditionalists, modern liberalism was an inherently corrosive philosophy that was eating away like an acid not only at our liberties but also at the moral and religious foundations of a healthy, traditional society, thereby creating a vast spiritual vacuum into which totalitarianism could enter. To the Cold War anti-Communists, modern liberalism or progressivism — rationalistic, relativistic, secular, anti-traditional, and quasi-socialist — was by its very nature incapable of vigorously resisting an enemy on its left. Liberalism to them was part of the Left and could not effectively repulse a foe with which it shared so many underlying assumptions. As the conservative Cold War strategist James Burnham eventually and trenchantly put it, liberalism was essentially a means for reconciling the West to its own destruction. Liberalism, he said, was the ideology of Western suicide.
In the 1950s and early 1960s the three independent wings of the conservative revolt against the Left began to coalesce around National Review , founded by William F. Buckley Jr. in 1955. Apart from his extraordinary talents as a writer and public intellectual, Buckley personified each impulse in the evolving coalition. He was at once a traditional Christian, a defender of free-market economics, and a fervent anti-Communist.
Buckley personified each impulse in the evolving coalition. He was at once a traditional Christian, a defender of free-market economics, and a fervent anti-Communist.
As this consolidation began to occur, however, a severe challenge arose to the conservative identity: a growing and permanent tension between the libertarians and the traditionalists. To the libertarians, the highest good in society was individual liberty, the emancipation of the autonomous self from external (especially governmental) restraint. To the traditionalists (who tended to be more religiously oriented than most libertarians), the highest social good was not unqualified freedom but ordered freedom, grounded in community and resting on the cultivation of virtue in the individual soul. Such cultivation, argued the traditionalists, did not arise spontaneously. It needed the reinforcement of mediating institutions (such as schools, churches, and synagogues) and, at times, of the government itself.
Not surprisingly, this conflict of visions generated a tremendous controversy on the American Right in the early 1960s, as conservative intellectuals attempted to sort out their first principles. The argument became known as the freedom-versus-virtue debate. It fell to a former Communist and chief ideologist at National Review , Frank Meyer, to formulate a middle way, which became known as fusionism. In brief, Meyer argued that the overriding purpose of government was to protect and promote individual liberty, but the supreme purpose of the free individual should be to pursue a life of virtue, unfettered by and unaided by the State.
As a purely theoretical construct, Meyer’s fusionism did not convince all his critics, then or later. But as a formula for political action and as an insight into the actual character of American conservatism, his project was a considerable success. He taught libertarian and traditionalist purists that they needed one another and that American conservatism must not become doctrinaire. It must stand neither for dogmatic anti-statism, at one extreme, nor for moral authoritarianism, at the other, but for a society in which people are simultaneously free to choose and desirous of choosing the path of virtue.
In arriving at this modus vivendi, the architects of fusionism were aided immensely by the third element in the growing coalition: anti-Communism, a viewpoint that nearly everyone could share. The presence in the world of a dangerous external enemy — the Soviet Union, the mortal foe of liberty and virtue, of freedom and faith — was a crucial, unifying cement for the nascent conservative movement.
Politically, the postwar American Right as I have described it found its first national expression in the presidential campaign of Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964. It was not long after that election that a new impulse appeared on the intellectual scene, one destined to become the fourth component of the conservative coalition. I refer to the phenomenon known as neoconservatism. Irving Kristol’s definition conveys its original essence: “A neoconservative,” he said, “is a liberal who has been mugged by reality.” And maybe you have heard the definition of a neoliberal: a liberal who has been mugged by reality but refuses to press charges. In any case, one of the salient developments of the late 1960s and 1970s was the intellectual journey of various liberals and social democrats toward conservative positions and affiliations. By the early 1980s many of them were participating in the Reagan Revolution.
Meanwhile another development — one destined to have enormous political consequences — began to take shape in the late 1970s: the grassroots “great awakening” of what came to be known as the Religious Right, or (more recently) social conservatives. Convinced that American society was in a state of vertiginous moral decline, and that what they called secular humanism — in other words, modern liberalism — was the fundamental cause and agent of this decay, the Religious Right exhorted its hitherto politically quiescent followers to enter the public arena in defense of their traditional moral code and way of life. The political landscape, especially in the Republican party, was transformed.
By the end of President Ronald Reagan’s second term in 1989, the American Right had grown to encompass five distinct impulses: libertarianism, traditionalism, anti-Communism, neoconservatism, and the Religious Right. And just as Buckley had done for conservatives a generation before, Reagan in the 1980s performed an emblematic and ecumenical function — a fusionist function, giving each faction a seat at the table and a sense of having arrived.
Yet even as conservatives in the 1980s gradually escaped the wilderness for the promised land inside the Beltway, the world they wished to conquer was changing in ways that threatened their newfound power. Ask yourselves this question: What has been the most historically significant date in our lifetimes? September 11, 2001? Perhaps. But surely the other such date was November 9, 1989, the night the Berlin Wall came down.
Since 1989, since the downfall of Communism in Europe and the end of what Ronald Reagan called the “evil empire,” one of the hallmarks of conservative history has been the reappearance of factional strains in the grand alliance. One source of rancor has been the ongoing dispute between the neoconservatives and their noninterventionist critics over post–Cold War foreign policy. Another fault line divides many libertarians and social conservatives over such issues as the legalization of drugs and same-sex marriage.
Aside from these built-in philosophical tensions, two fundamental facts of political life explain the recrudescence of these intramural debates in recent years. The first is what I call the “perils of prosperity.” Since 1980, prosperity has come to conservatism, and with it a multitude of niche markets and specialization on a thousand fronts. But with prosperity has also come sibling rivalry, tribalism, and a weakening of what I call “movement consciousness.” The “vast right-wing conspiracy” (as Hillary Clinton has called it) has grown too large for any single institution or magazine, like National Review in its early days, to serve as the movement’s gatekeeper and general staff. No longer does American conservatism have a commanding, ecumenical figure like Buckley or Reagan.
Underlying these centrifugal impulses is a phenomenon that did not exist 25 years ago: what Charles Krauthammer recently called the “hyperdemocracy” of social media. In the ever-expanding universe of cyberspace, no one can be an effective gatekeeper because there are no gates.
The second fundamental fact of political life that explains the renewal of friction on the Right was the stunning end of the Cold War. Inevitably, the question then arose: Could a movement so identified with anti-Communism survive the disappearance of the Communist adversary in the Kremlin? Without a common external foe, it has become easier for former allies on the Right to succumb to the bane of all coalitions: the sectarian temptation. It is an indulgence made much easier by the advent of the Internet.
Could a movement so identified with anti-Communism survive the disappearance of the Communist adversary in the Kremlin?
The conservative intellectual movement, of course, did not vanish in the 1990s. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that unyielding anti-Communism supplied much of the glue in the post-1945 conservative coalition and that the demise of Communism in Europe weakened the fusionist imperative for American conservatives.
One of the earliest signs of this was the rise in the 1980s and early 1990s of a militant group of conservative traditionalists who took the label “paleoconservatives.” Initially, paleoconservatism was a response to the growing prominence within conservative ranks of the erstwhile liberals and social democrats known as neoconservatives. To angry paleocons, led by Patrick Buchanan among others, the neocons were “interlopers” who, despite their recent movement to the right, remained at heart secular, crusading Wilsonians and believers in the welfare state. In other words, the paleos argued, not true conservatives at all.
As the Cold War faded, paleoconservatism introduced a discordant note into the conservative conversation. Fiercely and defiantly “nationalist” (rather than “internationalist”), skeptical of “global democracy” and post–Cold War entanglements overseas, fearful of the impact of Third World immigration on America’s historically Europe-centered culture, and openly critical of the doctrine of global free trade, paleoconservatism increasingly resembled much of the American Right before 1945 — before, that is, the onset of the Cold War. When Buchanan campaigned for president in 1992 under the pre–Pearl Harbor isolationist slogan of “America First,” the symbolism seemed deliberate and complete.
Despite the initial furor surrounding the paleoconservatives, they have remained a relatively small faction within the conservative community. Still, as the post–Cold War epoch settled in during the 1990s, they were not alone among conservatives in searching for new sources of unity — a new fusionism, as it were, for a new era. Thus in recent years we have heard about “compassionate conservatism,” “reform conservatism,” and “constitutional conservatism,” among other formulations.
American conservatism, then, as I have described it in this essay, is fundamentally a coalition. And, like all coalitions, it contains within itself the potential for splintering — never more so, perhaps, than right now.
Like all coalitions, conservatism contains within itself the potential for splintering — never more so, perhaps, than right now.
For as the Cold War and its familiar polarities continue to recede from public memory, new trends and conflicts are filling the vacuum. Consider this datum: More people are now on the move in the world than at any time in the history of the human race, and more and more of them are making America their destination. The number of international students, for instance, attending American colleges and universities now exceeds a million per year — more than triple what it was in 1980. More than 800,000 of these students are from China. In addition, the United States is now admitting a million immigrants into permanent, legal residence every year — more than any other nation in the world.
This unprecedented, worldwide intermingling not just of goods and services but of peoples and cultures is accelerating, with consequences we have scarcely begun to fathom. Among them: the rise in recent years of a post-national, even anti-national, sensibility among our progressive elites and young people steeped in multiculturalism. For conservative believers in American exceptionalism, it is a disconcerting development.
This brings us to the phenomenon of the hour: insurgent populism on the Left and the Right. In its simplest terms, populism — defined as the revolt by ordinary people against overbearing and self-serving elites — has long existed in American politics. In its most familiar form, populism has been left-wing in its ideology, targeting bankers, wealthy capitalists, and corporations as villains — “millionaires and billionaires,” in Bernie Sanders’s parlance.
But populism in America has sometimes taken a conservative form as well. In the 1970s and 1980s it did so under the leadership of Ronald Reagan, who brilliantly articulated a populistic, libertarian aversion to meddlesome and unaccountable government. If left-wing populism has traditionally aimed its fire at Big Money, the corporate elite entrenched on Wall Street, right-wing populism of the Reaganite and tea-party variety has focused its wrath on Big Government — the progressive public-sector elite ensconced in Washington.
Until a few months ago, it appeared to me that the election of 2016 might become a showdown between these two competing forms of populism in the wake of the Great Recession of 2008. Victory, I thought, would go to whichever party better explained the causes of the Great Recession of 2008 and the years of malaise that followed. What I did not foresee before last summer was the volcanic eruption in 2015 of a new and even angrier brand of populism, a hybrid that I will call Trumpism.
Politically, Trumpism’s antecedents may be found in the presidential campaigns of Ross Perot and Patrick Buchanan in the 1990s. Intellectually, Trumpism bears a striking resemblance to the anti-interventionist, anti-globalist, immigration-restrictionist, America First worldview propounded by various paleoconservatives during the 1990s and ever since. It is no accident that Buchanan, for example, is overjoyed by Donald Trump’s candidacy. Instead of venting anger exclusively at left-wing elites, as conservative populism in its Reaganite and tea-party variants has done, the Trumpist brand of populism is simultaneously assailing conservative elites, including the Buckley-Reagan conservative intellectual movement that I described earlier. In particular, Trumpism is deliberately breaking with the conservative internationalism of the Cold War era and with the pro-free-trade, supply-side-economics orthodoxy that has dominated Republican policymaking since 1980.
So what manner of “rough beast” is this, “its hour come round at last”? Speaking analytically, I believe we are witnessing in an inchoate form the birth of a political phenomenon never before seen in this country: an ideologically muddled, “nationalist-populist” major party combining both left-wing and right-wing elements. In its fundamental outlook and public-policy concerns, it is somewhat akin to the National Front in France, the United Kingdom Independence Party in Great Britain, the Alternative for Germany party, and similar protest movements in Europe. Most of these insurgent parties are conventionally labeled right-wing, but some of them are noticeably statist and welfare-statist in their economics — as is Trumpism in certain respects. Nearly all of them are responding to persistent economic stagnation, massively disruptive global migration patterns, and terrorist fanatics with global designs and lethal capabilities. In Europe as well as America, the natives are restless — and for much the same reasons.
Trumpism and its European analogues are also being driven by something else: a deepening conviction that the governing elites have neither the competence nor the will to make things better. When Donald Trump burst onto the political scene last summer, many observers noticed that one source of his instant appeal was his brash transgression of the boundaries of acceptable political discourse. The more he transgressed them, the more his popularity seemed to grow, particularly among those who lack a college education.
What was happening here? The rise of Trumpism in the past year has laid bare a potentially dangerous chasm in our politics: not so much between the traditional Left and Right but rather (as someone has put it) between those above and those below on the socio-economic scale. In Donald Trump, many of those “below” have found a voice for their outrage at what they consider to be the cluelessness and condescension of their “betters.”
In the last year, these tensions have flared into an ideological civil war on the right. As the debate has unfolded, many conservative intellectuals have attempted to accommodate what they see as the legitimate grievances expressed by Trump’s supporters. But conservatives diverge profoundly in their appraisal of the phenomenon itself and of the man who has become its champion. To conservatives in the “Never Trump” movement, who have vowed never to vote for him under any circumstances, Trump is an ignoramus and carnival barker at best, and a bullying proto-Fascist at worst. To many on the other side of the Great Divide, it is not Trump but an allegedly decadent and intransigent conservative “establishment” that is the threat, and they are attacking it savagely. Joining the effort to radically reconfigure conservatism on nationalist-populist lines is an array of aggressive dissenters called the “alternative right” or “alt-right,” many of whom openly espouse white nationalism and white-identity politics.
It is a remarkable development, one that has now led to what can only be described as a struggle for the mind and soul of American conservatism. In these stormy circumstances, it would be foolish to prophesy the outcome. Suffice it to say that in all my years as a historian of conservatism, I have never observed as much dissension on the Right as there is at present.
Now, some may see in this cacophony a sign of vitality, and perhaps it will turn out to be so. But conservatives, more than ever, need minds as well as voices. In this season of discontent, it might be useful for conservatives to step back for a moment and ask a simple question: What do conservatives want? What should they want? Perhaps by getting back to basics, conservative intellectuals can restore some clarity and direction to the debate.
What do today’s conservatives want? To put it in elementary terms, I would say that they want what nearly all conservatives since 1945 have wanted: They want to be free, they want to live virtuous and meaningful lives, and they want to be secure from threats both beyond and within our borders. They want to live in a society whose government respects and encourages these aspirations while otherwise leaving people alone. Freedom, virtue, and safety: goals reflected in the libertarian, traditionalist, and national-security dimensions of the conservative movement as it has developed over the past 70 years. In other words, there is at least a little fusionism in nearly all of us. It might be something to build on.
For three generations now, conservatives have committed themselves to defending the intellectual and spiritual foundations of Western civilization: the resources needed for a free and humane existence. Conservatives know that we all start out in life as “rough beasts” who need to be educated for liberty if we are to secure its blessings. Elections come and go, but this larger work goes on.
However events unfold politically in the coming turbulent months, let conservatives remember their heritage and rededicate themselves to their mission.
1983: The Most Dangerous Year of the Cold War
Just how close did the world come to full-blown nuclear war in the 1980s?
That's the conclusion of researchers at the National Security Archive at George Washington University, which released on May 16 a collection of documents on the 1983 Able Archer war scare, the closest the Cold War came to turning hot since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Many of the documents come from Soviet archives, and are summarized in English others came from the U.S. government after Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests
The release is the first in a series of three postings the second will consist of U.S. military documents, the third documents from the U.S. intelligence community. (The National Security Agency, the website notes, refused to release its relevant documents after a 2008 FOIA request, but “did review, approve for release, stamp, and send a printout of a Wikipedia article.”)
Able Archer was the name of November 1983 NATO exercise that simulated a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. The Soviets feared that this was the prelude to an actual U.S. first strike, and prepared to preempt it.
“Things were really tense,” Nate Jones, the editor of the collection and FOIA coordinator for the Archive, said in a phone interview. “There were the boycotts of the Olympics [in 1980 and 1984], the Soviet war in Afghanistan was ongoing, the [Korean Air Lines] shootdown was huge. [and] Soviet leaders were surprised by how aggressive and confrontational [Ronald] Reagan's foreign policy was. They liked working with Nixon, who, though he was a conservative, was straight-up and easy to do business with.”
President Reagan openly wondered to his advisors whether or not the “Soviet leaders really fear us, or is all the huffing and puffing just part of their propaganda?”
A 1996 CIA report on the 1983 war scare concluded that the Soviets genuinely feared a pre-emptive nuclear strike from the United States. General Secretary Yuri Andropov “repeatedly compared” Reagan to Hitler, the architect of a devastating surprise attack on the Soviet Union that it barely survived, and told his Politburo colleagues that he was “fanning the flames of war,” an image, the report's author notes dryly, “more sinister than Andropov as a Red Darth Vader.”
The Soviets were also concerned about the broader course of the Cold War – a 1981 KGB report concluded that the “USSR was in effect losing – and the US was winning – the Cold War.”
Faced with unfavorable global trends and fierce anti-communism from the Reagan administration, the Soviets began to prepare for the unthinkable. Valentin Varennikov, a general in the Soviet Army, noted in his memoirs that in 1983, the Soviet military prepared itself to strike preemptively with nuclear weapons in the event that intelligence of a imminent attack by the United States.
The shooting down of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 over Sakhalin Island on September 1, 1983 ratcheted tensions even further. “I think the Soviets genuinely believed it was a spy plane,” Jones said, and to make matters worse the plane carried a sitting (and anticommunist) U.S. congressman. On September 26, the Soviet early-warning system detected an inbound American ICBM. War was averted by the quick thinking of Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov, the duty officer, who correctly identified the alert as a glitch.
Able Archer 83 came at the tail end of the annual NATO maneuvers, called “Autumn Forge,” which simulated a large-scale tank war against the armies of the Warsaw Pact. Since the Soviets and their allies outnumbered NATO forces, planners assumed that NATO would be forced to use tactical nuclear weapons to stop advancing Communist forces. Able Archer simulated the use of tactical nuclear weapons by NATO (after a Warsaw Pact chemical attack), followed by limited Soviet retaliation, followed by general nuclear war. Various heads of state in Western Europe participated in the exercise, though not President Reagan.
The documentation of the Soviet war preparations in response to Able Archer is unfortunately sparse, Jones said, though there are new revelations in the National Security Archive release. The Soviet military was apparently less concerned than the KGB about the prospect of war – one Soviet strategist recalled in an interview after the end of the Cold war “frightening situations … [during] the great period of tension” in 1983, but believed the KGB exaggerated the threat because they were “generally incompetent in military affairs.” Other Soviet military leaders recalled that the time was the most “tense since the [Cuban Missile Crisis] in 1962.”
The lesson from the documents, according to Jones, is simple. “The more nuclear weapons you have, the more dangerous the world is,” due to the potential for mistakes, miscommunications, and misjudgments.
The Cold War Conservatives Who Influenced Reagan
In one sense Laurence R. Jurdem’s new book is like a time capsule for those with a deep interest in American conservative political history. In the course of Paving the Way for Reagan: The Influence of Conservative Media on U.S. Foreign Policy, we see the emergence of Human Events, National Review, and Commentary as influential journals of opinion. They had their idiosyncrasies but were united on how they positioned the United States as a strong, global opponent of communism. We see controversies that once preoccupied the political classes—Vietnam, SALT II, Rhodesia, China’s admission to the United Nations and its threatening of Taiwan. Figures such as Muammar Gaddafi and Robert Mugabe dominate the book. Hard to see many millennials knowing who or what any of these are, or why they mattered.
And yet. Mugabe is still around, if out of power in Zimbabwe. Gaddafi, killed after being overthrown as Libya’s dictator, remains part of American consciousness. And China is still pushing to isolate Taiwan, most recently by forming stronger economic ties with other Pacific islands. More important for the purposes of this book, the conservative media are still around, though changed and still changing. So Paving the Way for Reagan comes at an opportune time to examine the legacy of the conservative media, at least in the area of foreign policy.
Jurdem’s account helps explain, in a roundabout way, how figures like David Frum, Bill Kristol, Max Boot, and others thought they could convert America into a permanent war machine against “Islamofascism” after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Conservative media have been arguing for military intervention and an aggressive foreign policy for decades. This book analyzes attempts by media conservatives to change crucial foreign policy decisions from the time of the Vietnam War up to Reagan’s victory in the presidential election of 1980. It focuses on three journals, Human Events, National Review, and Commentary and their respective editors, Allan Ryskind, William F. Buckley, Jr., and Norman Podhoretz.
The Liberals’ Failure of Nerve
Human Events (which in 2013 became an online-only publication, and which was purchased recently by new owners intending to relaunch it under a pro-Trump banner) is the oldest, having been founded in 1944 by conservatives upset with Franklin Roosevelt and the big government programs of the New Deal. Of the three, it focused perhaps the most on publishing news stories as opposed to opinion.
National Review, founded in 1955, was and is a broader journal, owing to founder Buckley’s more diverse interests, and his clearer desire (as Jurdem astutely notes) to remain within the corridors of power.
Commentary, founded in 1945 by the American Jewish Committee, came more fully to the anticommunist cause later in the 1960s, once Podhoretz and others became disillusioned with the New Left. Commentary’s editors’ “move to the Right, particularly in the arena of foreign policy, sent a powerful signal to America’s intellectual elites that the once-vital center of the Democratic Party, symbolized by its passionate commitment to anticommunism, no longer existed.” From about 1968 on, anticommunism became increasingly the occupation of the Right.
In the late 1960s, these journals went on the attack against what they saw as a liberal “failure of nerve” to promote American interests abroad and aggressively to confront the global Soviet threat. “Writers for these publications claimed that the fortunes of the country were being subverted not only abroad but at home,” writes Jurdem. In the face of Soviet and Cuban communism and especially during the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam, “conservatives believed that a once-active foreign policy that promoted democracy and freedom had been transformed by liberal elites into a policy of appeasement and self-doubt.” Those arguments—until the advent of Donald Trump, at least—remained baseline conservative opinion on foreign policy, though at least since 9/11 there has been an increasing conservative revival of its own antiwar and anti-interventionist traditions.
Jurdem devotes chapters to several key events in U.S. foreign policy, including Vietnam, the SALT II treaty, relations with China, and the United Nations, and ends with the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979, which famously ended shortly after the election of Reagan. In the hindsight of the seemingly never-ending wars in the Middle East that some of these same publications advocated after 9/11, this account makes for at times sobering reading.
Conservatives were vociferous in their resistance to any fallback or withdrawal from Vietnam. When American forces left South Vietnam, conservatives argued for continued economic support for the nation to resist the North, and when South Vietnam finally fell and the United States engaged in peace talks, some conservatives looked for any misstep by North Vietnam to restart the conflict.
And the less said about the Right’s strong support for racist Rhodesia, the better. It is impossible to read National Review’s support for Rhodesia outside of its then-antipathy toward the American civil rights movement. National Review supported Rhodesia’s separation from Great Britain for complicated (some might say opaque) anticommunist reasons. Jurdem summarizes the view of people like senator and presidential candidate Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) as believing that “when the United States penalized a ‘friendly nation,’ it sent communist states the message that supporting its close ally Great Britain was more important than taking a strong position in the Cold War,” because Britain had trading interests with communist countries. The magazine went so far as to call Rhodesia’s Ian Smith that nation’s “George Washington.”
Nixon and the Right: A Tense Relationship
Similarly with SALT II and the Soviet Union. Here, as throughout, Jurdem has conducted thorough research among the relevant publications’ archives, and has done lengthy interviews. The Strategic Arms Limitations Talks were meant as a way to de-escalate the arms race with the Soviet Union. In May 1971, Nixon announced an agreement with the Russians regarding limits on the use of antiballistic missiles. But this was viewed by conservatives as a show of weakness.
Nixon’s tense relations with the Right are a recurring theme. Jurdem highlights a rare unpublished column by Buckley, in which the National Review editor listed the ways in which Nixon had, he felt, betrayed conservative principles in his negotiations with the Russians. The 37th President, for his part, never quite forgave conservatives for not supporting him in the early 1960s, or for failing to understand that negotiations needed to run both ways. Nixon’s National Security Advisor and later Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, and Nixon aide Pat Buchanan were employed as go-betweens to keep channels of communication open with the Right. (This mostly meant with Buckley Nixon had little time for Human Events or most other conservative commentators.) Conservatives, especially Buckley and senior National Review writer James Burnham, remained respectful of Kissinger but saw him (and President Nixon) as too pragmatic.
Their suspicions were only confirmed by Nixon’s visit to China. Buckley, one of the editors and journalists who accompanied Nixon on that trip, according to Jurdem “charged that the great struggle against communism—a war that many believed as one of good against evil—had now evaporated.” The decision of the Carter administration to open a formal relationship with Beijing was cause for further anguish on the Right.
So Jurdem is correct that conservative publications paved the way for Reagan, and he shows that Reagan was reading Human Events and National Review since his General Electric days. At times, Reagan cribbed directly from these publications to attack those seen as softer on communism. Likewise members of Congress (particularly Senators John Tower of Texas and Strom Thurmond of South Carolina) used conservative editorials to bolster their own arguments. Reagan’s staunch anticommunist stance found support and confirmation in the editorials and articles he spent decades reading.
Dictatorships and Double Standards
Commentary, although important in its own right, especially after it became more clearly associated with the neoconservative cause, receives the least attention of the three in this study, with one significant exception: the 1979 article by Georgetown political scientist Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, “Democracy and Double Standards,” which was to have a big influence on the Reagan administration. Kirkpatrick, who was to become Reagan’s ambassador to the United Nations, argued that America had misunderstood the ideological revolutions that were toppling states that had been allies, and that we should be friendly to non-democratic regimes (such as Iran under the shah) that were friendly to us. As Jurdem phrases it, Kirkpatrick argued that “whereas autocracies had the capacity for change, societies under the totalitarian system could not alter themselves, as it was not the rulers but the principles of communism that held control.” Thus conservatives’ support for all manner of regimes so long as they were not totalitarian, that is, communist.
The conservative media’s scorecard is decidedly mixed. Conservatives opposed the peace talks with Vietnam, and lost. They opposed the opening to China, and lost. SALT II was a more complicated story. The ratification of the treaty was delayed by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1980, and voted down by the Senate Armed Services Committee headed by neoconservative hero Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-Wash.). But even in the mid-1980s, Reagan argued for abiding by the terms of arms-limitations treaties so long as the Soviets displayed the same restraint, which did not sit well with some conservatives. On whether or not the United States should relinquish control of the Panama Canal, the positions were switched: Buckley, who favored transferring the canal to Panama, famously debated this with his friend Reagan, who opposed it (as did Human Events).
All of these controversies need to be seen in light of the real threat emanating from Leonid Brezhnev’s Soviet Union, and the mood of the country was, throughout this period, still heavily in support of efforts to resist communism. Yet it is also clear that conservative publications—themselves often staffed by those like Burnham and Frank Meyer, who were apostates from the Soviet cause—were apt to see every conflict through that lens, whether this was called for or not.
Jurdem writes that the three journals he has singled out “viewed the dominant foreign policy events of the 1960s and 1970s through a specific ideology that eventually came to define the activist agenda of the Reagan Administration in regard to the Cold War.” True enough, but there were two strands to this ideology. Some conservatives, like Ambassador Kirkpatrick, were fine with authoritarian regimes so long as they were not communist. But another side of conservative foreign policy writing existed alongside this realpolitik position: that American power should be used specifically to promote democracy against any non-democratic regime.
This ambiguity is not brought out too clearly by Jurdem. President Reagan in fact used both kinds of rhetoric in his speeches. And once the Cold War ended, the democracy-promotion strand remained, and grew stronger. The mistake these journals made was to confuse this activist agenda with conservatism itself.
The Fall of the Berlin Wall
The infamous Berlin Wall came down late on November 9, 1989 — all of a sudden, the border between West Berlin and communist East Berlin was broached. The entire East Bloc opened up, and the Iron Curtain crumbled. Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who led the way to open borders, was celebrated like a pop star. The world was moving toward a new order and an exciting decade came to a close.
If you are 50 years old or thereabouts, you will remember the strange hair styles, the shoulder pads and the clothes in bright neon colors as well as music that sounded like it came from the depths of a plastic bucket. You will remember the peace movement, dying forests and, in Germany, the environmentalist Greens party entering parliament for the first time.
The 1980s was a decade fraught by unimaginable threat scenarios involving nuclear wars and nuclear energy, and it was a decade that celebrated many a revolution small and large, a legacy that still lives on today.
The Oldenburg State Museum for Art and Cultural history has dedicated a special exhibition to 1980s culture, titled "Madonna, Manta, Mauerfall. Die achtziger Jahre in der Bundesrepublik" (Madonna, Manta, Fall of the Berlin Wall. The 1980s in Germany). The show promises visitors checking out the 350 exhibits some unforgettable "flashback moments."
A sensation: the cordless phone
Science Fiction come true
Today, we may smirk at the first, unwieldy mobile phones, but for people back then, they were science fiction come true.
Computers became common in households, even if the idea had previously been rejected as preposterous. Computer and communications technology plays a large role in the exhibition, and some of it is interactive: visitors can try out original 1980s computers and play video games, too.
Politics and Nirvana
References to one of the biggest scandals in Germany in the 20th century are part of the show, says its curator, Michael Reinbold: "We will be presenting one of the fake Hitler diaries by Konrad Kujau."
Padded shoulders and gaudy colors marked 1980s fashion
On display are also the leather jacket Udo Lindenberg once gave East German leader Erich Honecker, and rare memorabilia from a Nirvana concert in Oldenburg 1989.
Tapered jeans were in, along with shoulder pads, headbands, wide belts in neon and metallic tones worn by men with a mullet hairstyle or women with their hair in a fluffy perm. Lifestyle cults from poppers to punkers emerged, to the soundtracks of German Neue Deutsche Welle music, or Michael Jackson , Madonna and Prince.
The exhibition that showcases objects from private collectors, public culture institutions and the museum's own collection is on from November 25 to February 24, 2019 at Oldenburg Palace.
10 thoughts on &ldquo Chapter 26: The Triumph of Conservatism &rdquo
1. Why were social issues associated with the sexual revolution so contested by all sides?
The sexual revolution represented a huge change in individual perception of relationships, marriage, and family. As the textbook says, opinions of premarital sex grew increasingly approving, divorce rates doubled in ten years, and birth rates dropped to half of what they were in 1957. These changes, while they occurred on a national level, are very personal shifts in ideology, relecting the larger movement toward freedom of choice. This is part of the reason why these issues were so contested.
The Vietnam War was a contemporary issue, and while anti-war protests were intense, they may not have affected as large a portion of the population as the sexual revolution did. Vietnam was a far-away conflict in a far-away place, involving politics that some Americans probably didn’t care about. On the other hand, such personal issues as marriage and divorce reached deep into their daily lives. It’s hard to ignore an issue in your family and immediate society. This likely caused more people to have stronger opinions about it, and those of differing opinions naturally clashed in such a time of change.
The major discontents with the sexual revolution were those of the Religious Right. They believed strongly in Christian values, including the wrongness of abortion and premarital sex. As members of the LDS church, we would fall into that category. Another reason these issues so divided the population is the clash between religious beliefs and societal trends. Until that point in history, it seems that to be committed to a religion was not to be very different from the majority of Americans. From the sexual revolution onward, that fact may have changed, and those on the side of religion disapproved of the shift.
Many of the issues that came up as a result of the sexual revolution, such as abortion and homosexuality, continue to be issues in the 21st century. They also continue to be heavily debated in society, for some of the same reasons as in the 1970s. Among these reasons were the difference between religious beliefs and the new societal beliefs, the intimate place of such issues in the lives of the people, and personal nature of decisions and ideologies related to the sexual revolution.
8. Ronald Reagan had a background in policies that were classified as both conservative and liberal. In his early life and careers he supported New Deal policies and was a New Deal Democrat. While in his career as an actor, he was the head of the Screen Actors Guild, a union. Later on, he became more conservative. As the spokesman for General Electric, he spoke in favor of unregulated capitalism. Further, he was elected as a republican governor of California. From here he launched two presidential bids: the first in 1976, in which he lost to Gerald Form, and the second in 1980, where he successfully obtained the nomination and was elected president. With his ability to appeal to a wide range of the political spectrum, his being elected brought together a diverse group of people, including “Sunbelt suburbanites and urban working-class ethnics antigovernment crusaders and advocates of a more aggressive foreign policy libertarians who believed in freeing the individual from restraint and the Christian Right, which sought to restore what they considered traditional moral values to American life” (1047). Through him, many people became united to work towards making a better America.
Up to this point in the twentieth century, liberals and progress were synonymous. Conservatives were seen as wanting to stop progress and return things back to how they use to be, reversing all progress in equal rights and freedoms, etc. President Reagan changed this view of conservatives. He showed that conservative policy could make progress. The Department of Justice stated that the Constitution is “color-blind.” This created a condition that stopped the use of the Constitution as a justification for special rights based on race. In addition to this, President Reagan appointed Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female member of the Supreme Court. This changed the precedence of only males being on the Supreme Court.
President Ronald Reagan worked to get things done. He kept his policies at the forefront of the focus of the nation. He didn’t let his opponents direct the focus of issues of policy. He knew when to compromise in order to keep support. Reagan showed he was not going to give in to labor unions. When thousands of air traffic controllers went on strike, he fired them.
Ronald Reagan changed what it meant to be free. He caused that the top tax rate be reduced by twenty points. His tax plan went even further than this. The Tax Reform Act reduced the tax rate on the wealthiest Americans to twenty-eight percent. He also caused regulations on businesses to be reduced. His view of governments influence on the economy was to reduce regulations and costs to business so the positive effects would “trickle-down” to help employees and consumers. This would help the economy to grow.
President Reagan inherited the responsibility of dealing with the Cold War from President Carter. He enacted policies, such as the Strategic Defense Initiative, to protect the United States against nuclear bombardment. His work in fighting the Cold War was not only defensive. He worked with Mikhail Gorbachev, the new Soviet premier. Together, they helped to improve conditions for both countries. Reagan worked with him to create economic reform and an atmosphere of political openness in the Soviet Union. Together, they reduced arms possession and create peace in the Cold War. President Ronald Reagan was instrumental in the tearing down of the Berlin Wall that divided East and West Berlin and forming an era of peace, after a period of fear created during the Cold War. The United States was no longer at odds with the Soviet Union.
6. What were the causes and consequences of the public’s disillusionment with the federal government in the 1970s and 1980s?
There is a reason why one of our textbooks refers to the Nixon era as “the downfall of presidents.” Several major events and large undercurrents undermined the American public’s trust in the federal government, causing a large conservative anti-government movement and a different view on the presidency that continues to today.
Disillusionment with the government started with the long, bloody, vague war in Vietnam. A far cry from the democratic unity achieved in the 1st and 2nd World Wars, the Vietnam War had unclear aims and a removed purpose – in just the wrong time. In an era where the ’s counterculture was becoming the ’s’ norm, anti-war sentiments were strong and were fed by the uncertainty of not only the purpose, but also the moral legitimacy of the war. Public confusion on Vietnam and the many U.S. and civilian lives being lost there lead to a wariness of the government that had been largely absent since the FDR era.
Civilian discontent was also fueled by a struggling economy and decades-old Cold War politics. With stagflation rampant and average homes making less money than ever, the public began to question the efficacy of government control of the economy. To make matters worse, the Cold War continued to rage as Nixon supported ruthless dictators in the name of anti-communism. In an era echoing “All You Need is Love” from the ’s, an ideological war of hatred stretching back to the end of World War II was getting tiring.
Another factor adding to wariness of the government was general disillusionment with America itself. Staunchly religious conservatives watch with increasing apprehension as the moral values of the country shifted and loosened. Sexual promiscuity and diversity were becoming more and more acceptable, and abortions were a heated and passionate debate on human rights. The consumer vibes of the last few decades seemed artificial and detrimental to families. Women in the work force disturbed the traditional model of the family. All of these social issues caused many conservatives to wonder if the world (and the government) were falling down the wrong path.
This growing sense of general wariness was heightened by the most obvious crisis of trust with the federal government in this era – the unexpected ending of Nixon’s presidency. Deeply mired in corruption, Nixon and his crew unlawfully suppressed opposition and broke into the Democratic Convention. He illegally promoted espionage on persons he was weary of, and tried mightily to stifle the public’s knowledge of these events. When exposed, the office of the United States Presidency fell from visions of national heroes (like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, FDR, and JFK) to visions of crooked and greedy political phonies. The general sense of distrust towards the government was given and name and a face, and even modern public opinion shows remnants of this event. We look favorably upon candidates who claim to be disassociated with “politicians,” and are quick to point out a president’s faults.
All of this discontent resulted in a massive swing towards conservatism. The public simply did not trust the government, and so the natural solution was to limit its powers. Reagan was elected and took the idea of “conservatism” (or hearkening back to the past) to promote progressive-esque change. Taxes, foreign Cold-War affairs, and labor were all heated topics. Government was seeming to reverse decades-old policies of supporting unions and company restrictions. More and more, the public demanded a defense of a traditional judeo-christian morality by the government. Conservatives became associated in this era with the opposition of free sex, homosexuality, the disintegration of the traditional family, and abortions.
In conclusion, massive public distrust of the government in the ’s and ’s lead to dramatic changes in the conservative stance that persist to today.
3. What were the main features of Nixon’s policy of “realism” in dealing with China and the Soviet Union?
When running for president, Nixon ran a campaign that was fiercely anticommunism. It was when he came into office, that the nation realized that Nixon was more of a realist. As the book says, “ he had more interest in power than ideology and preferred international stability to relentless conflict.” It seems that Nixon found power in peace, though the path that he took to achieve it might not have been the best in some cases, he did have some success with two major communist countries, the Soviet Union and China.
President Nixon saw that China was to play a big role in the world later on. He also realized that China had it’s own ideas and agenda, and that they were not simply puppets under Russia’s hand. This being the case, Nixon started to establish relations with them by visiting their country, and also by officially recognizing them as a government and allowing them a seat at the United Nations. Although full diplomatic relations did not happen until 1979, trade between the two countries increased dramatically. You could say that in doing all of this with China, Nixon was hoping to make a long term investment, so as to be able to have some sort of influence over them when they did rise to play a major part in the world.
The Soviet Union had been in the Cold War with the United States for many years. Nixon knew that he had to do something to diminish the fear that each country had for the other. His plan was to try and better the relationship that the U.S. and Russia had with each other. In doing this he also hoped that Russia would convince North Vietnam to accept the terms of the United States and end the war that was going on in Vietnam. Although this did not happen, Nixon was able to travel to the Soviet Union for the first time, and there he and Leonid Brezhnev (the leader of Russia at the time) were able to establish 2 different treaties with each other that would help end the Cold War. The SALT treaty was put into place to freeze the making of missiles that carried nuclear war heads. The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty banned the making of missile defense systems. This was so that both countries couldn’t attack the other with out fear of a huge retaliation.
Although there was controversy over Nixon’s approach to foreign policy and other policies within the United States, he did have a lot of success in bettering the diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union and China. He was able relieve at least a little of the fear that Russians and Americans lived with and he was able to push forward the establishment of diplomatic relations with China, who would later grow to become a major world force.
How did Vietnam and the Watergate scandal affect popular trust in the government?
The Vietnam War severely weakened public trust in the government, with such distrust particularly starting with the Johnson administration. With the Gulf of Tonkin resolution giving Johnson war powers in the region, Johnson waged war against the Vietcong of North Vietnam. Although the policy was to inform the public that the United States was “winning” the war, in reality, they were losing ground against the Vietcong and unable to gain support among the local vietnamese. Additionally, the American public did not support the United States government supporting the leader of the South Vietnam, who was a ruthless dictator. Ultimately, with the losses of the Tet Offensive and the subsequent smearing of Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency, not only did American support for the Vietnam war crumble, but public trust in the government to tell the truth to the public and make moral decisions was shaken.
Right after the Johnson Administration, Richard Nixon stepped into office promising a return to normalcy and traditionalism to the “silent majority”. However, the events of the Watergate scandal of his administration would further shake American trust in the government. Nixon was involved in an attempt to break into the Democratic National Convention and plant false evidence to help secure his reelection, and had taped recordings of his conversations related to these events. Popular trust in the federal government crumbled after Nixon admitted his guilt and resigned from office.
C. In what ways did the opportunities of most Americans diminish in the 1970’s?
Like previous decades, the 70’s were characterized by politics, economics, and cultural identity changes. Some of these shifts in opinions and policies ultimately led to a decrease in opportunities available to many Americans. Many white conservatives felt that their employment opportunities were being given to minorities, particularly black Americans, due to initiatives like the Philadelphia Plan. Whether or they were correct in this thinking could be debated. Segregation increased during this time. The Supreme Court stopped pushing to integrated public schools, and as a result funding to transport minority students great distances came to an end. Eventually schools in the North came to be more segregated than in the South. Welfare systems implemented by Nixon had a crippling effect on many in the poverty stricken poor class. Often not enough to live off of, the poor had to depend on government assistance for a meager living. The 1970’s saw a period of slowing economic growth and inflation. According to Foner’s “Give Me Liberty!” the average American ended the decade poorer than when it began. There was a merchandise trade deficit, where the US was importing more goods than they were exporting. This led to inflation of the US dollar and instability in the US and world markets. Corporations began to downsize, terminating high paying positions. Some cities lost over half their manufacturing jobs by 1980. A renewed distrust of the government was founded in a sense of anxiety over financial matters, a fear of American decline in world power, overall rising urban crime rates, and the sense that the American government no longer could care for it’s people.
How did various groups see the relationship between women’s rights and freedom differently?
The 1970s is one of the tumultuous decades of American history when it comes to women’s rights. With second-wave feminism, the rise of pink-collar jobs, as well as political issues such as the Roe v. Wade decision and the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), there was plenty of action in regards to the redefining of women’s roles in American life.
As is typical for American politics, there arose two sides to the issue of women’s rights that used “freedom” terminology to mean different things in their own political views. On the conservative side, the Moral Majority, or Christians in general, defined freedom as the quintessential family views that all Americans were meant to cherish. This meant in part that women were divinely appointed to be wives and mothers and that government had a responsibility to sponsor this role, rather than enabling its degradation through support of abortions or the ERA. Ironically, many conservatives felt that the expansion of feminine freedoms would allow an over-expansion of male freedoms that would allow men to shirk their domestic responsibilities as well. Indeed, to the religious right, the curtailing of women’s rights was indelibly tied to a curtailing of men’s freedoms and many believed that “too much” freedom was the source of moral decline in American life and politics. If government was truly looking out for the welfare of the people and the country, then that would best be accomplished by strengthening the American family and preventing its disintegration through preventing pro-women’s rights legislation
Conversely, leftist politics believed in an expansion of freedom regardless of consequences. To liberals, freedom for women meant that “the gentler sex” should be entitled to the same rights as men. Hence the resurgence of second-wave feminism and the ERA. Like the cartoon in the textbook depicted, the wage gap between men and women was perhaps one of the grossest injustices in the American employment system. But economic freedom and equality was not the only right that feminists and the left strove for. For these groups, freedom meant control of one’s self in all its entirety. In other words, women and men operated within their own spheres that were meant to be inherently equal. Thus, in family, the man and woman were meant to be total partners, with the woman free to choose what role she played in the marriage. One of the biggest examples of this was in the role of motherhood and the discussion about how much freedom the woman had over control of her own body. There are many aspects to this argument, but they typically culminate in the morality of abortion. Of course, this debate still rages today, but in the 1970s, with the Roe v. Wade decision, it became especially heated. Ultimately, it seems that the left believes that a woman has the freedom to choose whether or not to carry a child through an entire pregnancy or terminate it whenever she wishes. Government is still a pivotal part in this debate as the facilitator of what is legal and what is not.
Though there are many competing views of this debate, these are a few of the issues which are discussed and typically the dividing lines behind these issues.
9). Why was there growth in economic inequality in the 1980s?
The United States in 1980s saw a great expansion in American capitalism. Ronald Reagan put policies in place to keep corporation and wealthy individuals richer than before. For example, Reagan’s policies increased stock prices and deindustrialization resulted in an increase in economic inequality, particularly for the poor and middle class. The middle class income especially for those with wives who did not work, became stagnate. The poor’s income actually declined. According Foner, this was due in part because of falling investments in public housing, the release of mental patients from stat hospitals, and cuts in welfare (Foner pg 1062). Poverty in America increased and so did the number of displaced homeless persons. During the 1980s, homeless people became more visible in major cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, etc. Another reason for the increase in inequality was the devastating effects of deindustrialization that it had on minority workers such as Latinos and blacks. These people had just recently been allowed to work in manufacturing jobs but most of theme either closed down or got outsourced to other countries for cheaper labor. Factories that had hired Latinos and African Americans such as Fire Stone Tires would also close down. National unemployment was about 8.9 percent, however it was around 20 percent for blacks. This created a shift in the economy, tech industries and financial institutions were some of the biggest industries during the 80s no longer was manufacturing the backbone of the U.S economy. For example, steel factories employed only 170,000 workers when just a decade ago it employed around 600,000 worked. The new economy’s landscaped required more knowledge based jobs through either college or technical training and blacks and Latinos lacked such skills and opportunities. Eventually black males fell the farthest from any other minority group in terms of wages and jobs.
By late 1980s to the mid 1990s, the richest 1 percent of Americans owned about 40 percent of the nation’s wealth. The economy became dominated by big corporate mergers and Wall Street stock brokers. Billion dollar deals and hostile take overs provided lawyers and bankers with lots of returns. The 1980s marked the era for corporate greed or the “greed is healthy” slogan as many prominent Wall Street bankers said (Foner pg.1053). Reagan had deregulated Wall Street and big businesses as a chance for the economy to flow freely in the open markets. He also decreased the tax bracket for the wealthy individuals in the Tax Reform Act from 70 percent to 28 percent. Many of the wealthiest people were paying less taxes than the middle and low income Americans. This created an unequal distribution of wealth across the nation. Reagan’s anti-union sentiment also had an effect on the working class. For instance, he fired 13,000 air traffic union workers because of protest and later replaced them with military personal until they trained new workers. He reduced funding for welfare programs, food stamps, school lunches, and federal financing of low income housing.
Overall, the 1980s did see a massive economic expansion of new industries and technological advances such as satellite communications, finance and technology. However that economic expansion benefited the 1 percent of the country only. Middle and blue collar workers saw their wages stagnate, whereas the poor saw their income decline. By the 1990s, homeless people were very visible in major cities. Lower corporate and wealthy individual taxes created a system of unequal distribution of wealth because the rich were paying less than the middle class and poor on taxes. Regan’s policies of rising stock prices and deinstrialization nearly eliminated the opportunity for many minority workers to get a decent job and decent pay. This created a system of imbalance in the economy, yes American grew stronger and prosperous but at the expense in increase of income inequality.
4. Describe the basic events and the larger significance of the Watergate scandal.
One of the most long reaching events of the 1970’s in America is the Watergate Scandal. The events began with 4 men breaking into the Watergate office complex in Washington D.C. This was significant because this was the headquarters of the National Democratic Party. It became extra significant when it was realized that the people arrested had money in their apartment that could be traced back to the committee that wanted to get Nixon reelected at the end of his term. This was scandalous enough, but the real scandal came when Nixon was found to have recordings of everything that happened at the White House. His system was automatically voice recorded, so it should have had everything on it. He refused to hand over the tapes and they were eventually seized. The end for Nixon came when a so called “smoking gun” tape was found, incriminating him without a doubt. Nixon stepped down as president before being impeached.
The Watergate scandal has remained in American Psyche ever since. It led to a far reaching distrust of the president and government in general. In addition, the suffix of gate has come to be part of most scandals. For example, when a football team was discovered to have under inflated balls. The entire thing became known as “Deflate-gate”. Changed were also made to the president’s ability to declare emergencies. This entire scandal also tarnished Nixon’s image and the image of the Republican Party. Hopefully, when people look at presidential candidates now, they’ll realize that people who lie and cover things up should be looked at carefully and probably not elected. .
5. What were the major causes for the decline of the U.S. economy in the 1970s?
Probably the most significant/detrimental cause of the suffering economy of the 70’s was the energy crisis that was only made worse by the loss of oil trade in the middle east under the “Arab Oil Embargo.” The direct result of the Yon Kippur war, this embargo, supported by some of the worlds biggest oil producers like Saudi Arabia and Iraq, caused a severe shortage in oil which at the time was essential for power and transportation alike all around the country, and even the world.
Unemployment is one of the lesser regarded influences of the declining economy, this may be in turn because it was to be expected. Due to the Vietnam war having recently ended, we once again had a large influx of returned veterans to the states that needed work finding that other people had filled a lot of those jobs that would usually be occupied by a family dad or a husband. A stock market crash in 1973 that “lasted” until the following year also had many US citizens disillusioned at the stability of the economy and slowed the US’s recovery process.
1980s: Conservatism, Cold War and Computers
As of December 31, 2014, I retired from full-time teaching in Humboldt State University's Department of History. While this website will remain online, it is no longer maintained.
History 111 - Dr. Gayle Olson-Raymer
The 1970s and the 1980s: The Decline of Liberalism and the Triumph of Conservatism
No story in which one examines the history of late 19th and 20th Century America can be complete without an understanding of two terms that dominate the 21st Century political world - liberal and conservative. Our goal for the next two days is to gain a more precise understanding not only of these two terms, but of those to whom they were/are applied.
Discussion Goals: The 1970s and the 1980s: The Decline of Liberalism and the Triumph of Conservatism
- To discuss the characteristics of modern liberalism and conservatism and to compare and contrast the terms.
- To understand the decline of liberalism in the 1970s and how it contributed to the triumph of conservatism in the 1980s.
- To learn about the Election of 1980 that brought about the end of liberalism and the rise of conservatism.
- To understand Ronald Reagan, the man, as well as Ronald Reagan, the politician.
- To learn what happened to the economy, to the role of the federal government, and to U.S. foreign policy during the Reagan Presidency.
- To examine the legacy of Ronald Reagan&rsquos conservatism in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries
- To understand the most controversial aspect of the Reagan Presidency - the Iran-Contra Affair.
Goal #1: To discuss the characteristics of modern liberalism and conservatism and to compare and contrast the terms.
Liberal - Derived from Middle English term liberalis, meaning befitting free men. Also the Latin term liber meaning freedom .
- Adjective = broad-minded, favorable to progress or reform.
- Noun = a person with broad-minded, progressive views, especially in politics or religion.
- Classical liberalism &ndash emphasizes the belief that laissez faire capitalism based on little to no governmental interference in the economy will promote individual liberty. First articulated by John Locke (1632-1704) who described two fundamental ideas behind the idea of individual liberty:
- economic liberty &ndash the right to own and use property and
- intellectual liberty &ndash the right to intellectual freedom of thought and conscience.
- John Maynard Keynes was one of the strongest proponents of social liberals.
- By the end of the 19th century, some liberals asserted that in order to be free, individuals needed access to food, shelter, and education and they also needed governmental protection against exploitation.
- Then, during the Great Depression, the public's faith in laissez faire capitalism declined and many began to believe that unregulated markets could neither produce prosperity nor prevent poverty -
Conservative - Derived from Middle English term conserven,meaning to save, guard, preserve.
- Adjective = marked by moderation or caution.
- Noun = a person with moderate or cautious views, especially in politics or religion.
"A conservative is not, by definition, a selfish or a stupid person instead, he is a person who believes there is something in our life worth saving. Conservatism, indeed, is a word with an old and honorable meaning - but a meaning almost forgotten by Americans until recent years . Conservatism, then, is not simply the concern of the people who have much property and influence it is not simply the defense of privilege and status. Most conservatives are neither rich nor powerful. But they do, even the most humble of them, derive great benefits from our established Republic . Conservatism is not simply a defense of capitalism. But the true conservative does stoutly defend private property and a free economy, both for their own sake and because these are means to great ends. Those great ends . involve human dignity, human personality, human happiness. They involve even the relationship between God and man."
Goal #2: To understand the decline of liberalism in the 1970s and how it contributed to the triumph of conservatism in the 1980s
Factors leading to the decline of liberalism in the 1970s: While historians are still debating the factors that brought about a decline in liberalism in the late 1960s and the1970s, these are the main reasons that most agree upon:
- The Kennedy administration&rsquos failure to challenge the USSR about the construction of the Berlin Wall.
- The Johnson administration&rsquos Civil Rights legislation and the War on Poverty.
- Many middle class Southern Democrats abandoned the Democratic Party because they associated it with Civil Rights legislation, support of the counter-culture, and an emphasis of providing federal assistance to the disadvantaged and minorities.
- As Ronald Reagan famously said during the 1980 election, &ldquoI didn&rsquot leave the Democratic Party it left me.
- The failure of the Democratic and Republican Parties to &ldquostay the course&rdquo in Vietnam. "Stay the course" is a term popularized by Ronald Reagan and later used by George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush which means to pursue a goal regardless of any obstacles or criticism.
- The Republican Party's disgrace by the mainstream presidencies of Nixon and Ford. Many conservatives believed Nixon and Ford had been too liberal and what the nation needed was a return to conservative leadership.
- Nixon disgraced the party with Watergate.
- Nixon reversed the Cold War policy of containment and instead fostered the policies of détente (French meaning "release of tensions") that advanced the improvement of Cold War relations with the USSR and China. Nixon's detente policy was perceived by many Republicans to be "soft on communism."
- Ford signed the Helsinki Agreement in 1975 - in which the U.S. recognized Soviet dominance of Eastern Europe in return for the Soviet agreement to observe international human rights principles - and conservatives saw it as an act of appeasement.
- The foreign policies of the Carter Administration that many conservatives thought were both liberal and dangerous:
- Carter was perceived as &ldquo..weak and soft, a wimp more interested in human rights than national security, and more concerned about arms control than weapons development.&rdquo (Diggins, p. 160).
- Carter was perceived as &ldquosoft on communism,&rdquo especially:
- In a speech at the University of Notre Dame when he told Americans to get over their &ldquoinordinate fear of communism.&rdquo
- When he recognized the Chinese government and cut diplomatic relations with Taiwan. In his televised speech to the American people, Carter revealed that the U.S. and Communist China had secretly and suddenly decided to end nearly 30 years of warlike estrangement. The two countries would establish normal diplomatic relations on Jan. 1.
- When he gave up the Panama Canal after heated debate and many Republicans felt that Panamanian communists were behind the Canal liberation movement.
- The Russian invasion of Afghanistan (1979)
- The downfall of the Shah in Iran (early 1979.)
- The taking of American hostages in Iran(November 4, 1979).
- The domestic policies of the Carter administration. On assuming office in 1977, President Carter inherited an economy that was slowly emerging from a recession. He had severely criticized former President Ford for his failures to control inflation and relieve unemployment, but after four years of the Carter presidency, both inflation and unemployment were considerably worse than at the time of his inauguration.
- The annual inflation rate rose from 4.8% in 1976, to 6.8% in 1977, 9% in 1978, 11% in 1979, and 12% in 1980.
- Although Carter had pledged to eliminate federal deficits, the 1979 deficit totaled $27.7 billion and the 1980 deficit was nearly $59 billion.
- In 1980, 8 million people were out of work.
In short, by the late 1970s, many Americans no longer trusted their government.
- They were mired in pessimism that arose from five previously flawed or failed presidents (Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter).
- They were tired of actual or perceived liberal leadership since the New Deal (five democratic presidents = FDR, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, and Carter versus three republican presidents - Eisenhower, Nixon, and Ford.)
- They longed to re-embrace American exceptionalism.
- Some of these dissatisfied Americans were Democrats, some were mainstream Republicans, and some were disgruntled conservatives.
Americans were ready for a change - for an end to liberal leadership, especially in the Presidency, and for the beginning of conservative leadership. And that was what guided the election of 1980.
Goal #3: To learn about the Election of 1980 that brought about the end of liberalism and the rise of conservatism.
Throughout the 1970s, conservatives were developing their agenda. They knew that by mid-decade, Americans were not quite ready for a real change. What they needed to bring them back to the Executive branch was a Democrat with a failed domestic and foreign policy to come into power &ndash and as we have seen, Jimmy Carter provided just that. Thus, Ronald Reagan ran for the Presidency at a time when Americans were ready for change - change built solidly upon modern conservatism and a rejection of social liberalism.
Because the Carter team did not have a strong record, it decided its only chance for reelection was to go after Reagan by painting him as a wild-eyed conservative ideologue who could not be trusted to maintain the peace. For several months, the strategy worked and it appeared that by September, Carter would win.So what happened? Two things:
- The only televised debate between the candidates.
- The Carter campaign pursued a debate with Reagan because they thought it would give the president a chance to display his great command of complex issues, and that Reagan might stumble or look confused. Only when the Reagan camp saw how tight the race was did they agree to debate at all.
- However, rather than sounding dangerous or overwhelmed, Reagan calmly brushed aside Carter's attacks, shaking his head and saying, "There you go again." In his closing statement, Reagan brilliantly framed the election in his favor: "It might be well if you ask yourself, are you better off than you were four years ago?" If so, he said, vote for four more years of Carter if not, "I could suggest another choice that you have."
- Carter's failure to get the Iranian hostages released. Unfortunately for Carter, the 1980 election coincided with the one-year anniversary of the seizure of the American embassy in Tehran. Many Americans blamed him for the ongoing crisis - and they showed their anger at the polls.
Thus, the results of the 1980 Election was a landslide victory for Reagan and the beginning of 12 years of conservative leadership in the White House. In fact, many people called the election the beginning of the &ldquoReagan Revolution.&rdquo
Goal #4 -To understand Ronald Reagan, the man, as well as Ronald Reagan, the politician
The dozens of biographies that have been written about Ronald Reagan fail to agree about many things - especially the degree to which he was or was not an effective president. But there is one thing about which all authors agree - Reagan the man shaped Reagan the politician.
What are the most important points to know about Ronald Reagan, the Man?
- His early family life was chaotic - his father was Irish Catholic and had a serious drinking problem, while his mother was an evangelical Christian. They moved from place to place during his early years while his father took various jobs. They settled in Dixon, Illinois when he was 9 - which for the first time in his life, brought much stability.
- Both parents had a role in shaping the man Reagan would become - his father's alcoholism and allegiance to the Democratic Party and his mother's absolute allegiance to evangelical Christianity.
- Reagan had reason to be optimistic and believe in the American Dream - after graduating during the Depression from a small Bible College in Illinois, Reagan had a dream of becoming a radio sports broadcaster, but he had no experience. Nonetheless, he managed to get a job and within four years, he became one of the most celebrated sports broadcasters in the Midwest.
- In 1937, he moved to Hollywood to begin working for Warner Brothers - thereby achieving another success story in the American Dream.
- In Hollywood, he had an average career.
- He joined and eventually became president of the actor's union - the Screen Actor's Guild (SAG)
- Became involved in pro-Roosevelt, Democratic Party politics.
- A plan "to send the welfare bums back to work", and
- A plan "to clean up the mess at Berkeley" by ending the anti-war and anti-establishment student protests at the University of California at Berkeley.
- He easily won a second term in 1970.
What are the most important things to know about Ronald Reagan the politician? The events in Ronald Reagan's life prior to his political career had a deep influence on the following beliefs that shaped his role as a politician.
- American exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny - The U.S. - the best country in the world with the best people - is on a divinely appointed mission to serve as a beacon of liberty for the rest of the world.
- Consistent optimism - "History was destined to have a happy ending" - just like the movies in which he starred.
- American Dream- Americans lived in a nation where anything was possible and where the American Dream was available to anybody who wanted it.
- Protestantism - Americans need not be held back by strict, Calvinistic religious doctrines but instead, should pursue "a life of good works and charity." God was benevolent and forgiving.
- Economic liberty - Americans should be free to do what they wished economically. He believed that economic freedom was far different from that of the Democrats - especially New Deal democrats who believed that economic freedom required the federal government to combat poverty, increase economic security for all Americans, and bolster the purchasing power of all Americans.
- Reagan's economic policy was firmly grounded in traditional laissez faire economic concepts
- Such economic nonintervention and property protection would reverse previous liberal policies that redistributed wealth by confiscating property via taxation.
- Decreasing taxes via supply-side economics was the key to his economic policy. Reagan believed that tax reductions would encourage business expansion, which, in turn, would lead to a larger supply of goods to help stimulate the entire economy.
- By his second term in office, Reagan favored abandoning the traditional conservative idea of winning the Cold War militarily in favor of negotiating a political end to the Cold War.
- To that end, Gorbachev and Reagan held four summit conferences between 1985 and 1988 the first in Geneva, Switzerland, the second in Reykjavik, Iceland, the third in Washington, D.C., and the fourth in Moscow.
- At each, Reagan pursued his belief that if he could persuade the Soviets to allow for more democracy and free speech, it would lead to reform and the end of Communism.
The events of Reagan's live and these political beliefs contributed to Reagan the President.
Goal #5 - To learn what happened to the economy, to the role of the federal government, and to U.S. foreign policy during the Reagan Presidency.
What happened to the economy during Reagan's Presidency?
- Failed to balance the budget &ndash something that many academics has explained was impossible during wartime (and the Cold War was very expensive) when military budgets must increase.
- Reduced the long-term inflation rate from 12.5 when he entered office to 4.4 when he left office &ndash almost a quarter of what it had been eight years earlier.
- Decreased the unemployment rate from 7.1 when he entered office to 5.5 when he left office.
- Decreased the prime interest rate from 15.26% when he entered office to 9.32% when he left office.
- Increased the Dow Jones industrial averages from 950.68 on the day of his inauguration to 2235.36 on the day he left office.
- Increased the per capita disposable income from $9,722 when he entered office to $11,326 when he let office.
- Tripled the national debt from $908.5 billion when he entered office to $2.684.4 trillion when he left office.
- Greatly increased the adjusted gross incomes of Americans making over a million dollars from 4,414 individual tax returns filed with the IRS when he entered office to 34,944 by 1987.
- Quadrupled the difference between what Americans spent for foreign goods and what foreigners spent for American exports (trade deficit) from about $343.3 billion when he entered office to $137.3 billion when he left office.
- Failed to achieve the promise of supply-side economics &ndash economic growth.
What happened to the role of the federal government during Reagan's Presidency?
- Reagan&rsquos administration sharply reduced federal funding for the antipoverty programs created under Lyndon Johnson &ndash food stamps, school lunches, and low-income housing. In return, he made grants available to the states to spend money as they saw fit on a wide array of projects previously supported by the federal government.
- Reagan&rsquos administration left the bedrock programs of the New Deal &ndash like social security &ndash firmly in place.
- Reagan&rsquos administration used the powers of the federal government to regulate the morality and behavior of the nation in a way that sustained social conservatism.
- Reagan&rsquos administration increased federal spending for the military, especially with SDI/Star Wars &ndash cost $60 billion during his two terms.
- Reagan&rsquos conservative view of the federal government - that it was the problem and it needed to be brought under control &ndash permeated his presidency and gained continued to gain support in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
- Reagan expanded the role of the federal government - especially the executive branch and the military. Reagan&rsquos belief system would not allow him to ask Americans to discipline consumer desires or stay out of debt. So Americans kept spending, going into debt, AND making demands on the government. In other words, Reagan could not reverse the American belief in entitlements.
- Reagan's conservative policies ushered in a new era of splits and divisions within the ideology - especially with the risse of neoconservative thought and passionate conservatism.
What happened to foreign policy during Reagan's Presidency?
- In his first term, Reagan escalated the Cold War with the USSR, marking a sharp departure from the earlier, more liberal, policy of détente advocated by Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter. His administration's policy toward the USSR had three characteristics:
- Decrease Soviet access to high technology and diminish their resources, including depressing the value of Soviet commodities on the world market.
- Increase American military buildup to strengthen the U.S. negotiating position.
- Force the Soviets to devote more of their economic resources to defense.
- Reagan supported anti-communist groups around the world. Through the Reagan Doctrine, his administration funded
- the Mujahideen in Afghanistan,
- various right-wing, anti-socialist groups in Latin America, especially the "freedom fighters" in Nicaragua, as well as in El Salvador and Guatamala.
- When Mikhail Gorbachev became chairman of the Politburo in 1985, Reagan relaxed his aggressive rhetoric toward the Soviet Union. The USSR was economically disintegrating indeed, Moscow had built a military that consumed as much as 25% of the Soviet Union's gross national product at the expense of consumer goods and investment in civilian sectors. Thus, Reagan adopted a new position of negotiating with the USSR from strength. Among his accomplishments were
- Working with Gorbachev so that he gave major concessions to the United States on the levels of conventional forces, nuclear weapons, and policy on Soviet intervention in Eastern Europe.
- Giving a speech in the USSR, at Gorbachev's request, on the benefit of a free market economy.
- These and other accomplishments helped to bring about the end of the Cold War declared by George H.W. Bush and Gorbachev in 1989.
- In 1984, Reagan used the term "war against terrorism" to help pass legislation designed to freeze assets of terrorist groups - especially those Middle Eastern groups believed to be involved in the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing which killed 241 U.S. and 58 French peacekeepers. (The concept of an American "war on terrorism" did not begin until after 9/11)
Goal #6 - To examine the legacy of Ronald Reagan&rsquos conservatism in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries
- A dramatic shift of the nation&rsquos political discourse from liberalism to social conservatism. The social contract of mutual dependence and government oversight that came about during the New Deal has been replaced by traditional values of individualism and unrestrained economic acquisition. As Jules Tygiel wrote, "Reagan's greatest accomplishment lay in the realm of ideology and politics. American conservatives came to embrace Reagan as a visionary, the triumphant personification of their beliefs and the foundation on which to consolidate their hold on the American electorate." (p. 201)
- A continued belief among Democrats and Republicans alike in decreasing taxes, the magic of the unfettered marketplace, and a desire to decrease government size and control over our lives.
- A continued commitment to Reagan&rsquos deep belief that foreign &ldquoevil empires&rdquo- including the USSR and those in the Middle East that were designated by the next three presidents as supporting terrorists - should be defeated, not just contained.
- An ongoing desire to feel good about America&rsquos exceptional role in the world and in our mandate to spread democracy to communist and Middle Eastern nations.
- No great shift from New Deal politics or repeal of liberal issues. Reagan did little to make abortion illegal, stem the tide of women's roles in the economy, or promote the passage of a constitutional amendment restoring prayer in public schools. Addionally, Reagan did little to destroy the welfare state. He failed to curtail or repeal Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
- The entrance of the religious right into politics as evangelical Christians began to vote, run for political office, and support a new "Contract for America." This was especially apparent in 1994 when the "Contract for America" brought Republican leadership to both houses in Congress for the first time in 40 years. Their conservative agency - in many ways, far more conservative than that of Reagan, became to embrace deregulation lower taxes loosen environmental controls dismantle the welfare state discredit bilateral and multilateral approaches to the world&rsquos problems, especially by criticizing U.S. involvement in the United Nations decrease federal government role in social welfare issues and devolve federal power downward to the states andincrease the role of the federal government in moral and military issues.
- An emphasis on ideology rather than reality shapes many Americans' world view. Many base our political belief system upon the ideals of what we want, rather than the reality of what we have.
- The belief that "evil empires" still exist and they still seek to destroy the legacy of freedom embraced by the United States. While some fear of communism continues to exist, the Soviet enemy has largely been replaced by another, perhaps greater enemy &ndash terrorists and terrorism.
- Factionalism within the Republican Party between the traditional, social conservatives who support the states' rights agenda of the Jeffersonians the compassionate conservatives and the neoconservatives. Thus, at the end of Reagan&rsquos Presidency, many moderate Republicans continued to support him and his policies and praise the brand of conservativism he brought to America. However, those on the right were disappointed and waited for the time to be right to bring a dedicated conservative to office - one that voiced the beliefs of two new types of conservatives - the neoconservatives (many of whom served under Reagan) and the passionate conservatives.
- Compassionate conservativism - emphasizes that our government has a compassionate duty to serve the needs of the poor, sick, and aged and it should do so through the mechanisms of the free market economy. They believe that taxpayer dollars should be redirected from government welfare agencies to private religious and civil organizations arguing that:
- social problems are better solved through cooperation with private companies, charities, and religious institutions instead of the federal government and
- social services should be outsourced to small, local civic associations and liberal organizations that have a detailed knowledge of the best way to serve the needs of people in their communities
- Neoconservatism - emphasizes that the traditional Jeffersonian view of the best government being that which rules least is outdated and must be replaced by a new kind of conservative strong central government suitable for governing a modern democracy by:
- Providing welfare services to all people who need them while, at the same time, giving people choices about how they want those services delivered.
- Allowing people to keep their own money - rather than having it transferred via taxes to the state - with the condition that they put it to defined uses. (Such as allowing Americans to choose their own private social security accounts and their own private health and child-care providers, and providing parents with vouchers that enable them to choose which schools their children will attend.)
- Passing federal legislation and/or encouraging U.S. Supreme Court decisions that support the moral positions of many conservatives - especially anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage issues.
- Compassionate conservativism - emphasizes that our government has a compassionate duty to serve the needs of the poor, sick, and aged and it should do so through the mechanisms of the free market economy. They believe that taxpayer dollars should be redirected from government welfare agencies to private religious and civil organizations arguing that:
- If you want to think about how "the American Dream" influences your life once you graduate, take 6 minutes to watch "The American Dream: The Purse Suit of Happyness" at http://www.youtube.com/watch?annotation_id=annotation_145095&feature=iv&src_vid=y_ZmM7zPLyI&v=tzcxOl4b7IA
Goal #6 - To understand the most controversial aspect of the Reagan Presidency - the Iran-Contra Affair
Conservatism and the rise of Ronald Reagan
For many Americans, the economic, social, and political trends of the previous two decades -- crime and racial polarization in many urban centers, challenges to traditional values, the economic downturn and inflation of the Carter years -- engendered a mood of disillusionment. It also strengthened a renewed suspicion of government and its ability to deal effectively with the country's social and political problems.
Conservatives, long out of power at the national level, were well positioned politically in the context of this new mood. Many Americans were receptive to their message of limited government, strong national defense, and the protection of traditional values.
This conservative upsurge had many sources. A large group of fundamentalist Christians were particularly concerned about crime and sexual immorality. They hoped to return religion or the moral precepts often associated with it to a central place in American life. One of the most politically effective groups in the early 1980s, the Moral Majority, was led by a Baptist minister, Jerry Falwell. Another, led by the Reverend Pat Robertson, built an organization, the Christian Coalition, that by the 1990s was a significant force in the Republican Party. Using television to spread their messages, Falwell, Robertson, and others like them developed substantial followings.
Another galvanizing issue for conservatives was divisive and emotional: abortion. Opposition to the 1973 Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, which upheld a woman's right to an abortion in the early months of pregnancy, brought together a wide array of organizations and individuals. They included, but were not limited to, Catholics, political conservatives, and religious evangelicals, most of whom regarded abortion under virtually any circumstances as tantamount to murder. Pro-choice and pro-life (that is, pro- and anti-abortion rights) demonstrations became a fixture of the political landscape.
Within the Republican Party, the conservative wing grew dominant once again. They had briefly seized control of the Republican Party in 1964 with its presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater, then faded from the spotlight. By 1980, however, with the apparent failure of liberalism under Carter, a "New Right" was poised to return to dominance.
Using modern direct mail techniques as well as the power of mass communications to spread their message and raise funds, drawing on the ideas of conservatives like economist Milton Friedman, journalists William F. Buckley, and George Will, and research institutions like the Heritage Foundation, the New Right played a significant role in defining the issues of the 1980s.
The "Old" Goldwater Right had favored strict limits on government intervention in the economy. This tendency was reinforced by a significant group of "New Right" "libertarian conservatives" who distrusted government in general and opposed state interference in personal behavior. But the New Right also encompassed a stronger, often evangelical faction determined to wield state power to encourage its views. The New Right favored tough measures against crime, a strong national defense, a constitutional amendment to permit prayer in public schools, and opposition to abortion.
The figure that drew all these disparate strands together was Ronald Reagan. Reagan, born in Illinois, achieved stardom as an actor in Hollywood movies and television before turning to politics. He first achieved political prominence with a nationwide televised speech in 1964 in support of Barry Goldwater. In 1966 Reagan won the governorship of California and served until 1975. He narrowly missed winning the Republican nomination for president in 1976 before succeeding in 1980 and going on to win the presidency from the incumbent, Jimmy Carter.
President Reagan's unflagging optimism and his ability to celebrate the achievements and aspirations of the American people persisted throughout his two terms in office. He was a figure of reassurance and stability for many Americans. Wholly at ease before the microphone and the television camera, Reagan was called the "Great Communicator."
Taking a phrase from the 17th-century Puritan leader John Winthrop, he told the nation that the United States was a "shining city on a hill," invested with a God-given mission to defend the world against the spread of Communist totalitarianism.
Reagan believed that government intruded too deeply into American life. He wanted to cut programs he contended the country did not need, and to eliminate "waste, fraud, and abuse." Reagan accelerated the program of deregulation begun by Jimmy Carter. He sought to abolish many regulations affecting the consumer, the workplace, and the environment. These, he argued, were inefficient, expensive, and detrimental to economic growth.
‘A zombie party’: the deepening crisis of conservatism
C onservatism is the dominant politics of the modern world. Even when rightwing parties are not in power, conservative ideas and policies set the shape of society and the economy. Ever since the transformative 1980s governments of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher – with their new fusion of disruptive capitalism and social traditionalism – the assumption in Britain, the US and far beyond has been that conservatism is the default setting of democratic politics.
Even when other parties have been in office, leaders such as Tony Blair and Bill Clinton have continued with the conservative project of privatising the state and deregulating business. For decades, armies of rightwing activists – with rich financial backers and many allies in the media – have successfully spread and entrenched conservative ideas.
Many of conservatism’s opponents have come to expect that, somehow, it will always prevail. Despite the spectacular failure of Theresa May’s premiership and the unpopularity of her divided party, the contest to succeed her is likely to dominate British politics this summer, as if the identity of the Tory leader is its weightiest matter. The Republican Donald Trump, despite the most consistently bad approval ratings of any modern US president, is widely thought to have a good chance of re-election. In today’s otherwise unstable, fast-changing political world, conservatism has an air of permanence.
Yet this aura has led to an overconfidence about conservatism’s underlying health. In Britain and the US, once the movement’s most fertile sources of ideas, voters, leaders and governments, a deep crisis of conservatism has been building since the end of the Reagan and Thatcher governments. It is a crisis of competence, of intellectual energy and coherence, of electoral effectiveness, and – perhaps most serious of all – of social relevance.
This crisis has often been obscured. The collapse of Soviet communism in the 80s, the apparent triumph of capitalism during the 90s, the western left’s own splits, dilemmas and failures, and the ongoing surge of rightwing populism have all helped maintain conservatism’s surface confidence. Meanwhile, the rightwing media’s fierce, enduring faith in the ever-more distant politics of Thatcher and Reagan has helped delay the moment of recognition that those politics have grown obsolete. The right is still winning elections, from India to the European parliament, but transatlantic conservatism as we have known it since the 80s – pro-capitalist, anti-government, controlled by the traditional parties of the right – may be dying.
The signs of this crisis have been around for years, for those who cared to see them. In Britain, the Conservatives last won a solid general election majority 32 years ago, in Thatcher’s final landslide victory. The Republicans have won the popular vote only once in the last seven presidential elections: in 2004, in the afterglow of George W Bush’s deceptive early successes in the Afghan and Iraq wars.
“The numbers are haunting,” says Charles Kesler, a leading conservative political scientist who teaches at Claremont McKenna College in California. “The Republican party has been telling itself for decades that it is on the verge of becoming a majority party.” It has long been a central claim of conservatism that it represents what Richard Nixon called “the silent majority”. Yet over recent decades, says Kesler, “all those hopes have been disappointed”.
Since the 90s, Britain and the US have steadily become more urban, multiracial, more connected to other countries, and, in some ways at least, fairer to women. Meanwhile, support for the Tories and the Republicans has grown ever more concentrated in towns and rural areas, and among white men. While Reagan and Thatcher looked forward as well as back, promising both to build a new world and to restore an old one – as in Reagan’s famous 1984 campaign slogan “It’s morning again in America” – conservatism has since become increasingly imprisoned by nostalgia.
“The Tory party has doubled down on [exploiting] older people’s feelings about the modern world,” says Andrew Cooper, Conservative peer and co-founder of the polling and social research firm Populus. “The party has got itself on the wrong side of a huge values divide.” Across Britain, he says, people under 45 have an increasingly “open”, meaning liberal, worldview. This liberalism will not fade as they enter old age, he predicts – a shift on which conservatism has long relied – because it is largely pragmatic: a response to a more diverse and interdependent world.
In 2012, the Republican senator Lindsey Graham summed up conservatism’s problem with modern demographics and social attitudes more bluntly, saying: “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.”
In the UK, Conservative party membership has been dwindling for decades. At its peak, in the early 50s, it was 2.8 million. Last year, it was 124,000 and the party received twice as much money from dead members, through wills, as from the living. Katy Balls, political correspondent of the usually pro-Tory Spectator magazine, described the Tories last year as “a zombie party”.
Intellectually, the movement certainly seems barely alive. A sense of entropy hangs over the rightwing thinktanks that used to show conservative governments how to change society. These institutions have grown old together: the American Enterprise Institute was founded in 1938, the Institute of Economic Affairs in 1955, the Heritage Foundation in 1973, the Centre for Policy Studies in 1974, the Adam Smith Institute in 1977. Despite all the setbacks for their free-market project – the financial crisis, the diminishing returns of capitalism for most people, the collapse of such once-lauded examples of outsourcing and deregulation as Enron and Carillion, the failures of privatised services ranging from trains to probation – the thinktanks’ answer to every problem has remained essentially unchanged: lower taxes, less regulation, smaller government.
George Osborne and David Cameron on the night the latter became prime minister in 2010. Photograph: Andrew Parsons
“The Tories, both in government and more generally, seem to have stopped talking and thinking about economics,” wrote Stian Westlake, until January an adviser to a succession of Tory ministers, in a widely shared article last month. Britain’s rightwing intellectual life, he wrote, had become “performative” rather than practical: “play-acting and position-taking rather than fighting the real battles”. Cooper describes the current conservative intellectual landscape as “a desert”. For years, rightwing politicians and strategists have been wandering it and finding only mirages. These promise a new conservatism, one that will make the movement modern again, or restore its broad appeal, or reunite its radical and traditional factions, which have been acrimoniously growing apart ever since Reagan and Thatcher left office.
But these visions of renewal have melted away. The “compassionate conservatism” briefly promoted by Bush, the Big Society optimistically sketched by David Cameron, the anarchic “deconstruction” of the state advocated by Trump’s bombastic adviser Steve Bannon, the anti-metropolitan conservatism proposed by May’s equally confident and ill-fated adviser Nick Timothy: all have been tried and quickly abandoned.
“There’s an effort to find a winning formula,” says Corey Robin, author of The Reactionary Mind, probably the most acclaimed recent book on conservatism. “They’re cycling through all these ideas, faster and faster. They’re running out of options.”
A s a political practice and philosophy, conservatism is famously durable and flexible: hard to define precisely. For centuries, many conservatives have insisted that their politics is about preserving things and avoiding ideology. But in practice the most effective conservative politicians have often done the opposite.
Robin, who is on the left, argues that behind the facade of pragmatism there has remained an unchanging conservative objective: “the maintenance of private regimes of power” – usually social and economic hierarchies – against threats from more egalitarian forces. Once democracy arrived, conservatives were faced with a harder task, he argues. They needed “to make privilege popular” – or at least popular enough for them to hold office.
Under Reagan and Thatcher, conservatism’s solution to this conundrum was to promote a Darwinian but supposedly inclusive capitalism that was meant to keep the economy evolving while also preserving the social structures that conservatives favour, such as the traditional family. Yet since the 80s the economic benefits of this model have steadily become thinner and more narrowly distributed meanwhile, its social costs have increasingly been felt by conservative-inclined interest groups, such as shopkeepers and people living in small towns.
In this unsettled, disillusioned political environment, conservatives have depended more and more on extraordinary means to win power: the narrow and partisan supreme court ruling that awarded Bush victory in 2000, the last-minute coalition with the Liberal Democrats that made Cameron prime minister in 2010, the Russian assistance that helped Trump narrowly outflank Hillary Clinton’s lumbering campaign in 2016.
At the same time, conservative administrations have tried to tilt the electoral process against left-leaning social groups such as the young, the transient and recent immigrants. Registering to vote and voting itself have been made more difficult, with more documents required, despite little evidence of electoral fraud.
Conservative parties retain their legendary will to win, but winning seems a greater and greater strain, and is being achieved by less and less inspiring means. “What does it say about us as Conservatives,” asks Cooper, “if our only hope for the next generation of voters is that they don’t vote?”
Belatedly, some on the right have begun to ponder such unsettling questions. Last month the former Tory leader William Hague warned in the Telegraph that his party had “failed to notice that the world outside our ranks [is] changing”. He concluded bleakly: “I inherited a party in ruins. The next leader may find even less.”
Donald Trump at a rally in February 2019 in El Paso, Texas. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Three years ago, the Claremont Review of Books, a conservative journal edited by Charles Kesler, published a despairing denunciation of “the whole enterprise of Conservatism, Inc” – the well-funded American world of rightwing thinktanks, media outlets and political conferences. “Its sole recent and ongoing success is its own self-preservation,” wrote the article’s anonymous author, later revealed as a relatively unknown rightwinger, Michael Anton.
The last chance for conservatism to save itself, Anton wrote, was to play “Russian roulette” by supporting the “worse than imperfect” Trump in the 2016 election. Shortly afterwards, Anton was appointed as a spokesman for Trump’s national security council.
The rise of rightwing populists such as Trump and Nigel Farage has convinced many people that populism is conservatism’s latest potent incarnation. But its electoral success may be a sign of conservative decay rather than renewal. Farage and his allies are fragmenting the rightwing vote – and are even more dependent than the traditional conservative parties on white male rage against a changing world.
The British philosopher John Gray, a close and sometimes sympathetic observer of the global right since the 70s, sees the new rightwing populism – and the established conservative parties’ attempts to emulate it – as signs of an age-old conservative sense of entitlement turning to panic. “Conservatives still think their ideas about how the world should be are ‘natural’,” he says, “but they can feel the electorate slipping away from them.” The result is “a politics of wild, disconnected gestures” – attempts to grab back the electorate’s affection.
When Boris Johnson said “Fuck business” last year, in response to corporate opposition to Brexit, we saw the most likely next leader of a party that has been intimate with business for centuries behaving with a recklessness that felt hugely significant and counterproductive. It was a sign that the alliance between capitalism and conservatism may be coming apart.
“Conservatives always used to pride themselves on their competence,” says Gray. “It could take 20 years for the idea that they’re the grownups to come back.”
D uring the 80s, Thatcher and Reagan seemed to have created a conservatism that would last. “By 1988, at the end of Reagan’s second term,” records David Farber in his 2010 book The Rise and Fall of American Conservatism, “for the first time since such polling data existed, more Americans identified themselves as conservatives than liberals.” In Britain, after Thatcher won her third consecutive election in 1987, the political theorist Stuart Hall warned his mostly leftwing readership that she had overseen the creation of a consumer society so complete that “a tiny bit of all of us is . inside the Thatcherite project”. “Just before the [anti-Thatcher] demonstration,” Hall wrote, “we go to Sainsbury’s.”
For all their triumphalist rhetoric, Thatcher and Reagan appreciated that their transformative project sometimes needed to be pursued with caution and slyness. Both had risen during the 60s and 70s, when liberal and leftwing interest groups were strong, and had learned not to take on too many enemies at once. As prime minister, Thatcher caricatured trade unions as bullies but took away their powers only gradually, making sure she kept enough of the public on her side. As president, Reagan attacked welfare spending as profligate and immoral, but did little to cut popular programmes.
But during the final, all-conquering years of their governments, transatlantic conservatism began to lose this tactical astuteness. Conservative movements need enemies – as Corey Robin points out, they are literally “reactionary”, finding energy when they have a threat, usually from the left, to react against. But by the end of the 80s, the enemies that had drawn many British and American rightwingers into politics since the second world war, from Soviet communism to strong trade unions, had been defeated, seemingly for good. Without them, many conservatives “entered a period of introspection”, wrote George H Nash, then the leading historian of the American right, in 1996. They wondered what purpose conservatism should now have.
Irving Kristol, the influential American conservative intellectual and activist, once told Robin that after the end of the cold war, “[We] got kind of flabby.” Conservatism went from what Robin calls “the classroom” – the contested but educational environment of the postwar years – “into the playground” of the prosperous, relatively carefree 90s.
Some Republicans acted as if this playground ought to be theirs alone. After Clinton was elected in 1992, and re-elected in 1996, instead of reflecting on his victories and realising they were early signs that modern conservatism could be vulnerable – that its ideas could easily be stolen and repackaged by centrist politicians – they treated his presidency as an affront, to be resisted by almost any means. They constructed what the journalist Kurt Andersen calls a “fantasy-industrial complex” of talk radio stations and websites that manufactured and distributed news of unsubstantiated Clinton conspiracies.
Meanwhile, the rightwing media magnate Rupert Murdoch ordered the creation of America’s first national television channel essentially devoted to anti-Democrat, pro-Republican propaganda: Fox News began broadcasting in 1996. Together, these developments marked the beginning of the modern conservative media bubble. Inside it, as the historian of the American right Rick Perlstein put it in 2005: “Conservatism never fails. It is only failed.” Conservatism had become a faith any failures by the right were blamed on a lack of belief.
Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher walk Reagan’s dog Lucky on the White House lawn. Photograph: Bettmann/Bettmann Archive
The movement also grew more rigid and inward-looking in Britain. Thatcher was ejected from Downing Street in 1990, largely for insisting on unpopular policies such as the poll tax. Yet for their next four leaders – John Major, William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard – the Conservatives stubbornly chose keepers of the Thatcherite flame, as if her ideas simply hadn’t been applied for long enough. All the current leading candidates for the Tory leadership are also essentially Thatcherites.
During the late 90s, when Hague was leader, Andrew Cooper was his director of strategy. He wrote Hague a memo suggesting he reposition the party to adjust to the fact that public attitudes were now shifting leftwards, in reaction to the inequalities and strained public services left by Thatcherism. Hague initially welcomed the document. “But within literally two weeks,” Cooper remembers, “it was clear he wasn’t following it. I began nagging him. He began getting irritated. So I resigned.”
Cooper was left with a suspicion about his party that has never dissipated: “A lot of Conservatives still think our policies should be a literal repeat of what Margaret Thatcher did in the 80s.” Yet these true believers fail to see that she and many of her lieutenants ultimately found themselves bewildered, in some ways, by the new country they had helped create.
A few days after Thatcher’s death in 2013, I interviewed her former employment secretary Norman Tebbit. A social conservative, like Thatcher herself, he told me he now worried her government had loosened the country morally, not just economically. “I sometimes wonder,” he said, “whether our economic reforms led to an individualism in other values, in ways we didn’t anticipate.”
Yet during the 90s, instead of pondering Thatcherism’s unintended consequences, many British conservatives, like their American counterparts, had switched their attention to a scapegoat. The European Union, like Clinton, was pro-business, hardly a fundamental threat to free-market conservatism, and the European single market had been partly Thatcher’s creation. But like the Clinton presidency, the EU was a rival power centre, and also provocative to conservatives in other ways: it saw politics as about compromise rather than conviction, and was relatively liberal in its social and cultural values. As a new enemy for conservatives, it proved irresistible.
Euroscepticism gave British conservatism a dark new energy. There was a malicious glee in the distorted accounts of EU activities produced by the Telegraph’s early-90s Brussels correspondent, Boris Johnson. But there was also a cost.
With some justification, conservatives had long prided themselves on their attention to facts, to how people actually lived, or wanted to live – rather than trying to build utopias, as they accused the left of doing. Even the most dogmatic Thatcherites had been keenly aware of social trends such as the rise of individualism, and how they might be politically exploited. But, starting in the 90s, on both sides of the Atlantic, much of the movement “ceased to be empirical”, Gray says. And without an interest in facts, it is hard to govern well for long.
R adical politics in a democracy sometimes requires an excess of belief and a readiness to exaggerate: minds need to be changed, a sense of crisis created. But under George W Bush, the Reagan-Thatcher balancing act between propaganda and practical policies gave way to wishful thinking, as if the Republicans had started believing their own rhetoric.
Many of Bush’s key subordinates were neoconservatives, members of a self-confident rightwing faction, some of them former leftists and Democrats, who had become disillusioned during the cold war with what they saw as the Washington establishment’s lack of decisiveness and moral clarity. Neocons believed the US was uniquely powerful and should use that power aggressively to spread its values and also that sweeping assertions could be used as political weapons to exploit the media’s appetite for drama and overcome the inertia of the government bureaucracy. As Bush’s strategist Karl Rove reportedly told the journalist Ron Suskind in 2004: “We [the Bush administration] create our own reality.”
When no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, Bush and his advisers claimed vindication regardless. Bush made a speech from the deck of an aircraft carrier under a banner reading “Mission Accomplished”. The following year, in 2004, he was re-elected, defeating the establishment Democrat and decorated war veteran John Kerry.
George W Bush aboard the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in May 2003. Photograph: Stephen Jaffe/AFP/Getty Images
The neocons had promised that the occupation of Iraq would be “a cakewalk”, but during Bush’s second term an anti-American insurgency and civil war began there, and lasted for more than a decade. Then, in 2005, Hurricane Katrina swamped New Orleans. Bush publicly praised his appointee Michael Brown, the underqualified official in charge of alleviating the chaos – “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job” – days before Brown was forced to resign. American conservatism, as Robin puts it, had acquired “an air of decadence”.
In Britain, the movement’s growing carelessness and overconfidence showed itself in smaller ways at first. During the run-up to the 2010 general election, the Conservatives’ first real chance to win for 13 years, staff working for David Cameron would sometimes leave sensitive strategy documents lying around in front of journalists. After an unfocused Tory election campaign, Cameron was forced to form a coalition, but often ruled as if he had won decisively anyway – just as Bush had done after being squeezed into power by the US supreme court.
The Cameron government shrank the state more than any since the 1930s. Many economists warned that imposing austerity on an economy already weakened by the financial crisis would lead to a recession. But Cameron and his chancellor, George Osborne, ignored them, and instead followed a rightwing press orthodoxy – that state spending hindered rather than helped economic growth – unchanged since the 70s, despite evidence to the contrary from successful economies ranging from South Korea to Germany. When the British economy duly began to struggle in 2011, even former Thatcherite risk-takers – such as the former head of her Downing Street policy unit, John Hoskyns – looked at Cameron’s slapdash radicalism and shook their heads.
Critics of the Cameron government often attributed its lack of rigour to his and Osborne’s privileged backgrounds, to a supposed upper-class insouciance. But there was also a less-noticed and less parochially English explanation. Two other key cabinet ministers, from less grand backgrounds – the education secretary Michael Gove and the secretary of state for work and pensions, Iain Duncan Smith – had long been close to American conservatives, and shared their growing impatience with the detail and incrementalism of orthodox government.
A senior civil servant who worked for Gove told me he had once told the education secretary exasperatedly: “You can’t get from A to B just by announcing, ‘I’m at B!’” Meanwhile, Duncan Smith was repeatedly criticised by the UK Statistics Authority for making unfounded claims about the success of his ambitious reforms to the benefits system. “I have a belief I am right,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in 2013. “We have not published evidence,” he admitted. But precisely because of this absence, he suggested, his claims could not be dismissed: “You cannot disprove what I said.” Conservative government now seemed to be as much about sophistry as changing society.
It worked electorally for a time – Cameron was re-elected in 2015, with a majority – in part because the Conservative disregard for facts was shared by much of the rightwing press, and by the wider public and media these newspapers influenced. The week before Duncan Smith’s Today interview, the polling firm Ipsos Mori published Perceptions Are Not Reality, the results of a survey that asked the public to make statistical estimates about social trends and contentious areas of state spending. In almost every case, from the nature and distribution of state benefits to the number of immigrants in Britain, voters were hugely mistaken, in ways that matched the government’s rhetoric – and also coverage of these issues in the rightwing press. “People estimate that 34 times more benefit money is claimed fraudulently than official estimates [suggest],” a typical section of the survey found.
The logical conclusion of this politics of minimal facts and maximum conviction was the Brexit referendum. Cameron called it, and expected, with characteristic overconfidence, to win it for remain, as if the decades of Eurosceptic journalism had never happened. Gove and Duncan Smith were both prominent in the leave campaign, which bent statistics out of all recognition. And when Trump also won after a campaign even more based on magical thinking, it seemed that conservatism – or at least a populist mutation of it – still had prospects.
O ne way for conservatism to hang on to power is to play clever electoral games. “For a long time, the Tory party has been very successful at squeezing out marginal gains,” says Cooper. “They’ve been smarter than other parties about the process that draws constituency boundaries. And they’ve fought wedge elections” – ie, finding and pushing issues that divide other parties’ potential supporters, such as the possibility of a coalition between Labour and the Scottish Nationalists, which put some English voters off voting Labour in 2015.
In elections and in government, conservatives have also shrewdly – often shamelessly – appealed to their core supporters. The Tories’ austerity measures have not been applied to pensioners, who are more likely than other age groups to vote and much more likely to choose the Conservatives.
In the US, as the political analyst Thomas Frank noted a decade before Trump’s win, the Republicans have often “chosen to wage … battles where [complete] victory is impossible”, such as over immigration, so that “their followers’ feelings will be dramatised and their alienation aggravated”. The purpose of Trump’s proposed border wall is less to keep immigrants out – there are countless other entry points – than to keep his base feeling besieged.
With that core vote mobilised, with its electoral impact maximised thanks to a US voting system that disproportionately represents small towns and the countryside, with the Democratic vote minimised thanks to gerrymandering and voter suppression, and with the conservative media grinding away, the American right will continue to eke out election wins. A similar dynamic may keep the Tories winning general elections in Britain. Their 2017 campaign may have been hopeless in most ways, but in one it was highly efficient: despite getting only 2% more of the vote than Labour, they ended up with 20% more MPs.
For many conservatives, such outcomes are reasons not to worry too much about the future. Cooper says: “They think, ‘If we carry on winning, why do we need to come up with new policies?’” Corey Robin argues that until the left in Britain and the US becomes much stronger, wins power and actually takes on conservative interests, conservatism will not change. “Until their class position is truly threatened,” he says, “what incentive is there to think things anew?”
Michael Gove and Boris Johnson campaigning for Brexit in 2016. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Some conservatives also cite the long history of doomy forecasts about their movement. Kesler points out that one of the best-known books to argue that US social trends are undermining the movement, The Emerging Democratic Majority by John B Judis and Ruy Teixeira, was published almost 20 years ago. Yet the US Democrats’ election results have remained patchy since. “They have to keep postponing the date for when their great breakthrough will come,” Kesler says.
In 1994, Gray published The Undoing of Conservatism, a thick, gloomy pamphlet for the centre-right thinktank the Social Market Foundation. He argued persuasively that modern, free-market conservatism was “a self-undermining political project”, since its global and corporate priorities were alienating the small communities and nationalistic voters on whom conservatism had always relied. The pamphlet contained other prescient material about how conservatism would fragment into “illiberal movements”, “evangelism for free markets” and “attempts to restore a traditional social order”.
Yet Gray’s most dramatic contention, that “Tory Britain is gone for good”, reads less well now, with the Conservatives having been in power for almost half the years since. In Britain and the US, the big political story of the last quarter century, in many ways, has been how, with so little in the way of ideas, talent, administrative competence and electoral support, conservatives have been able to change society so much. In office, they often have a willingness – which liberals and the left often lack – to use to the maximum whatever power they have, as supporters of American abortion rights are currently discovering to their cost.
Y et this era of conservative bluffing and bodging is coming to an end. The climate emergency, the collapse of confidence in capitalism, the rise of inequality to explosive levels, the revival of the radical left: many conservatives may deny these are happening, but soon their movement is going to have to address them. “The real question for conservatives,” says Charles Kesler, “is what their politics should be about now that Reaganite optimism is no longer possible.”
Kesler thinks the dark, sometimes apocalyptic conservatism promoted by Bannon and other rightwing populists is too negative, and lacks practical proposals. He sees more potential in other elements of the Trump presidency, such as its protectionist economic policies and stated concern for the country’s infrastructure and working class. Kesler argues that these signal a return to the more nationalistic, socially inclusive Republicanism of the early 20th century.
But even if these concerns are real rather than just rhetorical – so far, the main beneficiaries of Trumpism have been corporations and the wealthy – the Republicanism of the early 20th century is a very old-fashioned remedy for the crises of today’s world. And Kesler accepts that Trump’s presidency is so personal and idiosyncratic that, even if he is re-elected, his brand of conservatism doesn’t offer a lasting solution to the movement’s dilemmas. “There’s no second Trump,” Kesler says.
Gray still believes a new conservatism is possible – but sees no sign, so far, of anyone coming up with the right formula. “What has not emerged anywhere,” he says, “is a conservatism that protects the things that the market threatens, without being illiberal … or a conservatism that travels light, without being burdened by economic theory … or a conservatism adapted to how most people are actually living.”
The Digital Age Produces Binary Outcomes
T he digital age produces binary outcomes. Winners tend to win overwhelmingly—in war as well as in business. The Soviet Union crumbled in the late 1980s when American technology bested Soviet military spending, then estimated at a quarter of GDP. The enormous Russian bet on military power lost and Communism fell. America emerged from the Cold War with a degree of military superiority greater than any country in modern history. It also emerged with a technologically driven economy that had no real competitor, with Russia close to ruin after the collapse of Communism and China in an early stage of economic development.
We have since come to consider American technological dominance a natural feature of the global landscape. That is a potentially fatal error. The military balance between the West and the Soviet Union shifted several times during the Cold War until the digital revolution gave the United States a definitive edge. But America achieved technological supremacy only because its leaders acted with a sense of urgency and responded to Russian advances by mobilizing America’s resources on a grand scale.
Military strength and economic strength often rely upon the same policy foundations. The military and aerospace initiatives that won the Cold War also gave American companies a significant lead in the development of high technologies. That advantage has diminished steadily in the years since the fall of Communism, however. Without aggressive countermeasures, we risk losing it entirely.
We need to play catch-up in numerous fields. But the most glaring deficiency of the current policy approach is the decline of federal R&D spending relative to GDP. The policy initiatives that succeeded so brilliantly during the Cold War should provide a template for policymakers today. Renewing and improving defense R&D programs are not only essential to national security but can also become a critical driver of innovation and economic growth.
The Role of Technology in Winning the Cold War
Although the American victory in the Cold War was decisive when it ultimately came, that does not mean that it was easy, let alone foreordained. Different policies might have spelled defeat. The Soviet Union sent the first satellite into space in 1957 and the first man into space in 1961. If the Eisenhower administration had not responded to Sputnik with massive funding for basic research and scientific education, or if John F. Kennedy had not proposed the moon shot after Yuri Gargarin’s first flight into space, or if public funds had not been channeled into private research facilities to meet military needs, or if Ronald Reagan hadn’t undertaken the Strategic Defense Initiative—we would be living in a different world.
During the 1970s, military analysts calculated rates of attrition of tanks and aircraft to determine who was likely to win a war. At the time, they reckoned that Russia would beat the West in a war of attrition, and conventional wisdom called for détente as a way of delaying an inevitable Soviet victory. Russian surface-to-air missiles and artillery as well as guided anti-tank weapons gave the advantage to Soviet-aligned Egypt in the largest air and tank battle since World War II, the 1973 Yom Kippur War between Israel and its neighbors. As Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work said in a September 2016 speech:
In 1973 the Yom Kippur War provided dramatic evidence of advances in surface-to-air missiles, and Israel’s most advanced fighters … lost their superiority for at least three days due to a SAM belt. And Israeli armored forces were savaged by antitank guided munitions. U.S. analysts cranked their little models and extrapolated that the balloon went up in Europe’s central front and we had suffered attrition rates comparable to the Israelis. U.S. tactical air power would be destroyed within seventeen days, and NATO would literally run out of tanks.
Calculating men concluded that Russia would win an air and land war with the United States in Europe, which meant that Russia had the upper hand in the Cold War.
Then came the militarization of the microchip. During the Syrian collapse in June 1982, Israel deployed a combination of American and locally developed weapons systems and technologies, many in their first combat use, including F-15s and F-16s, AWACs, 1 lookdown radar, and remotely piloted vehicles. Decoy drones drew fire from the Soviet-made SAM batteries while Israeli fighters destroyed 17 out of the Syrians’ 19 batteries. Superior command and control through faster computation and lookdown radar allowed Israeli F-4s, F-15s, and F-16s to destroy nearly 100 Syrian planes over the Bekaa Valley while losing just one Israeli fighter.
Such a victory would have been impossible without the new fast and light microchips that enabled the American-made fighters to carry sufficient onboard computing capacity for the new radar systems. The CMOS chips that powered the F-15’s lookdown radar (beginning in 1978) were manufactured for the first time only ten years earlier, and for entirely different reasons. Originally the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) commissioned RCA researchers to manufacture fast and light chips for weather analysis. In fact, the definitive inventions of late twentieth century technology—laser-powered optical networks, fast and light integrated circuits, and the Internet—all came out of Defense Department projects whose originators could not have foreseen the impact of the new discoveries.
The “Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot” of 1982, as it came to be called, marked a decisive shift in the Cold War. In less than a decade, the American military (with some contributions from Israel) reversed what had appeared to be a decisive Soviet advantage in air combat and established overwhelming American superiority. By 1984, as Deputy Secretary Work commented, “Soviet Marshall Ogarkov famously said that reconnaissance strike complexes, the Soviet and Russian term for battle networks, could achieve the same destructive effects as low-yield tactical nuclear weapons.” 2 The Soviet military concluded that it could never catch up to American avionics. That and the threat of the Strategic Defense Initiative persuaded Russia’s leaders that America would win a conventional war, which set in motion the collapse of Communism.
Despite the overall weakness of President Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy, the Defense Department under Secretary Harold Brown achieved many of the technological breakthroughs that helped the Reagan administration win the Cold War during the 1980s. In collaboration with the national laboratories and several major corporate laboratories, DARPA made a revolution in war-fighting that for the first time brought massive computing power to bear in a practical way. All the elements of the modern digital economy—integrated circuits, laser-powered optical networks, sensors, and displays—were invented at the behest of NASA or the Defense Department.
The director of RCA Labs who supervised their manufacture, Dr. Henry Kressel, and this writer described the impact of military-driven research and development in a 2013 article in the American Interest:
When DARPA set out to create a communications system with multiple pathways for national security reasons, no-one had the slightest notion that this would create the Internet. When the Defense Department contracted RCA Labs in the 1970s to develop ways to illuminate night-time battlefields, no-one could have foreseen that the semiconductor laser would revolutionize telecommunications. And when the Defense Department commissioned RCA Labs to develop light and energy-efficient information processors to analyze weather data in the cockpits of military aircraft, no-one expected that the outcome would be mass production of inexpensive chips by the CMOS method. 3
Companion technologies also sprang up that greatly expanded the ways in which lasers could be used. This led to their current status as not only the key to all fiber optic communication systems, including voice and data networks, but as the enabling technology of millions of instruments, DVD players, and a host of other devices.
Not one of the war-winning technologies funded by DARPA was employed for the purposes first envisioned by the Defense Department. And no one in DARPA or the laboratories developing these technologies foresaw their transformative impact on the civilian economy. Private entrepreneurs adapted the technologies that arose from defense research with remarkable speed. CMOS chip manufacturing was invented in 1963 at Fairchild Semiconductors, and the first CMOS chips were made at RCA Labs in 1968 under contract from DARPA. The first practical personal computers were on the market by the mid-1970s, and, by the 1980s, the personal computing revolution was in full swing.
American technological advances gave America an unequalled edge in military as well as civilian technologies, and America dominated world economic life to a degree not achieved since the highpoint of the British Empire during the nineteenth century. Fast and cheap computing, optical data transmission, sensing, imaging, CAD/CAM manufacturing—all the technologies that have defined the economy of the past thirty years—were products of America’s drive to win the Cold War.
New Challenges to American Technological Superiority
Conservative critics frequently compare the Obama administration to the Carter presidency by arguing that the United States experienced a decline in world influence under both presidents. 4 In terms of defense fundamentals, however, the Obama presidency was incomparably worse. America’s edge in defense technology has eroded and even fallen behind its prospective adversaries in critical areas. Federal research and development spending has dropped to barely half of its 1978 level as a proportion of GDP. The national laboratories are hollowed out, and the major corporate laboratories (at IBM, the Bell System, General Electric, and RCA among others) that contributed significantly to defense R&D during the Cold War no longer exist. Within the shrinking defense R&D budget, a disproportionate share has been squandered on the F-35, a poorly conceived and executed weapons system with the highest price tag in defense history.
America remains the world’s strongest military power, but select Russian and Chinese advances already limit America’s strategic freedom of action. Russia’s S-400 air defense system, for example, can acquire one hundred separate targets at distances of up to 400 kilometers. The deployment of the S-400 in Syria, moreover, made short work of American proposals for a no-fly zone in that country. U.S. commanders are not willing to risk stealth aircraft within the range of the S-400 because we do not know how close the Russians are to defeating stealth. The consensus view is that Russia cannot defeat stealth yet, but they may be able to do so in the not too distant future. 5
Russia has already agreed to sell the system to China, which means that China could sweep the skies above Taiwan. China has two weapons systems that may be able to sink American aircraft carriers, the Dong Feng 21 surface-to-ship missile and the Type 039A diesel electric submarine, which is now virtually undetectable when running on battery power. Whether it wants to or not, America cannot deny China access to the artificial islands it is constructing in the South China Sea. It may be in no position to defend Taiwan.
Many military breakthroughs—such as Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system—depend on the quality of algorithms and the speed of computation rather than on changes in hardware. Defeating stealth is mainly a matter of computation (enhancing a small radar footprint quickly enough to acquire a target). At present, China has the world’s fastest and second-fastest supercomputers, made entirely with domestically produced integrated circuits. 6
Although China’s military industry in many respects remains a generation or more behind its U.S. counterparts, China has made advances in technologies that represent a strategic threat to the West to which the United States has no obvious countermeasures. These developments include satellite-killer missiles and hypersonic weapons delivery vehicles. 7 China has also ventured into experimental areas ahead of the United States in some key fields. Professor Michael Raska reported on China’s launch of the world’s first experimental quantum satellite, Micius, in December 2016: “While the Quantum Science Satellite will advance research on ‘quantum internet’—i.e. secure communications and a distributed computational power that greatly exceeds that of the classical internet, Micius’ experiments will also advance quantum cryptography, communications systems, and cyber capabilities that the China’s military requires for its sensors and future strike systems.” 8
There is no single, decisive, dramatic breakthrough in China comparable to Russia’s 1957 launch of the first orbital satellite or the first manned space flight in 1961. Instead, there has been a steady accretion of technological advantages that, combined, pose a threat to American strategic superiority over a ten- to twenty-year horizon. It is important to understand how touch-and-go America’s position was at many junctures of the Cold War and the determination and commitment of resources that were required to restore America’s technological advantage at moments when it was in jeopardy.
The Real Chinese Threat
The way to lose the next war is to fight the last war. China’s trade surplus looms large as a challenge to American prosperity. For reasons that have nothing to do with American policy options, China’s trade surplus is likely to diminish gradually over the next ten years. The Nobel Prize–winning Professor Robert Mundell, the father of supply-side economics, showed (along with other economists) that chronic trade imbalances stem from demographic shifts. Old people lend to young people, and countries with aging populations lend to countries with younger populations. They acquire the savings to be lent by running current account surpluses. 9
A proxy of national demand for savings is the percentage of the population approaching retirement age. In China’s case, the demographic cohort aged 50 to 65 years will double between 1995 and 2020. After 2020, China’s rate of aging and demand for savings will level off.
As China’s demand for savings tapers off during the next decade, its trade surplus should gradually fall. This trend is consistent with Chinese policy, which seeks to shift the economy away from dependence on exports to domestic consumption—that is, to increase consumption and reduce savings. This shift is perhaps the most commented-upon policy change in the world economy today.
Higher consumption implies a lower trade surplus. But that, unfortunately, is not the end of China’s economic challenge to the United States. On the contrary: that is where China’s challenge to the United States will begin in earnest. Going forward the issue will not be the quantity of Chinese exports but their quality. The old caricature of the Chinese economy of a cheap-labor, pollution-spewing throwback dependent on stolen technology contained a good deal of truth a decade ago. But a radical transformation is already underway that has led to Chinese dominance in high-tech exports, as defined by the World Bank. In 1999, China’s share of global high tech exports was only 3%. In 2016 its global share rose to 26%. America’s share fell from over 18% to just 7%. China’s R&D spending has already reached the level of Europe as a percent of GDP.
High-tech industrial production has been shifting away from the United States since the late 1990s. Until then, America ran a substantial surplus in high-tech goods. In the early 2000s, however, that surplus turned into a deficit, which is likely to exceed $100 billion this year.
Most of America’s trade deficit in high-tech goods consists of
technologies invented in the United States, often supported by federally funded research sponsored by the Department of Defense and NASA. The seven technologies listed below constitute the basic elements of all modern electronics from computers to smart phones in each case, their manufacture has migrated to Asia because Asian governments adopted the formerly American practice of supporting basic R&D. The economic benefits of the digital revolution that originated in the United States have shifted to Asia. America’s share in the manufacture and distribution of its own inventions is relatively small.
The core digital technologies include the following:
- Liquid crystal displays, which are employed in a wide variety of products, with $100 billion in annual sales. South Korea controls 35% of the market, Taiwan 25%, and China 20%.
- Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are produced mainly in China and Taiwan.
- China and Taiwan dominate the production of semiconductor lasers, the energy source for fiber optic communications.
- Solid state sensors, which generate images in digital cameras and related devices, are produced mainly in Taiwan and Japan.
- Flash memory is produced mainly in South Korea, Japan and China, with only 10% of world output coming from the United States.
- Integrated circuits are a $270 billion global industry. Most are produced in Taiwan and South Korea, and China has undertaken an aggressive investment program in the industry. Less than a quarter of world output is produced in the United States.
- Solar energy panels, a $30 billion industry, are dominated by China.
Venture capital commitments to the manufacturing industry have collapsed because American investors do not believe that American industry can stand up to Asian competition. Some of the Asian advantage is the result of the theft of intellectual property, but most of it stems from above-board collaboration of government and industry. Asian countries have licensed U.S. technologies and supported joint ventures with American companies in order to foster technology transfer, and they have made cheap capital available to their high-tech industry. Asian governments also have supported technical education. China now graduates twice as many STEM Ph.D. candidates as the United States does each year.
America developed many of the high technology products that are built by Asian manufacturing. But Asian dependence on American technology is starting to diminish. China’s flagship high-tech manufacturer, Huawei, now employs tens of thousands of engineers, including thousands of Western researchers in several centers in Europe. A decade ago Huawei was regularly accused of stealing Western technology now it is a vigorous defender of intellectual property rights, because it is heavily committed to innovation of its own. Huawei now spends 14% percent of gross revenues on R&D, more than Microsoft and the same level as Google. 10
A New R&D Policy Agenda
Is it too late for American high-tech manufacturing? No, but drastic policy changes are required. Tax incentives for exports and tax disincentives for imports may not be sufficient to turn the tide of Asian dominance. In many instances, the entire supply chain for tech projects has relocated to Asia, which leaves American manufacturers overwhelmingly dependent on Asian production for imports. The simplest and most direct response would be to require domestic production for all sensitive defense-related goods, including all computers, displays, integrated circuits, sensors, and other high-technology equipment used in defense applications. In other words, for certain important categories of security-related manufactures, the tariff should be infinite. This is the only reliable way to ensure that American manufacturers will bring production, including critical parts of the supply chain, back to the United States.
Russia’s head start in the space race elicited a national effort to keep American technology in the forefront in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The very real possibility that Russia might triumph in the Cold War motivated a comparable effort in the early 1980s. We need the same sense of urgency today. We have no guarantees that America will retain technological leadership. Britain dominated world industrial production in 1870 with a third of total global output, but fell to a seventh of the world total by World War I. In 2010 China edged out the United States to become the world’s largest goods producer, with a fifth of the global total.
Russian and Chinese advances in air defense, missile technology, submarine warfare, satellite interdiction and other critical areas pose a set of scientific problems comparable to the ones that DARPA addressed during the 1960s through the 1980s. Targets for future scientific research should include (but of course are not limited to):
- Defeating the current generation of Russian air defense systems
- Enhanced use of drones in place of manned aircraft
- Hardening of satellites against prospective enemy attack
- Cyber warfare
- New physical principles in computing (e.g., quantum computing)
- Quantum communications and encryption
- Detection of ultra-quiet submarines (the present generation of Chinese diesel-electric boats are practically undetectable, and submarine drones could be used to deliver nuclear weapons to coastal cities)
- Detection and defeat of the next generation of hypersonic missiles
- Countermeasures against anti-ship missiles (rail guns, laser cannon)
America succeeded in the Cold War because of “long ball” rather than “small ball” research and development. Corporate R&D usually must be justified by relatively short-term improvements in revenues. Investigation of new physical principles cannot typically be justified by corporate planners. That is why military R&D plays such a unique role to win wars, the United States has had no choice but to push the envelope of physical knowledge.
Federal R&D Spending and Productivity Growth
By one measure, the growth rate of labor productivity, the American economy is in its worst shape since the stagflation of the 1970s, and there is a close relationship between federal R&D spending and productivity growth. The chart below shows the annualized growth in productivity over five-year intervals against the annualized change in federal R&D spending. It is noteworthy that productivity growth tracks federal rather than overall R&D spending. That is because research that leads to fundamental breakthroughs is more likely to be funded for defense and aerospace needs. “Long ball” R&D typically involves strategic objectives, while private R&D focuses on “small ball” requirements with specific product goals in sight. In many cases, federal R&D has led to innovations with enormous economic consequences that were completely unforeseen by the original sponsors this is the nature of frontier research.
The notion that defense and aerospace R&D fosters economic growth is not new. In 1976 NASA released a study by Chase Econometrics stating that if a “sustained increase in NASA spending of $1 billion (1958 dollars) for the 1975–1984 period” were implemented, then “constant-dollar CNP would be $23 billion higher by 1984,” versus a baseline of no increase in expenditures. 11 Even so, conventional methods of economic estimation cannot begin to assess the revolutionary impact of breakthrough technologies on American productivity, because these technologies radically changed what economists call the investment opportunity set—the basic constituents of the economy itself. The civilian use of these defense technologies vastly outstripped the original objectives of their government sponsors. The demands of American defense pushed scientists to discover new physical processes, among them solid-state semiconductors, and these discoveries transformed economic life.
The challenges to American growth and productivity today are arguably even greater than they were when Jimmy Carter left office in 1981. Consider the following:
- America’s population is aging rapidly: 15% of the total population will be 65 or older in 2015, rising to 20% by 2030.
- America had little foreign competition as a venue for entrepreneurial startups in the 1980s: the world’s capital and talent had nowhere to go but the United States. Now there are numerous competing venues for technological entrepreneurship.
- Several rising Asian powers, particularly China, have acted aggressively to close the technology gap with the United States, and they have leapfrogged American manufacturing in a number of key industries.
- Federal debt was only 30% of GDP in 1979 (not counting unfunded entitlements) but rose to 110% in 2015.
- Obstacles to growth at the end of the Carter administration—a 70% top marginal tax rate and an inflationary monetary policy—were easier to identify and remedy than contemporary challenges.
- America’s backlog of productivity-enhancing technologies has shrunk, in large part because defense R&D is half of what is was in the late 1970s relative to GDP.
Economic growth depends on technological innovations, and entrepreneurs who take risks to commercialize them. Absent innovation, entrepreneurs will find other things to do, such as designing new financial derivatives. But technological innovation will have as little impact as gunpowder and the movable type had on the medieval Chinese economy unless entrepreneurs plunge into the chaotic, disruptive work of commercializing these technologies.
Creating Unintended Consequences
Federal R&D is effective not merely because it is federal, however. On the contrary, governments frequently waste R&D funds on white elephant projects such as Solyndra, the California-based solar power venture that defaulted on a $535 million U.S. government loan. The F-35 and other poorly conceived acquisition programs also absorb large amounts of R&D funding. In contrast to these incremental projects, R&D that is focused on game-changing breakthroughs is the most productive. And the technological innovation it makes possible becomes truly transformative only when entrepreneurs effectively commercialize it. Kennedy’s moon shot and Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative had such lasting economic reverberations because they were accompanied by tax cuts and regulatory relief that made it easier for entrepreneurs to capitalize on basic scientific innovations. The Trump administration has already proposed aggressive fiscal and regulatory measures to improve incentives for investment. Neither innovation nor investment alone is enough, however the innovations must turn into investment and employment in the United States.
There is a clear division of labor between the public sector and the private sector. Few if any of the game-changing inventions of the 1950s through the 1980s would have emerged—or emerged as early as they did—without federal R&D funding. Once the technology is invented, though, private investors must bear the brunt of the risk. Conventional industrial policy is the worst approach. It allows bureaucrats to create vested interests in existing industries, and it creates incentives to suppress new technologies that might threaten investments undertaken by political cronies. There is a strong case, however, for using government funds to seed new companies that can develop innovative technologies. In an ideal world, the venture capital community would assume this function. But in the real world, the requirements of defense R&D and production require public funding.
The unintended consequences of federally sponsored R&D vastly exceeded the expectations of the projects’ initiators. The economic spinoffs of the technologies invented for urgent national security reasons had incalculable impacts on growth and productivity. None of this could have been pre-programmed. Innovation is unpredictable by definition. The greatest lesson we can draw from both the Kennedy space program and the Reagan Strategic Defense Initiative is that the most productive investments are the ones that test the frontiers of physics. These projects enabled us to fight the next war, not the previous one.
Unlike the Russian space flights of 1957 and 1961, or the success of Russian air defenses in the Yom Kippur War, we can point to no single development to provoke a “Sputnik moment.” Like a frog in a pot of cold water, we do not notice the gradual increase in temperature. Circumstances nonetheless demand a sense of urgency comparable to that experienced at the peak of the Cold War. We can leapfrog our competitors. Or we may suffer the fate of a boiled frog.
This article originally appeared in American Affairs Volume I, Number 1 (Spring 2017): 97–112.
3 David P. Goldman and Henry Kressel, “Prosperity, Security and Markets,” American Interest, Oct. 10, 2013, http://www.the-american-interest.com/2013/10/10/prosperity-security-and-markets/ .
5 See Dave Majumdar, “America’s F-22 and F-35 Stealth Fighters vs. Russia’s S-300, S-400 and S-500: Who Wins?,” National Interest, Aug. 18, 2006, http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/americas-f-22-f-35-stealth-fighters-vs-russias-s-300-s-400-s-17394 .
7 See Office of the Secretary of Defense, “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2015,” https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2015_China_Military_Power_Report.pdf .
8 Michael Raska, “Decoding China’s Quantum Satellite Experiments,” Asia Times, December 20, 2016, http://www.atimes.com/article/decoding-chinas-quantum-satellite-experiments/ .
9 See Robert Mundell, “The International Distribution of Saving: Past and Future,” in World Saving, Prosperity and Growth, ed. Mario Baldassarri, Luigi Paganetto, and Edmund S. Phelps (New York: St. Martin’s, 1993), 5–56.
11 Michael K. Evans (Chase Econometrics), “The Economic Impact of NASA R&D Spending,” April 1976, https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19760017002.pdf .
About the Author
David P. Goldman is deputy editor and columnist at Asia Times and is the author, most recently, of You Will Be Assimilated: China’s Plan to Sino-Form the World (Bombardier Books, 2020).
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