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The Future We Lost

The Future We Lost

There are truths that we only acknowledge in jail or on the gallows, glaringly obvious facts which we ignore in pursuit of ambition. Todor Zhivkov governed one of the Warsaw Pact’s most brutal regimes from the mid-50’s until the collapse of Communism. He gave an interview to the New York Times in 1990 while under house arrest in Bulgaria. He explained, “If I had to do it over again, I would not even be a Communist, and if Lenin were alive today he would say the same thing.”

He went on to explain, without apologies or any sign of remorse:

“I have been a soldier, I have been a Communist, it is my deep belief and conviction that I served my people and my country, but I must now admit that we started from the wrong basis, from the wrong premise. The foundation of socialism was wrong.”

Now he tells us.

Allegiance to ideology, team or tribe makes people do stupid things, things they know are wrong, things they know will come to disastrous ends. Deliberate ideological blindness gave Soviet Communism the willing collaboration it needed to crush Europe for generations. The same willful ignorance destroyed the Republican Party, reducing it to the toxic cult it is today. What Republicans wrecked in their race to the extremes was a problem-solving philosophy that might have ended poverty as we know it, tamed carbon emissions, and created a new era of personal freedom and prosperity. We may not recover in our lifetimes the future that once seemed within our grasp.

The end of the Cold War brought a rare opening for change. The US was alone atop the world. We were the only nation capable of waging a war across an ocean. Ours was the world’s de facto single currency, the currency in which every global commodity was priced and traded. We could isolate and strangle any country on the planet by unilaterally cutting them off from our system of banking and electronic payments, a nuclear option wielded with a pen.

At the end of the 80’s, the future of the world was placed in the hands of the Anglo-American political right. It sounds crazy now, but at the time they had some smart people attacking stubborn problems in innovative ways. With the Communist threat eliminated, we were free to address our own internal issues and build a smarter, faster, healthier, more prosperous America. That would have been nice, but that’s not the world Republicans built.

What conservative thinkers saw in the early 90’s was a world growing too complex, dynamic, wealthy and free to be centrally managed. They recognized the communist command economies as mere canaries in the coal mine, the first to fall as this dynamism spread. The future would belong people capable of maintaining the basic collective-action capabilities of government through lighter, more flexible mechanisms than our old-fashioned command bureaucracies. They were right then, and they’re even more right now.

The Montreal Protocol, ratified in 1989, is probably the most successful environmental treaty in history. It was crafted by Republicans using free market ideas to save the ozone layer from CFC pollution. Reagan had used the same cap and trade strategy a few years earlier to phase out leaded gasoline.

Meanwhile, Republican Congressman Jack Kemp was looking for ways to liberalize the social safety net. He took over the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1989 when the agency was in crisis. Centrally planned, centrally managed housing developments had devolved into a nightmare of crime and decay. His proposal was simple, allow residents of housing projects the same rights of control and ownership we grant to condominium owners.

In addition to granted new rights to project residents, Kemp promoted a new plan to grant needy families vouchers, allowing them to live anywhere they wanted. They could even apply that subsidy toward the purchase of a home. Kemp presented the world with the strange spectacle of a white Republican earning cheers from black residents of the projects in the center of America’s most troubled cities.

Conservative policy-makers, influenced by economic thinkers like Friedman and Hayek, built our first right-wing plans for universal health care. Borrowing from the experience of places like Switzerland and Singapore, Stuart Butler, head of policy at the Heritage Foundation, wrote a pamphlet in 1989 called “A National Health System For America.” He proposed a system of health insurance mandates, funded by tax credits. It was the Affordable Care Act, only far more generous, practical and comprehensive. And it would have worked.

To achieve the goals of the social safety net without the stifling layers of bureaucracy and distortion, policy makers on the right began to revisit Friedman’s idea of a universal basic income. Properly implemented, it could replace the work of tens of thousands of federal bureaucrats, solving problems ranging from workplace discrimination to safety with a massive shift in power toward workers. It was, and is, a cheap, easy and radically powerful way to increase freedom and entrepreneurship while addressing a compassionate concern.

On immigration and trade, Republicans were promoting a level of human freedom never before considered. Reagan explained his vision for our borders in a 1980 Republican Presidential debate, proposing to “open the border both ways.”

Like Republicans of the era, Reagan embraced an expansive vision of America, an optimistic and confident understanding of our place in the world. Reagan saw our border as an obstacle limiting the reach of a colossus, not a castle to protect vulnerable cowards. The man who stood at the Berlin Wall and taunted a dictator believed a world with fewer barriers was a world Americans would dominate. Before the term “globalism” came into common use, the same process was more commonly derided as “Americanization.” Fears of this shrinking of the planet were reserved for those whose values and ideals could not survive in an atmosphere of individual freedom. The main opponents of the freer world arriving in the wake of globalization were religious radicals, cultural isolationists and those terrified by women’s rights. Sound familiar?

A freer, more open immigration policy wasn’t just a way to attract more immigrants, it was a way for Americans to gain greater access to the world. The collapse of communism changed the landscape of international work and travel. When Reagan spoke of opening the border “both ways,” he wasn’t just talking about accepting immigrants, he was expressing a Republican vision of expanded American physical presence beyond our borders.

Many prominent and influential Republicans in the years after the Cold War were exploring ways to solve difficult problems with light, market-oriented systems. They weren’t trying to destroy government, but looking for ways to make it effective in a faster, more dynamic world. They were optimistic and hopeful, often described as “happy warriors,” confident in their values while willing to see the world in real terms. It sounds absurd now, but thirty years ago it was the right who held the lead in both political pragmatism and political innovation.

There was a time when America had conservatives in influential positions who weren’t idiots. However, as it turns out, many if not most of them were cowards. When a new wave of Neo-Confederate Republicans showed up from the South to enforce Soviet style-ideological blindness on the American right, almost all of these influential conservatives buckled. Like Zhivkov adapting to life under Soviet domination, they what they had to do to keep their position and their influence.

Men and women who’d spent their lives fighting the ideological blindness and ethical nihilism of Soviet Communism lacked the courage to wage the same fight at home. Turns out, the Soviets were a convenient, distant enemy, unable to reach them in any way. Once they faced the smallest potential inconvenience from dissent, these bold free market thinkers melded themselves into enthusiastic apparatchiks, competing to be the bootlicker who claps the loudest at party meetings.

There were exceptions who should be noted. Bruce Bartlett broke loose under the second Bush Administration, preserving his honor and his dignity at the price of his career. David Frum got fired from a nice job at the American Enterprise Institution for stating a few blatantly obvious facts about the Affordable Care Act. Jack Kemp was relegated to the sidelines of Republican politics in the late 90’s, as the party was overwhelmed by racist Dixiecrats. Having noisily described immigrants as “a blessing, not a curse,” he fought a Republican effort in California to demonize immigrants. The effort marked him for hostility from the new racist right. After the failed Dole Presidential bid of 1996, Kemp never regained his position in the party, but he never compromised in his fight against “Buchanan Republicans.”

One of Kemp’s last major roles still resonates. He worked with Democrat John Edwards on a 2006 report warning of the rising power of a new Kleptocracy in Russia.

When McCain was defeated in 2008, there were no credible figures left who could influence the GOP base. Sarah Palin was the new face of Republican thought leadership. It only got worse from there.

Fast-forward thirty years from the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the US is governed by a Third World Kleptocrat. The crime-family don in the White House is shielded from justice by Banana Republicans funded and supported by foreign dictators. This thing didn’t work out the way we’d hoped.

Saving America now means placing it in the hands of Democratic leadership. For the near term, that ends our hopes for a lighter, smarter government. Democrats have rejected the universal basic income in favor of job guarantees, a choice that makes perfect political sense if your goal is to preserve partisan political power. Cap and trade is replaced with a “Green New Deal,” basically a return to the governing philosophy of the 1930’s. Instead of a lighter, more agile private universal health system like we see in France, Holland or Singapore, we’ll get probably Medicare spread out over everybody. Racist Republican MAGA nostalgia now has its match in similarly retrograde Democratic plan, force-fitting outdated solutions over new problems.

We will have to go backward before we get our chance to go forward, if ever. While we struggle with our demons, the rest of the world gets its chance to catch up, overcoming our previously commanding lead. The Chinese, Russians, and the EU have their own preferences for the shape of a new globalized world. We lost our chance to build the future. Those opportunities don’t come along every day, and we may not see another.

Former House Speaker, John Boehner gave an interview in 2017 in which he described his Republican colleagues as assholes, idiots and anarchists. Unlike Zhikov in ‘90, Boehner isn’t under arrest, at least not yet, but he’s far enough from power to start being honest.

Boehner’s 25 years in Congress began at the peak of Republican power and promise and ended with the party devolving into a cult. Like Zhikov, across his career Boehner guided his colleagues into one dark compromise after another to preserve his own power and position. He retired to escape the pitchforks of the racist nutjobs who’d consumed the GOP.

Regarding two of the party’s more extreme members Boehner said, “Fuck Jordan. Fuck Chaffetz. They’re both assholes.”

He had more to say about Ohio Republican Jim Jordan, describing him as “a terrorist as a legislator going back to his days in the Ohio House and Senate. A terrorist. A legislative terrorist.”

Regarding the death of real thought in conservative think tanks “Heritage was a respected conservative think tank, and he [Jim DeMint] turned it into some half-assed political operation.”

And the Trump White House? “A complete disaster.”

Is he happier now that he’s free? Maybe. Maybe not. Asked about his suddenly erratic performance on the links after being one of Congress’ best golfers, Boehner explained, “That’s my biggest problem in golf these days. I just can’t concentrate. I could always concentrate on what I had to do. But these days … I just can’t concentrate.”

So, in this era after the GOP and the conservative movement have squandered their leadership, what can bring the country together? How do we bridge the divide in that Boehner helped create?

He explained, without apology or remorse, “It’s going to take an intervening event for Americans to realize that first, we are Americans. Something cataclysmic.”

Now he tells us.


  1. No offense Chris, but I think you may still have those rose-tinted glasses on.

    Conservative attempts to court the dixiecrats began almost immediately after Watergate and have their origins in the 1950s. Why do you think Reagan’s announcement speech extolling the virtues of “states rights” was held in the same town where three civil rights activists were brutally murdered? And don’t forget when Atwater’s infamous “nigger nigger” interview took place.

    I highly recommend everyone read the following articles:

    1. Sorta.

      Every Republican Presidential candidate since Teddy Roosevelt has had a Southern Strategy. In fact, the term was actually coined by Herbert Hoover’s campaign in the 20’s. All of these Southern Strategies, with the except of Goldwater’s, were failures. That includes Nixon. Let me repeat – Nixon’s Southern Strategy was a failure.

      Nothing the Republican Party did triggered the Flight of the Dixiecrats. In fact, decisions made by Democrats had far more to do with it than anything Republicans tried.

      It was Southern preachers who finally cracked the code. Republicans had, and still have, very little idea what was going on.

      1. Absolutely agree that the Dixiecrats left of their own accord.

        The question is what motivated them to eventually call the Republican party home. Had the GOP made it clear they were not welcome, they IMO would’ve remained a rudderless bloc with far less influence on national politics. In previous pieces you’ve talked about the Dixiecrat takeover of southern state GOP apparatuses. You mentioned how those state GOP parties were basically unpopulated and ripe for the taking, but that begs the question of why these people felt comfortable enough with the GOP to want to join them in the first place. While evangelical pastors and other religious figures may have motivated the “common people” so to speak, what motivated the pastors? Why did the pastors and other southern elites think the GOP was conducive towards their views?

      2. Conducive towards their views? I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about. With a two-party system in America and one becoming more and more open towards civil rights, what other option was there? Besides, with an effectively empty Republican infrastructure in the South, Dixiecrats could just come in and shape it however they wanted. Who cares whether Republican values appealed to them or not?

        Also, traditional Republican values couldn’t be more at odds with the Dixiecrats.

      3. The GOP was not conducive toward their views. I personally listened to Republicans describe these hordes as “convenient idiots.” Meanwhile the religious nuts referred to the entrenched GOP members as corrupt, godless, and of course, “Country Club Republicans” or “Chamber of Commerce Republicans.”

        For most of the 90’s there were two “official” county-Republican organizations in Houston, thanks to a split so bitter it resulted in fist-fights. Local pastors had organized a takeover of the empty precincts in Harris County, filling them with bigots.

        That brings us to the answer to the question – why would they become Republicans? The answer is that the Republican infrastructure in the South was almost completely hollow. In Harris County, with almost 3m people, you could take over the GOP by mobilizing about 150 volunteers. It took them a few decades to figure it out, after all, these aren’t clever people, but once they figured it out they swept over the party and remade it in their image.

      4. Hm, for some reason I can’t respond to your last reply .

        Your statement about how the country-club GOPers regarded the proto-deplorables as “convenient idiots” kinda underscores my point though. While they might have had contempt for them, they also had little trouble pandering to them for votes. IMO over time this made the “convenient idiots” comfortable and bold enough to attempt a takeover of GOP infrastructure.

      5. To be fair, do you think the nutty anti-vaxxer Jill Stein contingent is about to take over the Democratic Party? In the midst of a fight against the Trump Administration is it worth your time and energy to take them on, or should you try to earn their votes? That’s the way Republicans were thinking about Pat Robertson and company in the 80’s. It was a weird fad that would blow over. They were wrong, and I tried to tell them they were wrong, but it was a fairly natural human reaction to assume that people who seem completely insane are incapable of seizing power. Frankly, I think too many Democrats, especially the ones already in powerful positions, are still making the same mistake about the right, still imagining that we all share the same core values, etc. They better wake up fast, cuz there’s not much left to defend.

    2. That article about Buchanan and the Koch’s has lost the ability to terrify, as we see it unfold every day now. But it does reinforce what I keep saying: Targeted violence is the ONLY way to save democracy. If 2 of the 4 Koch siblings are removed, this would have a significant impact on the oligarchs’ destruction of democracy worldwide.

      The Russian and Chinese models are what the U.S. oligarchs want, and will get, unless people step up and do what it is necessary, and it sure isn’t vote.

  2. “Thin organization” is just the beginning of Republicans’ problems. Tack on “privilege and lack of empathy “ and you’re off to the races. Sure, there were some good people in the organization, and yes, many conservative principles have value, but the deliberate choice to exclude everyone who thinks differently as unworthy of sharing in the American dream and then making certain their chances were slim, is stark. I used to be able to vote occasionally for a Republican but I suspect it’s going to be a long time before that opportunity presents itself again.

    I had a conversation yesterday with a new neighbor- a smart, fiftyish professional, single woman. She was explaining her conservative values to me and talked about how hard she works and that social security probably won’t be there for her in retirement. I then asked her what she thought of Democratic Governor John bel Edwards. She said he wasn’t getting anything done in LA and his solution is always more taxes. It just so happened I had listened to a live call in program on NPR earlier in the day in which this very problem arose. He noted that the state was maxed out in its sales tax, the legislature refused to raise property taxes (they gave no problem levying fees for anything that moves , however), and the gas tax of 30 cents had not been raised in 30 years. Inflation now makes that 30 cents into 7.5 cents in spending power. I quietly told her – you can’t have it both ways. She had no response but I am under no illusion that she got my point.

    Choosing to think independently and critically is seldom appreciated by conservatives. To close I offer this poetic piece by a very thoughtful, careful entertainer. I can relate to his lament.

  3. I sense some dissension in the ranks.

    Chris and the other fine commenters have pointed out turning points in the last few years that caused voter free agency. Chris has often pointed out that Democrats and Republicans switched teams in the last few decades. At least some. A lot.

    What I think he and other thinking conservatives missed is that while they were talking personal responsibility, small government, and ummm, fiscal responsibility. A good portion of the electorate heard something else. Conservative intellectuals were trying to explain their conservative utopia, but something got lost in the translation. I’m not saying some didn’t use code words intentionally. But when Chris or Kristol or Buckley thought deep thoughts and talked about personal responsibility, some nodded, understanding that it was aimed at some other group, not themselves. An example, Republicans talk about trimming entitlements and their voters smile and applaud. So test it. Ask a conservative voter to explain an entitlement. Then try to explain that it’s Social Security and Medicare.

    So yeah, there were those who thought pure thoughts and were trying to make the world a better place, but they totally misunderstood their audience. Even if you don’t know the difference between debt and deficit, you always know who you hate.

    1. Bingo. And also, a lot of that talk about freedom and fending for oneself and owning one’s own outcomes missed how that message was being heard by another set of ears – those who were locked out of the system. When William F. Buckley was writing God And Man At Yale, no women were allowed to even apply, and a special cap was implemented to keep the number of Jews down. In other words, guys like Buckley and Kristol were blind to the ways the whole culture was slanted to coddle them. A lot of these “legitimate thinkers” completely freaked out when it dawned on them that they’d never get through the doors of Yale or Harvard in the kind of world they were *really* describing.

      To address some of the other points about the former character of the GOP, I’d like to start with a quote:

      “The past is a foreign country.”

      Let’s address a few points.

      Federal employment peaked in 1990, almost regaining its previous high from 1968. It reached its most recent low-point under Clinton before rebounding a bit in recent years. Federal spending, both civilian and domestic, exploded under Reagan. The volume of new federal rules maintained its upward pace, uninterrupted, across the Reagan years. The Reagan assault on government is a thing everyone remembers, which also never happened. By any available metric government expanded under Reagan in ways that dwarf what came before or after. It was all talk and ideas. Reagan did succeed in curbing some form of government intervention in private life, but you have to look hard to find examples. Possibly his finest achievement was getting the principles behind cap and trade a foothold in the EPA.

      As for taxes, after the initial Kemp-Roth cuts in ’81, Reagan raised taxes 11 times in a panic to get deficits under control. GHWB then pinned the top marginal tax rate back up at 40% where is stayed until GWB took over. You can argue about the impact of Reagan’s decrease in the top marginal tax rate, but no Democrat has even suggested restoring the post-war rates. Blame him if you want for what came later, but at no point in sixteen years of Democratic administration did they even suggest going back. Without adding universal health care and/or a basic income, there’s no way we ever will.

      There were conservatives in the 70’s and 80’s saying dumb things about destroying government. They existed on the isolated fringes of the GOP, like the anti-abortion weirdoes and the religious nuts. Painting those people as the definition of the GOP back then is an exercise in projection, making the present fit the past.

      Why did the Republican Party go crazy? For starters, it was always a very thin organization. Since the Depression, it lost almost all of its grassroots organization, even in the places where it remained successful, for the simple reason that across 16 years of uninterrupted Democratic dominance it lost its access to the really good patronage $$. That also helps explain the party’s relative independence from big government in the second half of the 20th century.

      That thin presence on the ground left the organization very vulnerable. By the 80’s it was running on big-donor money, borrowing volunteers recruited mostly from business groups like the Chambers of Commerce. When the Dixiecrats started to finally shift their local party allegiance in the 90’s it was lights-out for traditional Republicans. They were smarter, better educated, and well-connected. That left them thinking they could run things, but the technocrats were quickly overwhelmed and shoved to the margins. The numbers were simply overwhelming. Many of them were still cosseted away in DC as late the 2nd Bush Admin, imagining they still had some influence and the craziness would soon blow over. Obviously, they were wrong.

      It’s forgotten now, but thirty years ago most people considered the Dixiecrats and their loony religious allies to be mostly an irrelevant nuisance. They won, so now their presence back then looms large in history.

      As for unions, well you know what I think about that.

      Take me back to 1980 and I’d vote for Ronald Reagan. What he did for the country mostly needed doing, including reducing the top marginal tax rate from wartime levels. GHWB was an excellent leader. I voted for him ’92 and I still wish he’d won. It all went to hell after that as the Dixiecrats came flooding in. The GOP is a rotten hulk, nothing remaining of its former self apart from the demons that had always lurked in the corners. It has to be destroyed, but that doesn’t change what it was.

      1. I’m not so sure about GHWB, and here’s why:

        1) he left Saddam in place in Iraq when a simple shoot-down of the few remaining Iraqi military copters and fixed-wing aircraft would have stopped Saddam from killing off the joint Shi’ite/Kurdish revolt against his rule. Without any lingering occupation, Saddam would have been gone and the ongoing US military in Saudi + Iraqi sanctions (cynically manipulated by Saddam to kill only vulnerable enemies of his) on Iraq that so inflamed Osama Bin Laden and other violent Sunni radicals would not have existed.

        2) Likewise, GHWB refused to do anything about Putin-before-Putin, Slobodan Milosevic and his conversion from Communism to born-again Serbian Orthodox fascism. Everything Milosevic did was copied by Putin beginning in 1998, including riding Russian outrage about NATO bombing their “Slavic brothers,” the Serbs to power.

        His benign neglect of these two despots, Saddam and Milosevic, set off long-running fuses we’re still dealing with. Bill Clinton half-assed his way through taking down Milosevic throughout the 90s, but the Saddam problem plagued us right up through W’s insanely botched Iraq War and occupation.

        Domestically, I’m all for the maximum-freedom small-government vision you’ve laid out above, and I think there’s a small outside chance that some in my Democratic Party, like Andrew Yang or even Beto O’Rourke if he decides to dare it, could implement something close to it.

        Beto has more of a chance of winning the Dem 2020 nomination than Yang does, so I hope he has the cojones to try some truly outside-the-Democratic-box thinking that rejects both Trump and Bernie’s big-government visions.

      2. I will grant your point regarding how things more or less stayed the same under Reagan. That was largely because the D’s retained the House until 1994. However, he did cut the taxes for the wealthy substantively. There is an argument to be made that a top marginal tax rate of 91% is too high. Despite the subsequent Reagan tax increases, the taxes on the wealthy remained low. IMO that started the trend towards the increasing inequity that is plaguing the U.S. today. IMO a top marginal tax rate of 40% with the ridiculously low capital gains taxes, combined with the carried interest clause is ridiculous. That needs to be changed.

        It was when the Gingrich Republicans seized control of the House in 1994 with all the Southern crazies that things really got messed up. But that was inevitable with the Southern strategy leading all the nut jobs and true-believers that were previously constrained within the Democratic Party to take control of the Republican Party.

      3. Chris-
        Reagan started the Republicans down the road of crazy economics by embracing supply-side economics, a stupid policy rightly named “voodoo economics” by GHWB in the 1980 debates. While a top marginal rate of 91% is probably high, a rate of 40%, with a marked reduction in the capital gains rate, is too low. (FWIW, talk to many older rich folk, and they’ll grouse about Reagan that his tax cut was actually a tax hike because he also took away a bunch of deductions. No one actually paid 91% on their taxes. There were so many loopholes, like owning real estate and deducting depreciation, that the effective tax rate was much lower).

        To Reagan’s credit, when his first experiment with supply-side economics failed and the deficit started exploding, he reversed course and did raise taxes. Not enough to counterbalance the increased spending his “fiscally conservative” budgets contained, but at least he was willing to reverse course.

        But by enshrining supply-side economics as the cornerstone of Republican tax policy, he is ultimately responsible for Trump and the Republicans current outlandish budget proposals. It has gotten to the point where they don’t even allow the CBO to accurately score their budget proposals because they don’t even want to hear that their economics is based on voodoo.

        I’m really intrigued by your explanation re: patronage. I know you’ve explained it somewhat in previous posts but I still don’t follow. How does patronage keep the crazies away? Truth be told, I’m not even willing to concede that patronage is strictly a Democratic thing, since states controlled by Republicans also had tight patronage machines. Heck, Illinois’ last Republican governor, George Ryan, is in jail for patronage-type corruption in the state govt under his watch. I understand big cities have traditionally been run by Democratic machines, but states weren’t as tightly under Dem control.

        Regardless, even if I concede that Dems controlled patronage and Republicans did not, how does that keep the crazies at bay? Southern dixiecrats controlled the Democratic party (since FDR, no southern Democrat lost the Presidency until Gore, and no northern Democrat except Kennedy won, until Obama). You’d expect they would control the patronage links too (at least in their states / cities) and use it to nurture their fellow crazies.

        I’m not trying to defend or minimize my party’s history of corruption and patronage politics. I’m just trying to understand how patronage helps keep the crazies under control. In the 60s, if you lived in a southern city controlled by Democrats, you probably had to be a fellow Klansman to get a job driving the city buses, no? IMHO, it must be something else, although I can’t really say what that is.

        The Dixiecrats were considered a nuisance until Reagan welcomed them in with open arms. GHWB was the candidate of the old, Eastern Establishment Republican party. Reagan — despite being a divorced, hollywood elite, union boss — courted the new Dixiecrats as his power base against the Eastern old guard. And he won the primary. That was the turning point. After that, the old guard were just dead men walking, although they didn’t know it at the time. When Reagan says “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left me” it’s pretty easy to understand he meant the Dems’ embrace of civil rights, since nothing else in the Dem platform had really changed since FDR. His famous phrase could be considered the universal lament of every dixiecrat out there, and they heard it loud and clear.

        GHWB was tone deaf on domestic policy (although not really wrong with a lot of what he did), but, IMHO, he was absolutely brilliant with foreign policy.

        1) Leaving Saddam in place was the right thing to do. GHWB assembled a coalition of middle eastern countries by arguing that the goal of the intervention was to free Kuwait, and not overthrow leaders he didn’t like. If he had pursued Saddam, he’d have broken up the coalition and lost the trust of middle eastern allies in case anything needed to be done in the future.

        Besides, while leaving Saddam nominally in power, he thoroughly dismantled his army. Recall that at that time, Iraq was probably the most powerful army in the middle east, able to fight Iran to a standstill in the Iran-Iraq War. After the war, Saddam would no longer be a threat to anyone. How we managed the Kurdish rebellion afterwards was probably wrong. But I’d argue what was wrong was our tacit encouragement of their rebellion. Our middle eastern allies would have turned on us if we supported the Kurds against Saddam. After all, most of our allies were Sunni and wouldn’t take too kindly to supporting an overthrow of a Sunni leader, no matter how brutal he was. To risk a budding alliance that included such enemies as Saudia Arabia *and* Isreal, that you just cemented with a solid victory freeing Kuwait, in support of a sectarian rebellion in a deeply divided country that you had no idea would succeed or would just throw the country back into chaos? Sorry, I’m with Bush on this one. No way would I support it. That doesn’t mean I didn’t sympathize with the Kurds’ plight, but sympathy is not the same as military support.

        1b) Saddam wasn’t the reason for ObL. ObL was incensed by Saudi Arabia allowing the US to base forces on its soil, and by the corruption of the Saudi monarchy. ObL and Saddam had no love for each other (Saddam was a secularist) but ObL had bigger fish to fry in Saudi Arabia. Yes, Saudi Arabia joining Bush’s alliance against Saddam might have inflamed him, but that has nothing to do with whether we should have gone after Saddam or left him in place.

        2) IMHO, his handling of the post-Cold War Eastern Europe was nothing short of masterful. He managed to de-nuclearize the post-soviet states (like Ukraine), prevent the dispersal of soviet nuclear know-how and materiel to rogue states, and establish a framework to nurture democracies in places like Poland and Hungary without antagonizing Russia. That he managed to do it while dealing with a partner (Yeltsin) who was a corrupt, blithering drunkard, is all the more remarkable.

        If anything, it was Clinton’s more aggressive outreach to former Soviet-bloc countries that set the stage for guys like Putin to rise.

        Here’s the bottomline: you can’t expand the EU and NATO right to Russia’s doorstep and not expect Russia to get defensive. Imagine if China announced it was intervening in Mexico to stop the cartel wars, and established a joint defense organization with Mexico and Central America to address the humanitarian crisis in the region, including the overthrow of leaders it deemed bad. We would go absolutely apeshit. GHWB understood this. Which is why he deliberately made sure NATO didn’t expand beyond what Russia was comfortable with. He understood that it would take time to show Russia that NATO and EU expansion was not a threat to its own security (let’s face it, NATO’s entire purpose until then was to be a threat to Russia’s security).

        Puffing our chest that we “won” the Cold War and then aggressively recruiting every former Russian ally, and overthrowing leaders when we didn’t like them, would have backfired and sparked a new Cold War. Which is exactly what happened after Clinton expanded NATO and started using NATO forces against former Soviet allies.

        Bush’s neglect of guys like Saddam and Milosevic was deliberate, and, IMHO, within the realpolitik of foreign policy, absolutely the right decisions. Yes, it sounds callous to the people that were slaughtered by those two guys, but intervening would likely have backfired and caused far greater disasters, which is exactly what’s happening today.

  4. This is a fantastic picture but it’s incomplete. Even as a yellow dog democrat I respected guys like Kemp and Dole for proposing conservative ideas that at least came from a deep understanding of reality and a shared concern about actually solving a problem (not to mention a genuine compassion. I may disagree with some of Kemp’s proposals but never once doubted that he genuinely cared about the plight of inner city blacks). And to this day, I remain astounded at the — still unheralded — foreign policy successes of GHWB and his team. If anyone deserved a Nobel Peace Prize, it was him, not Obama, or even Gore.

    So here are interesting parts of the picture I think are missing from your description, in no particular order of importance:

    1) Part of what drove the Republican party crazy is that, thanks to Bill Clinton, the Democratic party largely adopted that reality-based conservative approach, thereby depriving the Republicans of a legitimate difference, leading them with a policy void that the Southern Republicans were only too happy to fill. It was Bill Clinton, after all, who said the era of big government was over, proposed a similar system of private-based universal healthcare (derided as HillaryCare), and continued the foreign policy direction set under GHWB. There was hardly a daylight of difference between Bush and Clinton on foreign policy, in a very good way. Both were responsible for the extension of Pax Americana into the post-cold war era in way that, IMHO, was absolutely a good thing for this world, and for us.

    But once your opponent adopts the best of your policies, or they’ve been implemented, what’s left for you to do? This has happened before, of course, so it may pay to see what history says. The first party that this happened to was the Federalists. They basically accomplished their basic policy goals of a strong central government and Hamilton’s conservative economic platform. Unable to chart a new course once their basic positions had won, they wasted away and ultimately disappeared as Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans (not coincidentally, whose base was in the South) came to the fore.

    More recently, FDR’s New Deal was a massive change in social and foreign policy. Eisenhower basically accepted it, and it was never again challenged by either party until Reagan (who was an FDR Democrat himself). IOW, the Democrats’ domestic and foreign policies were basically adopted as the consensus framework for the next several decades. But the Democrats didn’t go crazy: they moved on and began addressing new problems, such as civil rights.

    So all of this raises the question: what was so unique about the Republicans’ situation at the turn of the century that made them vulnerable to going crazy when confronted with the same changes that other parties have dealt with before? You can say the Southern Strategy, but those southerners have always had a home in *some* party. It didn’t make the party crazy. Southern rural voters have basically been part of the Democratic party since Jefferson created the party off their backs. And yet somehow the Dems managed the worst of the crazy impulses, and could actually rise above them when needed (a-la FDR, LBJ, even Clinton). Maybe I’m looking with rose-tinted glasses. But throughout history, every other party disappeared while the Democrats survived and changed to remain relevant to the times. Why?

    2) The people and policies you mention can broadly be considered social and domestic policy, but exclude one large area: economic policy. And, IMHO, the Republicans went off the rails on economic policy with Reagan. As Duncan alludes to in his earlier comment, unions became the bogeyman once the communists had fallen (to a capitalist they’re one and the same, even though in many Warsaw Pact countries, it was the unions which led the fight to overthrow communist regimes, since they were the only non-governmental source of collective power allowed). They remain the bogeyman that has allowed corporate interests to run roughshod over economic policy. Any sort of attempt to discuss executive greed / excess / fraud is automatically assumed to lead to Jimmy Hoffa and the mob returning.

    Unions represent ~6.5% of the private sector workforce, comprising ~7.5mil workers. In contrast, there are >10mil undocumented immigrants. We laugh at those wacky southerners who occupy their waking thoughts being afraid of the “hordes” of immigrants crashing our borders. And yet “somber” economic conservatives occupy their waking thoughts with the hordes of union members ruining our economy. Who’s actually crazier when there are fewer private sector union members than there are illegal immigrants? That fear of unions and any sort of worker bargaining power as the first steps toward socialism / communism (one and the same, of course…) create a huge blind spot that allowed our own kleptocrats and oligarchs to find their home in the new Republican party.

    This is not a theoretical problem. Bruce Rauner, billionaire private equity financier and former Republican gov of Illinois was quite sane on social policy, and even parts of economic policy (many democrats agreed with him about pension reform and public sector union costs, etc. That’s why he was elected with a big part of their vote). Yet among the myriad of problems that Illinois faced when he was elected, Rauner decided to take his first stand by demanding that Illinois become a right-to-work state before considering anything else. He decided private sector unions was the hill he was willing to die on, and die he did, taking the state along with him for 4 years. We decry Trump shutting down the government until he gets the wall. Rauner went for 2 years without a budget because he was unwilling to compromise about unions. It got to the extent that in his last year, more Republicans were voting to overturn his veto than were voting for the actual bill itself, just to get *something* moving.

    Rauner was not beholden to southern conservatives. And regardless, it wasn’t social policies that made him crazy. And yet he governed in a way strikingly parallel to Trump (minus the porn stars and the Russian connections, which is why it was too boring to be covered by the national press, I guess 🙂

    So I think you need to be willing to gore your own ox, Chris, if you want to paint the full picture of how Republicans went crazy.

    3) On the bright side, all those smart, dedicated conservative policymakers didn’t die. Unlike Stalin, no one (thankfully) sent them to the Gulag when the party was purged. Some of them are quiet (which they’ll have to answer for when the time comes). But many have become Democrats. The policy debates you seem to want to see happening, are happening, just not in the Republican party. Basic income *is* being considered by Democrats. Most of the biggest proponents of UBI are Silicon Valley Democrats, who are also the biggest group of people looking at what government should look like in the post-industrial world (don’t worry, they don’t like unions either 🙂 ). In the Reagan/Bush years, they would have been Republicans. Now they’re Democrats. Cap-and-trade is a Democratic proposal. The Paris Accords were signed off on by a Democratic President.

    Even the Green New Deal, which you mention is a sign that the Democrats are becoming crazy, is hardly that. FWIW, I love AOC but more because she has the guts to say things that expand the Overton Window of what types of proposals are acceptable to debate. Her actual detailed policy proposals are pretty simplistic, and I don’t agree with many of them, but that’s okay. The point is to get people talking about the broad outlines, and then hash out the details later. You have to see the Green New Deal in that same light. And in that light, it’s a masterstroke: the primary reason why anyone is against the environmental movement is because they think it will cost jobs. After all, not even the biggest oil shill hates trees or sunshine. But as long as fossil fuel interests can convince people that being pro-environment means being anti-jobs, then you get people like West Virginians who are willing to literally die for an industry that employs fewer people than the secretarial industry.

    The Green New Deal is an attempt to convince people that saving the environment can *create* new jobs and spur economic growth, while giving us massive climate benefits as well. It’s an attempt to convince that West Virginian that if he wants a job for himself or his children, he has a better chance at it by aligning with environmentalists than with coal. That’s not crazy thinking. I think every sane person understands this. After all, California’s solar industry now employs more people than all of “King Coal”. And if we could break this ingrained political “truth” that you can have a clean environment or plentiful jobs but not both, then the floodgates open to real, comprehensive environmental policy.

    So anyway, I do like your review of the recent history of the party, and I actually lament the loss of guys like Kemp, Dole, and Bush from “the other side”. But I think you need to dig deeper to figure out why the Republican party became crazy.

    1. And that desire-ment of greater personal freedom:

      Are you not a white man in America?

      What could possibly make you more free?

      No weapon registration?
      No limit on how much gasoline your vehicle burns?
      Never required to recycle anything?
      Marry anyone who wants to marry you?
      Post pretty much whatever you want on social media?

      (Granted, encrypted electronic communication is not automatic, but it is purchasable.)

      Silly, silly.

  5. I just had a moment of ‘fridge logic’ after walking away from this article. You mentioned that Jack Kemp fought against Californian Republicans’ efforts to demonize immigrants. Considering how Jack Kemp has been mentioned with saint-like status with regard to Paul Ryan and considering that everyone in America has seen the end result of the Republican in California being California turning into a Democratic state, why would the rest of the Republicans in the nation repeat that scenario?

    David Frum in his article, “The Great Realignment of Britain”, talks about how the Leave movement’s screw up has united Remainers. The European Union isn’t an inspirational nor aspirational and the Remainers were too mixed a group to have a unified identity, but the anger at the Leavers for wrecking the economy has given them one.

    This is what happened in California with Pete WIlson with Prop 187. The California Democrats were too mixed a party to have a unified identity. Anger and outrage over California Republican’s action gave them one. Now it seems the national conservative movement seems to want to repeat that action in the nation as a whole with Trump because the working definition for both ‘stubbornness’ and ‘insanity’ is doing the same thing repeatedly expecting a different outcome.

  6. I substantively disagree with your thesis. I feel the following approaches the Republican Party took precluded any possibility of implementation of the positive policy concepts you discuss. Those approaches are:
    1. Use of the Southern Strategy, beginning with Nixon and perfected by Reagan. This allowed the right wing, racist nuts to take control of the party and drive the more moderate Republicans (AKA Rockefeller Republicans) out of the party. The loss of the moderate Republicans was a major disaster for the Republican Party.
    2. The massive tax cuts for the oligopolists.
    3. The ideology of essentially no governmental regulation and adopting a laissez-faire economic approach.
    4. The disinvestment in America by government adopted under Reagan and followed by all subsequent Republican administrations. That was partly due to the idea that there should be essentially no governmental intervention. This in turn has led to the extremely poor public services, education and infrastructure in the U.S., especially as compared to the rest of the industrialized world.
    5. Finally, the concept that that all foreign policy issues are best solved by the use of the military and force, with no room for diplomacy. This has led to the wasting away of our diplomatic corps and the abilities to effect change by means other than force and to the state of continuing warfare in which we currently find ourselves.

    To consider two examples. The use of a private universal health care system such as in widespread use in continental Europe entails major government regulation of insurance companies. It is generally known as the Bismarkian system. But under Republican ideology that is not consistent with the ideal of little or no government. Obamacare was and is an attempt to adapt that approach to America, but the Republicans will not accept that.

    A second example is the universal basic income. Though that might work better than guaranteed employment, it is precluded by the possibility that “those people” might benefit and the refusal of the Republican Party to adopt a policy that would provide for public benefits for all.

    Now that the Republican Party is dominated by pro-oligopolist racists and most people who take a pro-business, pro-public goods approach are associated with the Democratic Party, in future years I believe we will begin to see a different approach by the Democratic Party, than the one you describe of massive government programs. There are elements within the Democratic Party that look with favor on the UBI, but because of the unalterable opposition of the Republican Party to universal health care and the Bismarkian system, the train has probably left the station on that issue, and we are likely to have something similar to Medicare for All, or M4A, which is similar to the Canadian Single Payer system.

    1. Agreed. Chris’ description of *what* went wrong in the American right has a lot of truth, but his desire to believe that the *when* was “after Reagan” distorts the story. There were some good ideas on the right, but they co-existed with the rising racism and pro-oligarchic policies that began at least as far back as Nixon. The important good ideas like Universal Health Care could never have been more than think-tank white papers – any attempt to create policy (on the right) from them would have left them unrecognizable or simply aborted.

      1. “Important ideas like universal health care could never have been more than think tank white papers” – spot on, as wholesale denial of the copycat ACA legislation (to the very similar Heritage proposal) proved. Republicans never saw a program that benefited poor people that they could stomach. The party continues to do everything within its power to strike down the New Deal and the Great Society – both, of which – were implemented by Democratic presidents. Corporate/white collar government largesse was a whole ‘nuther matter….because, these folks were “contributors”, not “takers”. As I stated above, lack of any real empathy for others except their own “kind” and money drives all decisions, aided and abetted by privilege and barely concealed racism. Frankly, the white southern pastors picked the right party to take over, and the rest, as they say, is “history”.

    2. Sharing this post written by Bill Moyers that relates his personal experience with living in a “socialist “ country before returning to that bastion of freedom and opportunity- America. I have never lived abroad but I expect I would share Moyers view of how equality and democracy can work quite well in a socialist economy.

      One other point in the article that I agree with is how Norway was able to enjoin unions in forging an equitable labor rights system without sacrificing business development or denuding their country’s safety net. Capitalism as practiced in the U. S. depends upon domination not shared success.

    1. I think the observation that working white people “hurt” themselves was aptly described. They could either hold the privileged class responsible for laws and policies that negatively impact their lives, or, they could blame the people they perceive as taking “stuff” away from them. I have to give Republicans credit – they have done one hell of a selling job to deflect their responsibility for any of the problems working white people are experiencing. I attribute this more to ego than anything more logical. Funny, black people get it more than their white class counterparts because their path starts so low and has been at such brutal cost that they simply can’t hide from reality.

  7. “He explained, without apology or remorse, “It’s going to take an intervening event for Americans to realize that first, we are Americans. Something cataclysmic.””

    The odds are much much higher that a civil war will break out before any unifying force comes along, like an alien invasion, and I mean the one with little green men with laser cannons.

    The puppet tyrant last week called for his militia to get ready to mobilize, but hey, what could go wrong there. That being said, according to CNN, his polling numbers are better than Reagan’s were at this point when Reagan won a 2nd term.

    Guess the average American truly does not care about democracy, if they have full belly, Facebook, and a working cellphone. You folks that say “let the system do its job to remove tyranny”, you keep on believing that. And hope for the little green men to show up.

    1. Based on the picture above, the Civil War did not solve a whole lot. That despite it having taken the highest toll of any armed conflict in out history by a huge margin.
      Do you honestly think that armed revolt against the military and a bunch of heavily armed Trumpliddlites will end well? He’ll do you really want to give Trump an excuse to declare martial law?
      No one is more upset by the MAGA shit than I am. But having served in the infantry, I know to be careful about what I wish for.

      1. I don’t think Dinsdale is welcoming the prospect of a civil war, just saying that it’s hard to see something that brings America back together before the divisions get so deep that civil war is possible. Based on the rhetoric of various groups, such a war, while still unlikely, would be much more likely to be launched by the right against a Democratic government than launched by the left.

      2. As Greg said, I am saying the chances of a civil war are much higher than some kind of unifying moment.

        Perhaps it will need to be the obliteration of Houston and Miami in the same month due to Cat6 hurricanes (current system does to 5), or most of a state, to a global warning enhanced superstorm, like the one that just hit Mozambique. Maybe that will be a unifying moment. Or perhaps, a war with China over the South China Sea, or over resources in the Arctic.

        But the chances are higher for a civil war than that unifying moment, when there is clearly a madman in power today who would gladly start said war if he thinks it would benefit him.

        That being said, my views on the fascist regime in place are well-documented here. I do believe that the only way to kill the snake of oppression killing democracy in the U.S., nay, the planet, is to decapitate the snake.

  8. I’ve been listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers song “Californication”. It seems like the perfect anthem for 21st century America.

    As you said in “Four true facts” over at GOPLifer, as long as Republicans are denying reality, any Democratic policy no matter how mistaken that accepts reality will be less damaging.

  9. Also, to that lady holding the “Confederate History Matters” sign, I’d say that yes it does. It matters to the USA in the same way that Third Reich history matters to Germany, as a cautionary tale of the horrors that spring from treating some groups of people as subhuman.

  10. Jordan’s from Ohio instead of NC, isn’t he?

    While I suppose it’s marginally better for Boehner to say something now rather than keep mum, I have nothing but contempt for him. Not the some amount of contempt as I do for quislings like Lindsey Graham, but I hope what’s left of his conscience keeps eating at him.

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