Monday, July 8, 2013
It was Joseph-Marie de Maistre...
Why do I bring up this obscure French philosopher on a dreary Monday morning following a holiday weekend in July? Because I think the United States may very well be nearing the end of its own counterrevolution.
If the New Deal of the 1930s was a revolution -- and I think it was -- then a counterrevolution was ushered in by President Reagan in 1981. And if FDR changed the relationship between the state and its citizens, essentially by enlarging the role of the federal government, then the counterrevolution sought to reverse this development.
I probably don't need to go into all the changes the New Deal brought to a severely depressed America, but it's important to note that every subsequent president until 1980, Democrat and Republican, essentially furthered its goals. While Medicare, signed into law by LBJ is often thought of as the culmination of the New Deal, Johnson's successor, Richard Nixon, also expanded the reach of the federal government.
The New Deal always had its opponents, but it wasn't until the 1950s that the seeds of the counterrevolution were sown. The writings of Ayn Rand and William F. Buckley, Jr. led to the candidacy of Barry Goldwater in 1964 which led, in turn, to the rise of Ronald Reagan. Thus the Reagan Revolution, which I maintain was actually a counterrevolution, began in January, 1981.
After Reagan's two terms, which brought lower taxes and less regulation (among other things), came the one-term presidency of George H. W. Bush, an establishment Republican who was never trusted by the counterrevolutionaries. In an attempt to balance the budget, Bush went back on his "no new taxes" pledge and was turned out of office in 1992 in an unusual three-way race involving the eventual winner, Bill Clinton, and an independent candidate, Ross Perot.
Clinton, who never achieved a majority of the popular vote, was seen by many counterrevolutionaries as an illegitimate president and an accident of history. Although his impeachment was ultimately unsuccessful, the Republicans were able to elect George W. Bush -- barely -- over Clinton's vice president, Al Gore, in 2000.
Terrorism and national security in the next few years provided a bit of a truce in the war between the revolutionaries and the counterrevolutionaries.
But when the financial panic ensued in the Fall of 2008, the war resumed. The counterrevolutionaries, or the base of the Republican Party, took on a new name, the "Tea Party." They opposed any federal action to combat the effects of the economic downturn -- TARP, the stimulus, the auto rescue, etc. The rest, as they say, is history.
But my point in all of this is to look at America from a larger perspective. If a revolution began with FDR in the 1930s, then a counterrevolution emerged in the 1980s. The tug of war is still in effect, with the country arguably more polarized than at any time since the Civil War.
(Obviously, an entire book could be written on this subject. But, for this morning, a short blog post will have to suffice.)
So how will it all end? It may not surprise you to hear that I think the counterrevolution -- like most -- will ultimately fail. (Revolutions happen for a reason -- to correct the injustices in the previous system.) Social Security, Medicare and the Affordable Care Act are all here to stay. The tea party, made up mostly of old, white, conservative, rural, religious people, will begin to -- literally -- die out soon. But the younger, non-white, progressive, city/suburban, science-based community will only grow. And, in the end, the counterrevolution will be seen for what it was: a last-ditch effort to reinstate the ancien regime.