Sunday, February 1, 2015

Al Smith, the governor...

...of New York and 1928 Democratic nominee for president, was known as "the Happy Warrior of the political battlefield."

In my lifetime, I'd say the Happy Warrior was a Republican, Ronald Reagan.

If FDR was the leader of a revolution in America, in which the federal government took a more active role in people's lives and lasted almost 50 years, then Reagan was the face of the counter-revolution, which took power in 1981.

I say that (Saint) Reagan was the "face" of the counter-revolution because, to paraphrase Voltaire, "If Reagan hadn't existed, it would have been necessary to invent him."

In other words, while the seeds of the counter-revolution go all the way back to the Liberty League, which opposed FDR, up through the America First movement, Ayn Rand, William F. Buckley, Jr., and Barry Goldwater, it found its most successful leader in Ronald Reagan. Unlike his predecessors, the Gipper could actually win elections, first as governor of California in 1966 and finally as president in 1980. Why? I'd posit that it was because the former Hollywood actor was so darn likeable.

Why is this important? Because Reagan's famously sunny disposition was not only the key to his success, it was also a feature of his uniqueness. And why is that important? Because, ever since the 40th president left office the Republican Party has been trying desperately to identify an heir, or at least someone who could replicate his electoral success. And why has that been impossible so difficult? I'd say it's because it's so hard to find a likeable conservative. (Don't tell me you think Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity is cuddly.) In fact, isn't a counter-revolutionary almost by definition an angry person? (It's hard to redistribute wealth from the poor to your billionaire friends with a smile on your face.) Take Fox "News," for example: isn't that just a channel for angry old white people? Or the tea party: while everyone keeps talking about the "energy" on the right, aren't they really talking about the "anger" on the right?

And think about it: the right wing of the Republican Party hasn't found a likeable candidate for president since Reagan hung up his cowboy hat. I guess W. was the closest thing, but he proved to be a profound disappointment in the White House.

I bring all of this up to splash a little cold water on the current Republican field for president. Who among the 2016 hopefuls is likeable in the Reagan mold, Chris Christie? Ted Cruz? Scott Walker?

Although there seems to be a little boomlet underway for the governor of Wisconsin after his performance at the Iowa Freedom Summit last weekend, I'd like to caution my Republican friends (and I do have some) that Walker is no Ronald Reagan. I've been watching him since 2011 and my impression is that he's a mean-spirited individual. (Walker's solution to middle class angst? Bust the unions!) Now, while many (or most) Republicans will like this guy, his thinly-veiled contempt for the less fortunate won't play well in the long-run. If the candidate people like more wins the general election (and think back on it; isn't that usually the case?), then Walker doesn't stand a chance against Hillary (or anyone else).

Keep searching, Republicans.

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