Political analyst Henry Olsen has written an iconoclastic portrait of a man conservatives thought they knew: Ronald Reagan. Olsen, a veteran of several conservative think tanks in Washington, D.C., is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center who writes frequently for National Review. A stalwart of the GOP, he has a track record of highly accurate predictions of the outcomes of U.S. elections. In 2014 he coauthored (with Dante J. Scala) The Four Faces of the Republican Party: The Fight for the 2016 Presidential Nomination. His new book is his first as sole author. The Working Class Republican: Ronald Reagan and the Return of Blue-Collar Conservatism closely examines the entire span of the 40th President’s speeches, correspondence, and other writings and finds a decidedly non-libertarian Ronald Reagan—the Reagan who modeled himself on Franklin Roosevelt and was not hostile to, but supportive of, the social safety net.
For our latest installment of Conversations, Law and Liberty Associate Editor Lauren Weiner put questions to Olsen about The Working Class Republican. Here is our Q and A.
The new Tom Cruise movie is really two films in one. The first is a story of reckless hubris on the part of a man who had a good life and abandoned it to become a drug smuggler. The second is a calumny of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and the Central Intelligence Agency. Although there are moments of skilled filmmaking in American Made, ultimately, both fail.
At a time when American conservatism is said to have lost its way as a principled force, a careful reexamination seems necessary, for those who claim this and those who disagree. Either camp would profit from taking a fresh look at the long, much-admired career of the conservative movement’s reputed founder. A Man and His Presidents: The Political Odyssey of William F. Buckley Jr. is worth reading for anyone who wishes to become acquainted with him, or reacquainted.
Between 1975 and 1978, one of the more unusual transformations in the history of rock and roll music took place. Bruce Springsteen, a successful and hugely popular singer and guitarist, changed the way his music sounded.
The reasons why reveal a fascinating focal point where leftist politics, depression, Catholicism, and American fiction collide. Springsteen, who recently released a biography called Born to Run, is a liberal elitist and social justice warrior who is worshiped by the Left as a savior. How he got to be that, and how American literature and his battle with depression influenced him, are much more fascinating than a simplistic political reading of the man born in Long Branch, New Jersey in 1949.
In response to: The Future of Political Parties
I am very grateful to Richard Reinsch, the editor of Law and Liberty, for inviting me to write an essay on “The Future of Political Parties” and for enlisting three perspicacious critics to respond to it. It is gratifying that my frantic attempt to place the madcap events of 2016 in historical perspective resulted in such probing responses—a credit less to the quality of my essay, I think, than to the intelligence of my interlocutors and the times in which we live. All of us are trying to get our heads around history as it happens—a risky and stimulating scholarly…
Sidney Milkis represents the finest tradition of American political science. His research on the presidency and the parties has always been topnotch, and his broad understanding of political history gives his analysis of contemporary affairs special weight. Best of all, the University of Virginia’s White Burkett Miller Professor of Politics is interested in the big…
In his excellent Liberty Forum essay on party politics, Sidney Milkis mentions Richard Nixon’s role in shaping the party system that we have today. The point is worth exploring in more detail. President Nixon’s story tells us a great deal about where the parties have been since the middle of the 20th century, and whither…
In his very thoughtful analysis of the 2016 election, Sidney M. Milkis asserts that “the rise of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee and his election as President have been the equivalent of a political weapon of mass destruction.” Milkis laments this as the culmination of a divisive partisanship in which “candidates not only differ…
It has been a disorienting year for classical liberals. The presidential candidate of the more classically liberal of the two major parties took some positions wildly at odds with classical liberalism, like opposition to freer trade, enthusiasm for government intervention in corporate decision making, and hostility to some civil liberties. He won the Presidency in part because of some of those positions.
But then the same candidate announced the nomination of a substantially better cabinet from the classical liberal perspective than those Hillary Clinton would have appointed. It is through these generally decent appointees that he must largely govern, not by twitter.
He also shows every sign of following through on his commitment to appointing a justice sympathetic to enforcing the constitution as written and thus better implementing a charter broadly reflecting the classical liberalism born in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, although not of modern libertarianism. Once again the relative success of classical liberalism is made even clearer if potential nominees are not evaluated against a standard of utopian perfection, but compared to the result-oriented justices(s) that Hillary Clinton promised to appoint.
Here then are a few classical liberal resolutions for this strange era.
The classical liberal strand in Western political philosophy has historically opposed special government privileges for groups and prized equality before the law. Classical liberals favored eliminating the benefit of clergy and the privileges of the nobility. They fought against slavery. And, unlike some progressives of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, they opposed Jim Crow.
Whether classical liberalism should embrace laws that prevent private actors from treating people unequally on the basis of characteristics, like race and sex, is a more complicated question. But in my view, given the long history of Jim Crow in the United States, laws against discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity were justified to break ingrained habits encouraged by government discrimination against African-Americans. But here again the classical liberal view molded these laws into general prohibitions against discrimination, not special privileges for certain groups.
In the 1960s and 1970s progressives began to transform these laws into mechanisms of social engineering that took account of race in their planning. But for a brief period in Reagan administration, the classical liberal strand of universalism reasserted itself as part of the core ideology of the Republican party. The result was an effort to treat laws on discrimination as general prohibitions on discrimination on the basis of race and ethnicity, no matter which race and ethnicity was at issue. Colorblindness was banner under which the movement marched.
Sadly, this movement has dissipated.