Emmett Tyrrell

The Reagan era began as a revolt against the welfare state and appeasement of Soviet aggression. It was not simply a visceral revolt by old-fashioned reactionaries but an advance by people who had analyzed sclerotic liberalism and found it incapable of responding to contemporary problems, for instance, cities that were increasingly ungovernable, stagflation in the economy, Soviet military growth and subversion in what was then called the Third World. The most intellectually agile liberal Democrats were parting company with the ritualistic liberal conformists. Intellectuals such as Jeane Kirkpatrick, Irving Kristol and -- for a time -- Daniel Patrick Moynihan were joining Bill Buckley and Milton Friedman and suggesting new solutions to problems liberals dithered over. Such liberals came to be called neoconservatives -- and frankly only these skeptical liberals who eventually joined forces with the Reaganites can be called neoconservatives accurately.

The result was the Reagan administration, an amalgam of the best of the rising right and the old liberal consensus developed at the beginning of the Cold War. It was a politics of ideas. Irving Kristol had pronounced modern politics the domain of ideas, and he was right. Hastert, the retired high school wrestling coach, had no appetite for ideas. Until Republicans return to a politics of Reaganite ideas, they will be as antiquated as the Democrats and infinitely less interesting.


Emmett Tyrrell

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator and co-author of Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House.
 
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