TIME magazine says the future of conservatism is bleak.
"These are gloomy and uncertain days for conservatives," writes Karen Tumulty in the March 26 issue. "The principles that propelled the [conservative] movement have either run their course, or run aground, or been abandoned by Reagan's legatees." In fact, some say we should just pack it in. "Realistically, it will probably take until the year 2016" to restore conservatism, activist and fundraiser Richard Viguerie told Tumulty.
It all sounds pretty grim. Unless you realize that it’s all been said before. By TIME magazine. Writing in the Weekly Standard, Noemie Emery dug up some nuggets from TIME's archives. "There was no Reagan revolution, just a Reagan bedazzlement. The magic is going off almost as mysteriously as the spell was woven in the first place," Garry Wills insisted on March 9, 1987. In fact, Wills added, Reagan had accomplished nothing at all. "The whole thing is not falling down; it was never weighty enough for that."
Emery also thumbed through "The Reagan Legacy," a book by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. "Reagan leaves behind an array of unresolved substantive problems. His successor will inherit a collection of outdated strategic premises, alliances that don't quite adhere, [and] roles and expectations for America that no longer hold," Ignatius wrote in 1988. Try telling any of that to Mikhail Gorbachev.
These stories highlight the dangers of trying to predict the future. And the biggest pitfall seems to be that, for some reason, people so often predict the future will be bleak.
Think of the great futuristic books. In Huxley's "Brave New World," individual identity has been wiped out by scientific advances. In Orwell's "1984," humanity has been enslaved by totalitarianism. In Carson's "Silent Spring," the planet has been destroyed by chemicals. They all missed the mark.
In recent decades science has made life longer and better, without turning humans into drones. The fall of the Iron Curtain showed the impotence of totalitarianism. And once again this spring, birds are chirping and flowers blooming. In reality, tomorrow is almost always better than today.
Let's use the Ford administration as an example. If we could magically bring an average American directly from 1976 to today, he'd be amazed. "What happened to inflation?" he'd wonder. That seemed like a big deal in the Ford years, and we don't even give it a second thought today. Meanwhile, he'd ask, "Unemployment is only 4.5 percent?" It was 7.8 percent in Ford’s time, and seemed unlikely to go any lower.