Whether one associates that phrase with Ecclesiastes, Peter Pan, or Battlestar Galactica, here’s something mildly soothing with which to ease into the post-holiday/pre-holidays,
The most recent episode of The Remnant, with Jonah Goldberg interviewing Matthew Continetti about the history of modern conservatism, is something I could probably mine for at least a week’s worth of material, and perhaps I will. What I want to mention today is a fairly brief interlude (~36:30 thru 39:00).
Continetti observes that in studying the archives of National Review, he was struck by how much debate there was within the magazine over the presidential aspirations of George Wallace. Although George Will’s first NR cover (in 1969 was an apparently savage attack of Wallace, there were also pieces by people like Jeffrey Hart touting Wallace and even a Wallace/Reagan ticket (circa 1972). Elsewhere in the podcast, Continetti more broadly observes that since William F. Buckley Jr’s first Mayoral campaign in 1965, the ideas of conservative intellectuals found more support among the hardhats, people in rural areas, and urban ethnics than among other intellectuals.
It is a good thing to remind ourselves of this history for at least two reasons.
First, given the current fractiousness within conservative media, it is useful for Pres. Trump’s supporters and skeptics alike to realize this fractiousness is not unprecedented. It may seem more painful because we have become more tribal, and so the real question may be whether the problem is fractiousness or tribalism. When we read columns and such from either side, we should strive to realize NR and other conservative outlets are not in the business of producing a homogenized product and never have been.
Second, for those who think Trump’s supposed nationalist populism is the future of the GOP, note that it has to some degree been the past of the GOP. That’s not to say I completely buy the thesis of Henry Olsen’s The Working Class Republican — that Pres. Reagan was always more of a blue-collar populist and lingering New Deal Democrat than a Goldwaterite. As Goldberg (iirc) notes during the podcast, Reagan once told NR’s William Rusher that he considered Barry Goldwater as the John the Baptist of the conservative movement (with the obvious humorous implication regarding Reagan himself. And if you want a deeper dive on this topic, I’d recommend Ben Domenech’s interview of Olsen.) But it is true that Reagan was always careful to remember and pitch to the working class.
For that matter, Pres. Nixon was at least as much of an anti-Left, anti-media populist as he was a conservative; Tom Wicker’s One of Us makes the case fairly persuasively. Indeed, little of this should surprise us in light of all the discussion there has been of 2016-17 as carrying echoes of 1968-69.
There is no “right side of history.” All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.
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