Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Reagan’s Lincolnian Revolution

Jerry Stratton, June 26, 2019

Reagan For the Little Guy

I saw this meme about the good old days show up in my Facebook feed yesterday from a friend of mine in a teacher’s union:

This is actually the 1956 Republican Party platform:

  1. Provide federal assistance to low-income communities
  2. expand social security
  3. Provide asylum for refugees
  4. Strengthen labor laws so workers can more easily join a union
  5. Extend minimum wage

There are several problems with this list, the obvious being that Republicans are the only party in 2019 that still wants to provide asylum for refugees. Democrats want to let in the people that immigrants need refuge from. Democrats are specifically shielding murderers, rapists, and other violent criminals from deportation, if those criminals came here illegally.

Without walls, there is no sanctuary. The Republican Party understands this. Democrats also understand it: asylum isn’t their goal. They want refugees to remain frightened and dependent.

The wider problem, though, is not that it’s wrong about what the Republican Party supported in the era of Jim Crow. What’s wrong is that Democrats still support going back to the era of Jim Crow. In 1956, wages had risen enough that the minimum wage no longer kept unskilled blacks out of the job market, no longer blocked them from gaining the skills they needed to thrive. It was only with Johnson’s Great Society that blacks stopped advancing economically.

As economist Thomas Sowell has shown in books such as Basic Economics, increasing the minimum wage hurts minorities most. Politicians in 1956 knew this. That’s why they supported increasing the minimum wage. They supported it as a form of segregation. Democrats in 2019 still know this. They still, sixty years on, want to keep unskilled blacks frightened and dependent.

Mandatory company-wide union membership is a legacy of this time. Imagine if the first time your community voted in an election, everyone in your community was automatically enrolled in whatever party won, and from then on could only be represented by that party. And everyone who later moves into your community is required to support that party or not move in! It’s a nutty system, one guaranteed to create labor unions that represent bureaucracy instead of workers.1

I’ve read several biographies about people from the fifties, such as A.M. Sperber’s bio of Edward R. Murrow. The beltway class in both parties thought that the Soviet Union was the future. Some claimed to dislike that future, but they still believed that government-run bureaucratic economies were going to bury countries that allowed free choice by consumers and workers.

It wasn’t until Reagan that the Republican Party returned to the roots planted by Abraham Lincoln. Like Lincoln, Reagan believed not just that individual freedom was preferable, but that it was superior. He praised the virtues of an economy controlled by the rights of people to buy or not buy what they wanted, to work on their own terms, instead of an economy controlled by mandatory bureaucracies. Whether those bureaucracies were directly part of the government or whether they were government-sponsored enterprises such as unions or AT&T.

Even now many Republican party leaders still prefer bureaucratic solutions to freedom. Witness their inability to break up the huge insurance and medical conglomerates by repealing the Unaffordable Care Act. They’re afraid that if they make health care safe for smaller practices and individual doctors, health care will get worse and more expensive, and they’ll lose their next election. They honestly believe that huge bureaucracies provide better service than individual doctors in business for themselves, than small practices that must compete for our money.

In 1956 it was even worse. People forget just how far left Nixon, the last elected Republican president before Reagan, was compared to even the most leftist Republicans today. Nixon joined with Democrats to enact government control of prices and wages. The results were predictable by Lincoln’s standards: stagnant wages and high prices.

They forget how hard Nixon fought to protect the beltway. The Pentagon Papers exposed only the bad policies, incompetence, and corruption of his predecessors, mainly of President Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat. But it also made bureaucratic government look bad, so Nixon fought hard to keep newspapers from printing it.

Reagan’s revolution was about providing voters with an alternative to the bureaucratic state, an alternative that the beltway ridiculed. When Reagan ended oil price controls, the left/media predicted unaffordable gasoline; of course, prices fell immediately to become more affordable. Lincoln, also, would have predicted this.

Now, I’m not claiming that Republicans from the fifties and sixties were communists. They claimed to be very saddened that communism was so obviously the wave of the future, and that the Soviet Union would outlast the United States as an economic power. They preferred freedom, but believed it inferior to bureaucracy. Reagan was cast very much in the mold of the kid observing that the anointed wore no clothes, that the basic assumptions of the beltway were completely opposite reality.

One of the clear markers of Reagan’s utter stupidity were his repeated claims that the Soviet Union was near collapse. I read this both in James Deakin’s 1984 autobiography about his time in the White House Press Corps, and in Lawrence Weschler’s book about Solidarity in Poland. Of course, as we now know, the Soviet Union was near collapse; its collapse was seven years from Deakin’s book and ten from Weschler’s.

Weschler’s equivocation about freedom is particularly egregious because he had an upfront view of the Soviet bureaucracy’s inability to meet basic food and heating needs. Despite the evidence in front of his eyes, a viewpoint few Americans had, he completely ridiculed both Reagan’s prediction that the Soviet Union was near collapse, and Solidarity’s idea that Soviet satellites could and would break from Russia.

That complete blindness to the obvious lessons of history is what the 1956 Republican platform, and the 2020 Democrat platform, represents. If I were being completely partisan, I could note that the Republicans have learned since 1956 that freedom works, while the Democrats have doubled down on slavery. But that’s not entirely true. There are still many beltway Republicans who prefer bureaucracy to freedom. There are still many Republicans who join with Democrats in pushing a bureaucratic state. It is the nature of politicians to seek power. But since Reagan there are also many Republicans who support individual freedom.

It is our responsibility to choose wisely among them, and to reject the beltway class that still claims our interests are best served by mandatory bureaucracies, that we are “voting against our interest” when we vote for individual freedom. Individual freedom is always superior to socialism. Socialism is barbaric. It is natural to attack whoever has what we want and take their stuff. Capitalism—that is, trading for what we want instead of banding together to take it—is unnatural. Socialism is regressive.

Capitalism is civilization. Reagan and Lincoln knew this, even if Democrats and beltway Republicans do not.

In response to The new barbarism: A return to feudalism: The progressive left seems to have no concept of what civilization is, and of what undergirds civilization.

  1. Unions also did their part to maintain segregation and keep blacks out of the workforce. By requiring union membership to get a job, and forbidding blacks from joining, unions created a Catch-22 that kept blacks out of any business represented by unions.