Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Advent of Sarah Palin: Noisy Panic Grips the Elites

The Republican Party, at least since the administration of William McKinley, has been perceived as the party of privilege...the party of the elites. While not always fair, the GOP Establishment seems to have an almost endemic hostility to the kind of grassroots, populist movements typified by the TEA Party and Sarah Palin. The GOP Establishment has sought, with almost complete success, to quash such movements over the past century. A small government populist conservative has only crept into the GOP hierarchy twice in the last century, both times in completely unanticipated fashion and both times beyond the control of the elites to stop. It is about to happen again.

The first time was in 1923 when a little known former governor of Massachusetts, who had been a surprise selection as Vice President in 1920, Calvin Coolidge, succeeded the corrupt Warren G. Harding. Elected governor in 1918, Coolidge had been known mainly as a friend to World War I veterans (giving the Massachusetts veterans a $100 bonus), a budget hawk who used his veto pen to slash 4 million dollars from state budget, enabling the state to retire some of its debt, and a staunch opponent of tax hikes.

He vetoed a bill that would have raised legislators' pay by 50%. Coolidge accomplished quite a lot in the two years (or half term) he spent as Governor. Of course, he had been a member of the City Council and mayor of Northampton, Massachusetts (population: 5,000)for most of the ten years preceding his (half) term as Governor. If that sounds familiar, it should. His resume bears an uncanny similarity to that of the current GOP frontrunner deemed unqualified by the elites, former Governor, Mayor and City Council member Sarah Palin of Alaska.

Succeeding the corrupt, Establishmentarian Warren Harding, Coolidge proved to be a splendid President. He cut the top marginal tax rate from 73% to 25%, spurring unparalleled growth and prosperity that continued until 1929-30. His Establishment successor, Herbert Hoover, in response to a financial crisis on Wall Street and an economic downturn, reacted by raising taxes sharply from 25% to 63%, hiking corporate taxes by 15% and strangling international commerce with the Smoot Hawley tariff.

It was not Roosevelt, but the Establishment Republican Hoover who increased taxes most sharply and precipitated the worst and longest economic catastrophe in American history. It is little wonder that Coolidge had been "cool" to Hoover, his Commerce Secretary, once remarking that "for six years that man has given me unsolicited advice—all of it bad." Not until the next populist conservative insurgency, fifty years later, would tax rates fall as sharply as the Establishment GOP had hiked them in 1931. And, not coincidentally, it would also take fifty years for the peacetime economy to soar to the heights it had reached throughout the 1920s.

While the Coolidge insurgency had occurred quietly through Presidential succession, the Reagan ascendancy occurred through national upheaval of Watergate, stagflation, unemployment and American malaise at home and abroad. It was an "in your face" insurgency that challenged two sitting Presidents, one Republican and one Democrat. In 1974, with Nixon's Presidency teetering, the Establishment had succeeded in denying Reagan the Vice Presidency when Spiro Agnew had resigned, opting instead for the bland Establishment foot soldier, Gerald Ford. In so doing, it showed that its "next in line" method of choosing nominees did not apply to populist conservatives, since Reagan--as the runnerup to Nixon in Miami Beach in 1968 and the leader of the Conservative movement--would have been, by anyone's calculation, next in line for the Presidency.

When Reagan observed Ford's big government policies and appeasement of the Soviet Union, he decided not to take no for an answer and challenged Ford for the GOP nomination in 1976. In so doing, he brought down upon his head a withering fire from the Establishment that persisted until election in 1980, even occasioning a walkout of the 1980 convention by the Party Vice Chair Mary Dent Crisp and a third party challenge from one of his GOP competitors, John Anderson.

As soon as Reagan was nominated, the Establishment counterinsurgency began in earnest. First, the nomination of his Establishment challenger, George H.W. Bush, as Vice President all but assured that the Reagan era would be a brief eight year interregnum from Establishment hegemony over the GOP. The entree of key Establishment aids such as James Baker as White House Chief of Staff, only served to solidify this shadow government in waiting, which emerged in 1988 to purge the Reaganites and reclaim the party.

The Establishment elites in 1980 realized that they could not prevent Reagan from pursuing policies which they found anathema--deep tax cuts and a RE-MORALIZATION (in contrast to the demoralization of the Nixon-Ford-Cater years) both of domestic and foreign policy. Domestically, Reagan's re-moralization involved the unapologetic defense of the Judeo-Christian tradition of America (including the right to life), welcoming evangelicals and conservative Catholics into the GOP tent.

Internationally, Reagan rejected the moral equivalence represented by detente, bluntly calling the Soviet Union "the focus of evil in the modern world" and initiating a military buildup that planted Soviet Russia firmly on the ash-heap of history, liberating perhaps half a billion people from its oppressive yoke. The elites despised both moves but bided their time until their restoration represented by George H.W. Bush.

Like his historical antecedent, Herbert Hoover, in responding to an economic downturn, Bush raised taxes and was promptly shown the door in 1992, fracturing the great Reagan coalition for a generation. This mattered little to the elites within the GOP, who had regained their prize--firm control of the party--and an even firmer resolve not to relinquish it. From 1988 until the present, the GOP has five times nominated candidates who are elitists by birth, the four Bush nominations and that of John McCain (the son and grandson of four star Admirals).

Only in the case of the ancient Bob Dole, an Establishment lap dog of long standing who earned his chops defending Richard Nixon and then Gerald Ford, did the Establishment have recourse to a non-hereditary prince and then only in 1996, a year in which the GOP Establishment was perfectly comfortable with a loss that would set the table for a Bush restoration in 2000. So great was the grass roots revulsion against Dole that Pat Buchanan, a weak candidate with many flaws, managed to win Louisiana, Alaska, place second (to Dole) in Iowa and to win New Hampshire before the GOP Establishment, in utter panic, closed ranks around Dole to defeat him in Arizona.

In 2012, the Establishment faces the gravest threat to its grip on power since at least 1980 and perhaps ever. Like 1996, it has no one of any stature or charisma to trot out as its champion. The firmament is buckling with TEA party intensity in a way that far surpasses both 1994 and 1980. And the incumbent Democrat President, to whom the GOP Establishment would normally cede a second term in order to regroup, is mortally wounded among white voters who inhabit, in disproportionate numbers, the battleground states of the Midwest where the next election will be decided.

But perhaps most important of all, the Establishment has lost control of the nomination process for the first time since 1980. This time, it faces--not the acerbic and off putting Buchanan--but a candidate of unparalleled skill and charisma that it has been unable--in spite of continuous assaults for nearly three years--to destroy. The elites have tried alternately to flatter her, to savage her, and to threaten her, anything to deter her from running, all without success. In so doing, the Establishment (Democrat and GOP) has spent the heavy "artillery" that it would normally save for the general election and it now lies defenseless in her path, biting its tail and frothing at the mouth, but utterly impotent to stop her from assuming control of the Party and the Presidency.

Worse yet, at a youthful 47, Sarah Palin will cast a long shadow over the next three or four decades of national and GOP politics, making the kind of elitist recrudescence which occurred after Reagan well nigh impossible. It is a perfect storm, a confluence of circumstances that will not just sweep the elite Establishment from power but promises to hold it at bay for a generation. The election of 2012 will be noisy and full of kerfuffle as the GOP Establishment's death rattle reaches its crescendo. Not to worry. It will fall silent on November 6, 2012. R.I.P.

Brices Crossroads

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