Reagan Roundtable: Losing the Soul of the Reagan Revolution by Dr. Steven Metz

By Dr. Steven Metz

Those who claim to be the inheritors of the Reagan revolution badly misunderstand it. It was never about specific policies but tone and style. It won out over both Democrats and Communists because it offered better ideas and–importantly–a positive vision. Reagan was much less interested in discrediting his opponents than in inspiring supporters.

Led by Newt Gingrich and taken to hysterical heights by pundits such as Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck, Reagan’s better ideas and positive vision gave way to deep negativity. Rather than better ideas, they offer only an unending spew of attacks against Democrats and the political left.

The commentary on the Egypt crisis by those who would claim to be Reagan’s descendents is a perfect illustration. Nearly everything they say at least begins with a slam on the Democrats, especially Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama. Making the Middle East more stable and furthering American interests is almost an afterthought, tacked on after the flames directed at the Democrats.

Certainly this ideology of attack and insult has its constituency. One has only to look the audiences of Limbaugh, Coulter, Hannity, and Beck to see that. But it also has rigid limitations.

Many people–probably most people–are more attracted to a positive vision than diatribes. They want to be uplifted more than seeing their opponents belittled. That was Reagan’s genius. And this was the reason that millions of people uncomfortable with Obama’s policy positions voted for him nonetheless. In a real sense, Obama is more the inheritor of the Reagan revolution than most of today’s Republicans.

At this point, though, there are few true Reaganites on the political right in terms of those who offer better ideas and a positive vision rather than simply vitriol. A new Reagan on the right would face immense challenges since he or she would first have to rein in the powerful and vociferous hate industry before promoting a new, positive vision.

Until or unless this happens though, the Democrats are more Reagan’s descendents than the Republicans.

11 thoughts on “Reagan Roundtable: Losing the Soul of the Reagan Revolution by Dr. Steven Metz”

  1. Really? Is this article flame-bait?

    You contradict yourself in the first paragraph … “it was never about specific policies” vs “it offered better ideas”.

    Which is it – tone or message? You keep on harping on vitriol but then come back to “and better ideas”.

    You are doing exactly what you accuse your opponents of doing – condemning them with vitriol while outright dismissing the fact that they embody a positive set of ideas. Do you not understand what they promote?

    Please come back with a more logically argued case without the vitriol and misrepresentation of your opponents’ arguments.

  2. Dr. Metz – I respectfully disagree.

    Well, I sort of do and I sort of don’t.

    I think we have become more coarse as a society, full stop, and you see that in evidence in reality television, the types of movies that are made, the mainstreaming of vulgar language, and the rest. I am, sadly, a part of this cultural process. I’ve said things in a tone on the internet, in comments sections, that I would never have dreamed of in the past.

    Reagan was a reflection of his generation and his generation behaved differently, full stop, than we do today.

    I notice that you single out Glenn Beck but what about Bill Maher or Keith Olbermann? What about the slur against all Tea Partiers because of the behavior of one lunatic in Tuscon? Did that not bother your conscience the least bit?

    You know, Chicago Boyz and Zenpundit and Lexington Green and me – Onparkstreet! – are examples of the right. As I stated in the comments section at Inkspots and Abu Muqawama, I am a creature of the right, and where have I shown myself to be the caricature you state in your above comments.

    In fact, are you not doing exactly that which you decry? You are labeling an entire discourse unreasonable by cherry picking.

    So, I most respectfully disagree but I don’t suppose it will make a bit of difference :)

    Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow are aberrations and anything they say means nothing. Rush Limbaugh represents everyone on the right and the people you meet here are easily dismissed.

    We shall have to agree to disagree then….

    Best to you, Dr. Metz. I enjoy your writing. Wish people would listen to you on South Asia and our putative allies therein….

    I hope to put up a post on strategy and India some time in the future. Maybe. If I feel like it :)

    – Madhu

  3. Actually, I just reread your post.

    I’m sorry, Dr. Metz, but this is unworthy of your abilities.

    I can easily go to Democratic Underground, YouTube Bill Maher, etc., and write up an entire post about how the left is nothing but ad hominem.

    I choose not to do that. I choose to argue ideas seriously.

    There, I think, is the reason to focus on verbal flame-throwers (and, hey, it’s America and they have every right to do it and only the weak blame someone else for his or her own actions).

    If you focus on flame-throwers, you don’t have to actually read bills or argue points.

    Oh dear. Faith-based thinkers are hard to argue with, Dr. Metz, so I’ll stop here.

    – Madhu

  4. Direct hit. Nice post.

    Yeah. I especially liked the part where Dr. Metz took apart the Obama Health Care bill in detail and pointed out where Sarah Palin is incorrect via reference to her Facebook writings on the subject.

    Detailed. Impressive. Substantive.

    (Sorry, zen, but this sort of thing irritates me. And I very much enjoy Dr. Metz’s writing in other venues. I had no idea he blogged in National Journal. Cool.)

    – Madhu

  5. Sir, you discredit everything you say by alleging that the Democrats are the “descendants” of Reagan. The effectiveness of a hate campaign can be seen in the experience of the second Bush presidency. George W Bush had a record of bipartisan accomplishment as governor of Texas. No doubt he expected reasonable relations with the Democrats in Washington. A gross error by his campaign, not revealing a long ago arrest for drunk driving, led to a near tie in the election. The resulting battle over ballots in Florida poisoned the relationship with Democrats but the effectiveness of the hate campaign against him, including plays, novel and movies about assassinating him, has led to the conclusion that the Republicans must fight back. Sarah Palin has nearly been destroyed by a similar hate campaign. Can you name a similar exercise by the right ?

    I don’t believe you can and this makes your post meaningless, except possibly as an example of willful blindness.

  6. “Really? Is this article flame-bait?”

    “Sorry, zen, but this sort of thing irritates me”

    Heh. In soliciting for this RT, I attempted to cast a wide net in order to secure some divergent thinking, people from different countries as well as from across the political spectrum and scholarly disciplines. Dr. Metz is not exactly a flaming liberal, our service academies and military think tanks not not resembling in personnel the Yale English Department. Had a couple of really leftwing historians responded affirmatively, you really would have seen some sparks fly.

    Contrasting voices are healthy to hear – particularly when they disagree with our own.

    I am a very great admirer of Ronald Reagan. I have every confidence that he will not lack for defenders here at Chicago Boyz. Speaking as a historian, the historical record Reagan left, in my considered opinion, puts Reagan’s remaining detractors at a serious disadvantage. Let them bring it, if they can.

    Dr. Metz, moreover, was not attacking Reagan so much as saying that current conservative spokemen could not carry Reagan’s water. While I do not share Metz’s partisan animus for Newt or Rush, both of whom I rather like, he’s right. They couldn’t. Rush has some of the charm but he plays to the choir. Newt has a great political accomplishment to his credit but not nearly the scope of Reagan’s achievements.

  7. Dr. Metz, moreover, was not attacking Reagan so much as saying that current conservative spokemen could not carry Reagan’s water.

    No one in public life can carry much water these days. Our culture is degraded and it shows in our public discourse.

    For an example, look at my comments here and, sadly, at other blogs :)

    No, no, I am glad Dr. Metz contributed and I eagerly read every article of his that I see posted. I am an admirer but I’m also an argumentative jerk :)

    Also, I don’t watch football but I do procrastinate when working online. Ahem

    Glad you asked him to contribute. He has a point but I think the point can be made across the full spectrum of American public life.


    – Madhu

  8. As others have stated, Metz is on point here. That Obama is just like Ronal Reagan.

    I recall Reagan calling latino radio shows and asking them to punish “their political enemies”. He was also like Clinton in that while in England, he trashed LBJ over the war. His classic moment of “he betrayed this country, he prayed on our fears” moment was one for the ages. Also, that one time in ’87 during the SOTU, where he lectured the Supreme Court over some decision that he disagreed with. Oh, yea, what about the time he told the Democrats, and we know it was the Black Congressional Caucus to “sit in the back of car”. That was a good one. The one that had the greatest impression on me was when old RR went off saying, “As November approaches, leaders in the other party will campaign furiously on the same economic arguments they’ve been making for decades. Fortunately, we don’t have to look back too many years to see how their agenda turns out. For much of the last 10 years we’ve tried it their way. They gave us tax cuts that weren’t paid for to millionaires who didn’t need them. They gutted regulations and put industry insiders in charge of industry oversight. They shortchanged investments in clean energy and education, in research and technology. And despite all their current moralizing about the need to curb spending, this is the same crowd who took the record $237 billion surplus that President Clinton left them and turned it into a record $1.3 trillion deficit.”

    That Obama is surely like Reagan. A pure descendant in fact — Barack Hussein Reagan Obama, from Tampico Illinois, with no long form birth certificate. Though one has to admit that since Reagan was “an amiable dunce” who brought forth the “decade of greed” and made us “feel comfortable with our prejudices”, and since Obama’s pants are so perfectly creased, one can deduce that it was RR, himself, attempting to be more like Barack.

    The only question I really have after reading Tatyana’s post a while back, Shannon Love’s post on abortion, and now this Reagan is a socialist, is what the fuck is happening to this site?

  9. The only question I really have after reading Tatyana’s post a while back, Shannon Love’s post on abortion, and now this Reagan is a socialist, is what the fuck is happening to this site?

    I can only speak for myself but I said in my comment that our culture was coarsening and coarsening in all arenas of public life.

    But what do I know? RR often used the word phuck.

    It was his favorite word ever.

    I don’t agree with Dr. Metz except that I can’t really see anyone in public life that lives up to his spirit. So, I guess that is half agreeing because that leaves our Obama.

    – Madhu

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