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When Buckley Met Reagan (ROSS DOUTHAT, 1/18/09, NY Times)
At its most interesting, “The Reagan I Knew” provides a case study on the relationship between intellectuals and power, and specifically on the marriage between right-wing thinkers and populist politicians that has defined the modern right from the Goldwater era to our own.

This union occasioned a great deal of comment during 2008, which turned out to be an annus horribilis for conservatism, and little of it was positive. Populism’s corrosive influence on the conservative mind — or the conservative mind’s cynical manipulation of populism — was cited in briefs against Sarah Palin, against the record of George W. Bush and against the entire run of conservative governance going back to Richard Nixon. Sometimes it was liberals arguing that an earlier generation of high-minded conservatives (Buckley being the prime example) would be horrified by the anti-intellectual spirit that had overtaken their movement in the age of Bush and Palin. Sometimes it was conservatives, your David Frums and Peggy Noonans, hinting at the same. And sometimes it was left-wingers — like Rick Perlstein, in his teeming history “Nixonland” — arguing that conservatives had always been cynical manipulators of populist sentiment: the mask might have slipped a bit more in the Bush era, but beneath the genteel facade provided by wordsmiths like Buckley (or William Safire or George Will or whomever), the modern right has been Palins all the way down.

Buckley would doubtless plead innocent to the charge of cynicism. But he would probably acknowledge that a populist spirit — the same spirit that gave us talk radio, Fox News and “drill, baby, drill” — has hung over postwar conservatism from its inception. The National Review founder was personally highbrow, but he was more than happy to yoke his intellect and self-conscious intellectualism to small-d democratic enthusiasms: Buckley began his writing life, after all, as a quasi-apologist for Joe McCarthy and ended his career as a great friend to Rush Limbaugh. And he spent most of the intervening decades championing Reagan, the greatest right-wing populist of all — more authentically middle-American than Bush, a cannier player of the “jes’ folks” card than Palin, and as roundly disliked and disdained by the liberal commentariat as either one of them.

Three years ago, in “The Making of the American Conservative Mind,” a rambling history of the intellectual circle that gathered around National Review, the longtime contributor Jeffrey Hart suggested that Buckley was torn between his patrician roots and the populist temper of the movement he championed. An echt Burkean with a snob’s disdain for the contemporary Republican Party, Hart hinted at a road not taken, in which a Buckley-led conservative intelligentsia might have labored to infiltrate and convert the liberal-leaning Eastern Establishment, rather than making common cause with Sunbelt populists, Reagan Democrats and other faintly embarrassing constituencies.

But it’s doubtful Buckley himself harbored such fantasies. From the beginning of his career, he seemed to grasp that any successful right-of-center politics in America would be populist, or it wouldn’t be at all.

For all the hand-wringing about the sudden fissure in the GOP, it's important to recall that it has always existed. As suggested here, there is the Eastern Establishment wing of the Party--socially liberal and concerned mainly with Academia, Wall Street, and the Beltway media--and then the rest of the country. Prior to the democratization of the nomination process, the Easterners stuck the national Party with liberals, like Wendell Willkie; milquetoasts, like Thomas Dewey; and moderates, like Ike and Nixon. So long as they controlled who made the ticket, they could thwart the popular will of Republicans in the broader country, who conveniently lacked much access to those outlets necessary to complain about it.

But once the people took over the Party it was those with powerful voices who became the disgruntled, and so you've had loud bitching and griping about the reality of the Party by those who don't much believe in its tenets, but need it to pursue their narrow agendas. Thus, Eastern Republicans were: just as rabidly anti-Goldwater as Democrats; eagerly helped bring down the anomalous Nixon; fought the Reagan ascendancy, to the point of running a third party candidate against him; backed John McCain against W and then Mitt and Rudy against Maverick; waged war on Harriet Miers and Sarah Palin; and so on and so forth. Notably, where choice in the matter is left to the party and/or the people as a whole, the Easterners have tended to get whipped. But where institutions control the results, they've tended to win, though at a high cost to the Party and, often, the country. This has afforded Democrats the opportunity--when their nominee is sufficiently unthreatening--to squeak out a few victories during a generally conservative epoch. These victors being socially permissive but pro-business, they've not represented bad outcomes for the Eastern Establishment.

Now, the Party being hierarchical, when there is a natural claimant to the nomination mantle he's nearly undeniable, regardless of where he stands on the ideological arc: thus, Nixon '68; Ford '76; Bush '88; and McCain '08. But 2012 is reasonably open. Jeb Bush would win in a walkover, but may not want to run. Sarah Palin will be formidable, but is not a shoo-in. Both Bobby Jindal and Mitch Daniels could mount significant challenges to her candidacy, though they might hold off until the next cycle if President Obama is riding high in 2010. Note the similarities amongst this group. They are social conservatives, governors, and have wielded power far outside the Eastern Seaboard. Mitt Romney--socially liberal and identified with MA, Detroit, and Wall Street--might try to run again, but no one outside Washington and New York takes him seriously. And, if he takes the sorts of steps necessary to appeal to the base, the neocons will ditch him the same way they did John McCain. Essentially, the triumph of the embarrassing Republican populace is baked into the cake at this point and the elites are without a candidate or a major voice in the Party. All the Intellectual Right can really do is snipe from without about the Oogedy-Boogedy captivity of conservatism.

Coincidentally, I've just been reading Columbia University Press's timely re-release of Benjamin Barber's memoir, The Truth of Power: Intellectual Affairs in the Clinton White House, in which he charts the problem from the opposite side. For, if Intellectuals on the Right are consistently perturbed by the fact that the Republican Party is successful when it ignores them and sticks to the politics of the base, imagine how much more frustrating it is for Intellectuals of the Left that while the country generally prefers the Republican presidential nominee, Democrats win only when they run someone who seeks to make himself ideologically indistinguishable from the GOP. Richard Hofstadter fretted about American Anti-Intellectualism 45 years ago, when he could convince himself and other liberals that it was mostly a peripheral, if endemic, problem, afflicting the Right. So much more painful for the Left now when it has been revealed as America's default position.

Mr. Barber was called into the White House to help in the brainstorming sessions that followed the Republican Revolution of 1994. Ostensibly, he and others--Robert Putnam, Michael Lind, Sam Beer, etc.--were to hash out the parameters of what the Third Way politics of the New Democrats really meant. Bill Clinton had, after all, been elected as a supposed representative of this philosophy, but had then proceeded to govern as an old-style liberal. This, after all, was a guy who hadn't just run on tax cuts, ending Welfare as we knew it, and being tougher on China than the Republican incumbent, but had hurried home to Arkansas from the campaign trail to execute a convict, publicly humiliated the Reverend Jesse Jackson in the Sista Souljah incident, and called Mario Cuomo a mafioso. Then he got elected and inflicted HillaryCare, Lani Guennier, Joycelen Elders, gun control, gays in the military, tax cuts and all the rest on an unsuspecting country, managing to obscure the fact that on economic policy he was acting like an "Eisenhower Republican." After voters punished his party in the Midterm, it was obvious that he had to get back to the Right -- to being a New, not an old, Democrat -- in a hurry if he was to survive 1996.

So the wonks were summoned, with high hopes that they'd get to shape the rest of the Clinton Administration, whether for two or six years. But it quickly became apparent to Mr. Barber that, whatever the other participants thought of these seminars, "the president treated it more as intellectual calisthenics to keep his mind nimble than as a part of the policy process." They were there to help organize Bill Clinton's own thinking, not to help him wield power. Dick Morris and polling data would ultimately be far more influential in that regard. Political reality would trump political theory. And the most profound example of that reality--the lynchpin of Bill Clinton's eventual legacy--was Reforming Welfare along with Newt Gingrich.

One peculiarity here is that while Mr. Barber was called in because he had reformist ideas and casts himself as someone whose primary concern is civil society, he seems to take no pride nor ownership of this reform. Indeed, he characterizes it as the "New Democrats' surrender" to a Republican idea. On the other hand, at least at the time he originally wrote the book, he genuinely seems to believe that Bill Clinton's great legacy will be Americorps. It's pretty hard to distinguish why a program that requires community service in exchange for educational assistance is a glorious achievement while one that requires work in exchange for public assistance is so awful. One is tempted to conclude that the only real difference is that the latter is perceived as anti-Black, though the notion that employment is racially degrading rather than empowering is rather bizarre. At any rate, more than a decade on from both, it is sufficient to point out that Americorps is utterly forgotten, while Welfare Reform--along with free trade, and balanced budgets--is recalled as the chief accomplishment of the Clinton years.

Mr. Barber concludes his book with an admonishment which it would be a very good idea for intellectuals of the Left to read as we enter the Obama era this coming week:
I do not...wish I had spoken truth to power. That phrase, I hope I have shown, is almost always illusory, even dangerous. When we intellectuals make policy or--efficient mandarins--draw the ears of the people's representatives away from the loud voices of those to whom they are accountable so that they will attend to our whispered schemes rooted in some version of higher truth, democracy is almost always corrupted. Our task is to persuade the people at large, to do battle in the intellectual marketplace of ideas and move public opinion. It is the task of citizens and citizens alone, moved by us or not, to then elect delegates who share their persuasion, and to insist that those they elect remain faithful to them. [...] In a democracy leaders must abide by the views of the electorate, even where wisdom may seem to belong to the mandarins. And while I would have preferred a more subtle democratic method than polling and a more representative spokesman of the people's interests than Dick Morris, better for Clinton to have erred in that direction than to have allowed self-appointed guardians of the truth like me to lure him into grand notions for which there is no popular mandate.
For anyone who feels betrayed or bewildered as we watch President Obama shuck off most of the liberal cant that he needed to defeat Hillary Clinton in the primaries and morph into George W. Bush before our very eyes, that passage explains it all.


Grade: (B)


Benjamin Barber Links:

    -AUTHOR SITE: Benjamin R. Barber
    - WIKIPEDIA: Benjamin R. Barber)
-INTERVIEW: The civic engineer: Rampant consumerism nearly killed off civil society, says US political theorist Benjamin Barber. But the financial crisis offers us a chance to make amends (Saba Salman, October 8 2008, The Guardian)     -Benjamin R. Barber ( (Gershon and Carol Kekst Professor of Civil Society and Wilson H. Elkins Professor Maryland School of Public Affairs and the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences)
    -Bodies Electric LLC (Chairman, Chief Strategic Officer & Co-Founder)
    -Benjamin R. Barber, "Time, Work, and Leisure in a Civil Society"
    -ESSAY : Jihad vs. McWorld:  The two axial principles of our age -- tribalism and globalism -- clash at every point except one: they may both be threatening to democracy (Benjamin R. Barber, March 1992, Atlantic Monthly)
    -ESSAY : Beyond Jihad Vs. McWorld (BENJAMIN R. BARBER, January 21, 2002 , The Nation)
    -ESSAY : Memo to the President (Benjamin R. Barber, September 21st, 2001, Rolling Stone)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW : Benjamin Barber: Governments will have to change their approach towards globalization (The Connection, September 2001)
    -DISCUSSION : TAX DAY : Gwen Ifill talks with Amy Gutmann of Princeton University; Walter Williams of George Mason University, Rev. Robert Sirico, head of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, and Benjamin Barber of Rutgers University about the philosophy of paying taxes (Online Newshour, April 16, 2001, PBS)
    -ESSAY : Globalizing Democracy (Benjamin R. Barber, September 11, 2000 , The American Prospect)
    -AUDIO LECTURE : The McWorld: Consequences of Economic Globalization (Aventis Forum, September 1999)
    -LECTURE : Which Technology and Which Democracy? (Benjamin R. Barber, talk at the Democracy and Digital MediaConference held at MIT on May 8-9, 1998)
    -ESSAY : Big = Bad, Unless it Doesn't (Benjamin R. Barber, New York Times, April 16, 1998)
    -ESSAY : A Dissenting View: Living Inside The Book Of Disney (Benjamin R. Barber, Summer 1997, Forum)
    -ESSAY : Benjamin Barber deflates the four myths of democracy. (Civnet, May 1997)
    -ESSAY : Global Democracy or Global Law: Which Comes First? (Benjamin R. Barber, Fall 1993, Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies )
    -ESSAY : The Civic Mission of the University (Benjamin R. Barber, Higher Education and the Practice of Democratic Politics, Bernard Murchland)
    -ESSAY : The Search for Civil Society (Benjamin R. Barber)
    -REVIEW : of Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. By Robert D. Putnam (Benjamin R. Barber)
    -INTERVIEW : The Making of McWorld : Benjamin R. Barber (Nathan Gardels, New Perspectives Quarterly)
    -INTERVIEW : The Politics of Education : An Interview with Benjamin Barber (Scott London, Afternoon Insights, WYSO-FM December 14, 1992)
    -INTERVIEW : Silence of the Lambs: Where Have All the Defenders of Democracy Gone? : An Interview with Dr. Benjamin R. Barber (Mark Compton, June 2001, Geneforum)
    -PROFILE : Global Thinker : Benjamin Barber's Ideas on Capitalism and Conflict No Longer Seem So Academic  (Megan Rosenfeld, Washington Post, November 6, 2001)
    -PROFILE : Benjamin Barber (Ghost in the Machine)
    -ESSAY : Citizenship, Democracy and the Changing World Order A Review Essay by Scott London
    -ESSAY : F A L L E N A R C H E S : Reports that American cultural imperialism has enforced a Pax McDonald's turn out to be greatly exaggerated. (James Poniewozik, April 5, 1999, Salon)
    -ESSAY : Anti-American sentiments rooted in history, globalism (Kay Miller, Star Tribune, Sep 22 2001)
    -LINKS : McWorld vs. Jihad Links
    -ARCHIVES : "benjamin r. barber" (NY Review of Books)
    -ARCHIVES : "benjamin barber" (Find Articles)
    -ARCHIVES : mcworld (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW : Jihad vs. McWorld (Gary Rosen, First Things)
    -REVIEW : Jihad vs. McWorld (Brian C. Anderson, The Crisis)
    -REVIEW : Jihad vs. McWorld (Darold Morgan, Christian Ethics Today)
    -REVEW : Jihad vs. McWorld (STEVE WASSERMAN, LA Times)
    -REVIEW : Jihad vs. McWorld (David P. Fidler, Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies)
    -REVIEW : of THE TRUTH OF POWER : Intellectual Affairs in the Clinton White House. By Benjamin R. Barber (Alexander Star, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Truth of Power (Alan Caruba)
    -REVIEW : of My Affair with Clinton: An Intellectual Memoir (Benjamin R. Barber (Matthew Cooper, Washington Monthly)
    -REVIEW : of A Passion for Democracy: American Essays, by Benjamin Barber and A Place for Us: How to Make Society Civil and Democracy Strong, by Benjamin Barber (Loren Lomasky , Reason)
    -REVIEW : of A Place for Us: How to Make Society Civil and Democracy Strong By Benjamin R. Barber (Scott London)
    -REVIEW : of A Place for Us (Anne Kornheiser, Civnet)
    -REVIEW : of A Place for Us (Ralph Stone, Montana Human Rights Network)
    -REVIEW : of A Place for Us (Jerry Kloby, National Housing Institute)
    -BOOK LIST : The Communitarian Bibliography (Communitarian Network)

    -Globalization and Its Critics (Washington Post)
    -Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies
    -ESSAY : Expecting the Worst (JUDITH SHULEVITZ, December 16, 2001, NY Times)
    -LINKS : GLOBALIZATION : Stresses on and within the State System (Thomas Brister, Center for Civic Renewal and Department of Government and International Affairs, Sweet Briar College, Virginia)
    -GERGEN DIALOGUE : David Gergen, editor at large of U.S. News & World Report, engages William Greider, national editor for Rolling Stone Magazine and author of One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism (Newshour Online, MAY 6, 1997, PBS)
    -ESSAY : Brave new McWorld  (Carla Binion, 12/16/00, Online Journal)
    -ESSAY : Zachary Karabell on our brave new world (Civnet)

Book-related and General Links: