I am wary of a number of the adjectives used by recent Republican presidential candidates—adjectives modifying the noun conservative. George W. Bush ran as a “compassionate” conservative, and John McCain was a “maverick” conservative. Mitt Romney unsuccessfully tried to sell himself as “severely” conservative. Now the frontrunner for the 2016 nomination, Jeb Bush, has come out as a “reform” conservative.
Isn’t anyone content to be just a conservative anymore?
In Bush’s case, I’m concerned that “reform” indicates a willingness to accept big government solutions. His two major reform ideas so far, K-12 education and immigration, aren’t classically conservative. One would apply common core standards and more testing to a field that has always been under state and local control. And his immigration reform would legalize millions who came to this country illegally.
Big government conservatism isn’t really conservative. At best it’s conservatism lite.
Let’s hope candidates will stand up for individual liberty, limited government and true conservatism.
Link to Salem-Townhall.com audio: http://townhall.com/talkradio/audioplayer/699452
Jeb Bush a ‘reform’ conservative? America doesn’t need conservatism lite (FoxNews.com) February 27, 2015Posted by daviddavenport in Newspaper Columns/Essays, Op/Eds.
I am wary of the adjectives Republican presidential candidates like to place in front of the word “conservative.” George W. Bush ran as a “compassionate conservative,” though after 9/11, when his administration turned from domestic policy to national security, he became better known as a neoconservative.
John McCain was a “maverick conservative” and Mitt Romney, a pragmatic businessman without a clear political philosophy, tried to market himself as “severely conservative.” And now comes the leading candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Jeb Bush, who has styled himself a “reform conservative.”
Isn’t anyone content to be just a conservative anymore?
Richard Nixon popularized the classic Republican campaign strategy: first run to the right to secure the party’s nomination, then run toward the center to win the general election. But today’s Republican presidential candidates apparently feel the need to build all that ambiguity into their stance from the start.
Yes, I’m a little bit right, but also leaning into the center. But it doesn’t really work. It leaves conservatives rightly feeling like they’re being served conservatism lite: a third less calories than your regular conservatism but also less filling. And in the general election, the adjectives disappear anyway as the liberal opponent attacks the noun: he’s a conservative.
So now I am wary about Jeb Bush proclaiming himself a reform conservative in his big speech in Detroit recently. I get the reform part—his two signature policy platforms have been education reform and immigration reform. But his positions on those issues are not classically conservative. His idea of reform conservative feels a little to me like one of those oxymorons: jumbo shrimp or virtual reality. The dictionary definition of reform is suitably vague: making changes in order to improve something. In that sense, everybody wants to reform something. But what is conservative reform, and is that what Jeb Bush is really about?
To me, Bush’s idea of reform conservatism sounds more like big government conservatism. Take education reform for example. For Bush, who famously led such reforms as governor of Florida, it meant more government testing and accountability. It was related to his brother’s No Child Left Behind and Common Core, movements under fire among conservatives for turning K-12 education, the classic responsibility of state and local government, over to the feds. If not a philosophical dilemma, this is at least a political problem for Bush, since polls show conservatives overwhelmingly (94% accordingly a Pew Research Center poll) oppose things like the Common Core curriculum. A Bloomberg/Des Moines Register Iowa poll of likely 2016 caucus participants shows nearly 2/3 feel Bush’s positions on immigration and education reform are problematic to them.
And let’s face it, big government conservatism did not work well for Jeb’s dad and brother. George H.W. Bush, seeking a “kinder and gentler nation,” ended up with sufficient government growth that he turned his back on his no new taxes pledge and was voted out of office. Similarly, George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind and Medicare prescription drug coverage have grown into expensive federal expansions. So conservatives are right to be wary of Jeb Bush’s reform conservatism turning out to be another form of big government conservatism—essentially using the federal government for conservative policy ends, rather than limiting government power and size.
There is a more promising version of reform conservatism promoted by some young intellectuals and policy thinkers. Their view is that conservatives need to demonstrate more specifically how conservative ideas about free markets actually help the middle and lower classes better than an overgrown welfare state. They are enamored of using subsidies, tax credits and other government tools to help middle-income households, especially. One thing they have right, I think, is that the heart of conservatism, individual liberty, has become an abstraction and people need to see how it matters in their lives. But, at this point, these ideas are more of a conversation than a movement, and are not yet ready for a prime time race to the White House.
Barry Goldwater, in some ways the father of the political conservative movement, spent a lot of time and energy countering the influence of the Eastern liberal Republican establishment and remaking the party in a more conservative image. My fear is that all these adjectives attached to conservatism today will lead us back toward a form of big government Republicanism, not forward toward greater liberty.
The Call of American Liberty, by Ted McAllister
Books reviewed in this essay:
The New Deal and Modern American Conservatism: A Defining Rivalry, by Gordon Lloyd and David Davenport (Hoover Institution Press 2013).
The Crusade Years, 1933-1955: Herbert Hoover’s Lost Memoir of the New Deal Era and Its Aftermath, ed., George H. Nash (Hoover Institution Press, 2013).
New power emerges out of confusion—and ours is a confused age. No dominant historical narrative supplies us with a common story, and without a common story we belong neither to each other nor to shared ideals. When a people are unscripted by history, the past becomes raw material, to be processed via key moral and political vocabulary by those who would willfully impose “new modes and orders,” to quote Machiavelli.
Disordered times produce the search for order and the desire to impose order. Gordon Lloyd and David Davenport are in the former category. Their book The New Deal and Modern American Conservatism seeks to revise our historical understanding of the rise and development of American conservatism by tracing it to Herbert Hoover. What interests the authors just as much, if less directly, is examining how ideas and movements emerge in response to crisis moments. The New Deal, they claim, was just such a moment and Hoover’s long “crusade” against it provided what has been, ever since, the “defining rivalry.”
Two questions present themselves immediately: Was this a crisis moment? And did Hoover generate the philosophical-political response that would become the basis of an emerging “conservative movement”?
This is hardly an academic exercise on their part. By reclaiming the story of the crisis and the principles that became clear in response to it, Lloyd and Davenport aspire to offer a usable history to contemporary conservatives fishing around for an account of the American-ness of conservatism.
The most important, and challengeable, claim they make is that when Hoover confronted the “revolutionary” nature of the New Deal, he had a “Burkean moment.” To their thinking, the New Deal represented the third crisis of our Republic—the Founding and the Civil War being the first two. “Each of these crises defined or redefined the very nature of the American republic,” they assert.
It is certainly true that those first two “moments” forced an intense conversation about and examination of the nature of the nation and its political expression. To acknowledge those crises does not, however, require us to believe that there were no other crises before the 1930s, nor that the New Deal was itself a crisis. Lloyd and Davenport claim that it was America’s French Revolution—and on this historical claim, a great deal rests.
These are very contestable ideas. For instance, the transformations in American economy, society, culture, and intellectual life were more dramatic in the last two decades of the 19th century than any other period in American history. The subsequent political development after 1900 of Progressivism was the result (rather than the cause) of titanic changes in the very fabric of American life. The Industrial Revolution was the most visible part of a revolution in manners, morals, habits, and ideas that we are still working through. To my way of thinking, the third crisis of the Republic took place in those years and is best described as a crisis of authority.
Nonetheless, Lloyd and Davenport see in the New Deal the American equivalent of the French Revolution, a radical assault on the social and institutional order. Perhaps the Progressives of the previous generation were only interested in reforming that order. Here I must disagree with my friends (and indeed they are both good friends) because I see deep challenges to what Hoover called the “American System” well before Franklin Roosevelt took office.
If Hoover had a Burkean moment it seems to have come rather late in the game. My own sense is that Hoover did awaken to the dangers of the New Deal and become a crusader against all forms of “collectivism” because of this awakening, but that, unlike Burke, he had not been sufficiently prescient in seeing the logic of unfolding events. A darker image would be to think of Hoover as the Owl of Minerva whose flight at dusk reveals only what has already happened.
Then, too, Burke’s moment was rather conflicted. He famously asserted that an entire age—the age of chivalry—was one and that all the virtues that attended that age and its cultivated affections would be sundered. At least rhetorically, Burke presented himself as eulogist as much as prophet. This does not describe Hoover—he was a crusader (his word) and fought a battle of ideas and principles against the forces of collectivism, American and foreign. Whether their different rhetorical strategies supported programs that were similar—something we could call “conservatism”—is an open and interesting question. It seems clear that Burke was a Whig before he wrote Reflections and he was a Whig after. He did not become something new, a “conservative.” Rather he was engaged in a conserving task as a Whig.
What about Hoover—did he become a “conservative” as he awakened to the threat?
The question of our 31st President’s political philosophy is contested, but that he was considered a “Progressive” for much of his early career is clear, even if the meaning of the label is not. More importantly, by the standards of any previous chief executive, Hoover’s response to the economic crisis that began to emerge during his administration was energetic and radical. As we know, the administration of his successor, Franklin Roosevelt, folded many of Hoover’s programs and ideas seamlessly into the “first New Deal.”
All of this suggests an awakening, a change, a turning around on Hoover’s part. His fight against the New Deal and its principles was vigorous, sustained, and intellectually coherent. Whether or not he ought to have been concerned about the strains of Progressivism that challenged longstanding American ideals, Hoover’s post-presidential crusade treated the New Deal as a watershed in American history and his response to it as the necessary defense of the “American System,” then endangered. His principles were more like Calvin Coolidge’s after 1933, but his preaching in defense of the American System was all Hoover—vigorous and combative. In this sense, Hoover changed, turning the last decades of his long life (he died in 1964 at the age of 90) into a fight for the American soul.
We are still left with the question of whether Hoover should be considered the fountainhead of modern American conservatism in preference to, say, the usual list of intellectuals and journalists (Buckley, Hayek, Kirk, Meyer). This is of more than passing interest, for it goes to the heart of contemporary conservatism and its prospects.
Aid in answering this question can be found in a newly released, heretofore forgotten, manuscript of Hoover’s called The Crusade Years: 1933-1955, which has been edited and introduced by George H. Nash. Hoover had published so much over his lifetime that we might rightly question the value of publishing this long manuscript, much of it drawn from speeches and Hoover’s other writings. But it well rewards the reader. Nash’s masterful editing supplies not only thoughtful context but sufficient additions of fact so as to help the reader understand well Hoover’s arguments that were deeply entangled in nearly forgotten events or struggles. The volume is not a concise expression of the author’s philosophy of the American System, but it provides all the essentials while chronicling Hoover’s ongoing fight with the agents of collectivism. This is the Hoover—urgently absorbed in the controversies that enter his and the nation’s life—who has already passed through Lloyd and Davenport’s “Burkean moment.”
The Hoover of this memoir is best described as an American liberal rather than a conservative. The liberal identity (along with the modifier “American”) is in fact what links Hoover the Progressive and Hoover the crusader. As he put it in 1937, when he was four years out of office, “The New Deal having corrupted the label of liberalism for collectivism, coercion [and] concentration of political power, it seems ‘Historic Liberalism’ must be conservative in contrast.”
To differentiate the new from the inherited version we could call them collectivist liberalism versus self-rule liberalism, or perhaps authoritarian liberalism versus liberty liberalism. Either way, Hoover identified Americanism with the latter and saw the former as a pernicious European import incompatible with the native species. This was not a milder fight for being an intra-liberal one. Necessarily, it was not subject to compromise but could produce only victory or defeat: the American system of individualism and liberty will die if New Deal liberalism survives. This may strike most of today’s conservatives as hyperbolic, but the crusade flag planted by Hoover hangs over the movement as a pressing if unarticulated question.
At the center of Hoover’s liberalism is the “rugged individual.” Somewhat incongruously, this archetype is both a transcendent ideal and a product of the peculiar American experience—a tension that rests near the heart of all claims to American exceptionalism. In this case the individual is, while self-reliant, hardly atomistic. Living outside of the European corruption of aristocratic privilege, this individual is a font of creativity: developing the art of self-rule, the desire to take care of himself, while simultaneously fostering the dense web of voluntary institutions that help others learn the habits and virtues of rugged individualism. The liberty that attends American individualism gave rise to another kind of creativity in the sciences, economy, in all manner of inventions and improvements. Hoover was especially impressed with energetic tinkering and improving, the American need to change things, the obsession for efficiency.
The rugged individual he so loved was the source of American greatness. Therefore the key to America’s future was the protection of the environment that fostered this human type. For this reason (though Hoover was vague about details), he accepted the reforms of the Progressive era as largely salutary because they prevented the individual from being overtaken by the privilege of concentrated power: economic power. For him the Progressive reforms—free enterprise but not laissez faire—were consistent with the Founding principles because they protected the individual from power too large for him to challenge. And, most important, perhaps, they were reforms that fit into a constitutional frame of government and so squared nicely with Hoover’s insistence on the American tradition of self-rule and limited government.
The New Deal was, in his view, a break from the Progressive tradition. It was as alien as European statism, for its goal—or at least its logical outcome—was the destruction of the rugged individual, and with it, liberty and creativity. Moreover, the New Deal sought to transcend the Constitution and replace a limited government of self-ruling individuals with administrative rule by elites unbounded by constitutional limits. When Hoover used the word “collectivism” he was in earnest, and The Crusade Years throws at it far more than platitudes, minutely taking apart very particular New Deal and Fair Deal policies. Something new was happening to America—it was for Hoover, as for Lloyd and Davenport, the American coming of the Jacobins.
The crusading Hoover looms large for Lloyd and Davenport because he represents the essential challenge to the New Deal understanding of government that they believe is still at work in America. The coauthors differ about what can be done about this. For Davenport one might say that Hoover’s fight was valiant but largely lost. The good species of liberalism has been routed—and so there is little to conserve. Lloyd holds out more hope, believing that beneath the ups and downs of electoral politics, Americans remain, in their bones, a “center-right” nation. The cause ahead for “conservatives” (who are quite properly, in light of the foregoing, describable as American liberals), is to teach the American story with particular emphasis on the heritage of liberties (economic, religious and political) and the great opportunity for self-rule that the Constitution provides. And a fine chapter in it is what Herbert Hoover did to affirm self-rule, limited government, and above all the Constitution, as the great symbol and source of our deliberative nature. For Lloyd, at least, the people remain culturally American—which is to say individualists, rightly understood.
Their joint assertion remains that today’s crisis is essentially a playing out of the New Deal revolution. To the degree that this assertion is taken to heart, it opens up heretofore settled subjects. Instead of accepting the New Deal ideas and programs as incorporated into the American system, and instead of thinking of the American conservative movement as having its origins after the New Deal and thus after the Revolution, Lloyd and Davenport call conservatives to a much more radical course than even they recognize. The question, again, is whether this new narrative of American conservatism will reconfigure our history, because as our history goes so will our future.
Link to LibertyLaw.org: http://www.libertylawsite.org/2014/05/28/the-call-of-american-liberty/
Ted McAllister is the Edward L. Gaylord Chair / Associate Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University. Author of Revolt Against Modernity: Leo Strauss, Eric Voegelin, and the Search for a Post-Liberal Order, he is currently working on a book about Walter Lippmann and the problem of modern liberation.
Davenport’s & Lloyd’s Book Featured in Pepperdine Magazine January 8, 2014Posted by daviddavenport in Radio Interview Podcasts.
Two scholars and a student explore why looking back helps move public policy forward.
By Gareen Darakjian
In 1933, in the midst of the nation’s most debilitating economic crisis in history, then newly elected president Franklin Delano Roosevelt enacted a series of domestic economic programs that aimed to pull the American people out of the Great Depression. For the next three years Roosevelt’s “New Deal” focused on relief, recovery, and reform— the “3 Rs” that established the framework for today’s U.S. domestic policy and the ongoing debate between progressives and conservatives.
In their new book, The New Deal & Modern American Conservatism: A Defining Rivalry, authors Gordon Lloyd, professor of public policy at the School of Public Policy, and David Davenport, counselor to the director, Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and former president of Pepperdine University, revisit the debates between Roosevelt and fellow presidential nominee Herbert Hoover prior to the election and those disputes ignited by the New Deal in 1933.
In a conversation moderated by School of Public Policy student Alexander Klemp, the scholars delve deeper into the legacy of the New Deal and consider how the issues of the era remain current in public policy today.
KLEMP: The book presents a perspective of the New Deal that has not been presented in the past—that issues surrounding the era still exist. Why in your opinion has this perspective been overlooked in history?
LLOYD: A very low-ground, practical answer is that history is written by the winners. Look at the way that Hoover has been demonized. He was a hero, one of the whiz kids of the 1920s, and did an incredible amount of philanthropic work. Because of this one event, he gets dismissed, and along with the dismissal of the person goes the dismissal of the argument. And so, that’s one answer: that people—intellectuals in particular— have accepted the New Deal as a march forward in civilization and progress. And to somehow return to the self-interest of Hoover in American individualism is to return America to a world which fortunately has gone.
KLEMP: The book draws many parallels between the campaign rhetoric of the Roosevelt-Hoover debates and that of the liberals and conservatives in 2012. Can you discuss these parallels?
DAVENPORT: The parallels are very strong, indeed. I think what Roosevelt was arguing for was very much what Obama had argued for in 2012. I think he was concerned that the question was no longer liberty in America, but how government would guide policy to take care of people. For Roosevelt, it meant a lot of government planning, it meant bigger government, it meant more government control; it meant more programs to help people via social security, very much like the Obama narrative of adding health care to the agenda of ways that government protects and takes care of people.
Both Roosevelt and Obama argued that it was the role of government to promote income equality. Both Obama and Roosevelt were advocating for income equality and higher taxation on the rich, so in many ways the 2012 debate was an extension, if you will, of the New Deal and of Roosevelt’s arguments in the ’30s.
KLEMP: There are some people in the media who say that, because the national media is so overbearing and so powerful, national candidates don’t have a chance and that conservatives have been successively losing elections in the national front. What is the power of the media during election time?
LLOYD: I think there are all kinds of fallback positions, that there’s some evil force at work that robbed conservatives of the election, whether it’s the liberals blaming Wall Street and the big bankers and big rollers of campaign, to the conservatives blaming the big media.
But, I think media does matter. FDR won, in part, because he took the debate away from Hoover, because he was much better at the use of the radio. Obama has a way, which I think is much more young-friendly than Romney’s. I think the media matters not because it’s left-wing-dominated, but because media matters in a commercial society. Certainly, I think Reagan had an ability with media that the other folks did not. I’m not going to pay as much attention to who owns the media. Yes, the media is powerful, but I don’t think that’s where the problem is.
KLEMP: The book suggests that modern-day politicians must take historical cues from the New Deal era to be a viable part of the current national conversation. Can you discuss how and why you believe this to be true?
DAVENPORT What we were trying to point out in the book is that, in fact, there has now been sort of an 80-year- long paradigm for American domestic, economic, and tax policy. That is the New Deal on one side and modern American conservatism on the other. This, I think, is not widely recognized: that we still basically live in the New Deal and that conservatives are still responding to modern-day expansions of the New Deal. That’s point one: just to recognize the phase that we’re in. And to go back and recover the arguments at the creation of this paradigm, when Roosevelt obviously was developing the New Deal and Hoover was giving the first shocked conservative response, that’s a really fundamental time in any sort of development: to go back and see how those arguments went.
We do think that even conservatives today have gotten caught up in big government in some ways. They, themselves, have succumbed to big government and have lost some of the liberty argument and some of the federalism and constitutional argument of those early days. Our point is that individual liberty should still resonate with the American people. It has become a bit of an abstraction, but conservatives need to make it real again. We think going back, historically, to come back to today’s policy makes a lot of sense and I think those are the key points we were trying to make with this book.
Link to Pepperdine Magazine Article: http://magazine.pepperdine.edu/index.php/2013/12/a-bit-of-history-repeating/
It’s no coincidence that, even as Tea Party and Republican Party leaders battle over the nature of conservatism in the Age of Obama, three new books debate the origin of modern American conservatism. The old conventional wisdom–that modern American conservatism was born in the 1950’s with Russell Kirk, William F. Buckley and National Review–is giving way to the notion that we must reach further back into our history. The question is how far back: to Herbert Hoover and the New Deal in the 1930’s, or to Calvin Coolidge in the 1920’s? Our conclusion is that the Tea Party is stuck in the less relevant era of Coolidge, whereas the real heart of modern American conservatism is located in the New Deal and Herbert Hoover’s penetrating critique of it.
Amity Shlaes’ interesting book, Coolidge, revived a “Coolidge is cool” movement among conservatives. Ronald Reagan may have started the revival when he replaced Harry Truman’s portrait with one of Coolidge in the Cabinet Room. Michele Bachmann reflected a Tea Party sensibility about Coolidge when she proposed adding his visage to Mount Rushmore. What conservatives like about Coolidge, whom they see as the last of the non-progressive presidents, is his personal and political sense of self-restraint: Shlaes refers to him as “the great refrainer.” They also like his tax-cutting and expense-reducing policies that accompanied the robust economic growth of the roaring 20’s.
Two other new books place the origin of modern American conservatism in the 1930’s with the New Deal and Herbert Hoover’s prophetic attack on its excesses. Indeed, we argue in The New Deal and Modern American Conservatism: A Defining Rivalry that, just as Edmund Burke defined modern conservatism in his response to the French Revolution, the New Deal is our French Revolution and Herbert Hoover is the early prophet speaking against it. The New Deal is still the paradigm for American domestic and economic policy today, 80 years later and going strong. And the arguments Hoover made about the growth of government, its role in central planning, and the corresponding loss of personal liberty all ring true today. Indeed, Hoover’s chief biographer, George Nash, has recently found Hoover’s “lost” manuscript about his fruitful post-presidency called “The Crusade Years” which will be released shortly and confirms this thesis.
Modern American conservatism is fundamentally a response to the New Deal. And conservatives should continue in the spirit of Hoover’s critique to crusade against it. When President Obama campaigns for income equality, he seeks to extend Franklin Roosevelt’s battle for increased taxation of the rich. When Democrats pass Obamacare, they are adding to the entitlement network begun by Roosevelt. When government grows to peace-time highs in regulation and spending, and takes over more aspects of our lives, it builds on the New Deal.
Oliver Holmes said he would not give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity, but would give his life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity. While Coolidge’s self-restraint was admirable, and a tempting model for Tea Party simplicity, conservatism must deal with the complexities of today’s New Deal-style government. For this project, Herbert Hoover has pointed the way.
New book released on conservatism in the Progressive Era with a contribution from David Davenport (Macmillian) December 4, 2013Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
Toward an American Conservatism, a new book edited by Joseph W. Postell and Jonathan O’Neill, studies conservatism in the Progressive Era; it features a chapter written by Hoover research fellow and counselor to the director David Davenport and Gordon Lloyd entitled “The Two Phases of Herbert Hoover’s Constitutional Conservatism.” The premise behind the book is that, although conventional wisdom credits the Progressives with “winning” that era, conservatives and conservatism from the time have been underexplored, despite their ongoing influence in modern politics, and the book seeks to remedy this break in the historical trajectory.
Davenport and Lloyd’s chapter is more scholarly and more historically based than their recent Hoover Press book, The New Deal and Modern American Conservatism. For the chapter, Davenport and Gordon extended their research farther back into the 1920s, examining Hoover’s tenure as Secretary of Commerce from 1921 through 1928, in addition to his presidency and postpresidency. Davenport and Gordon sought to give a nuanced picture of the conventional wisdom, which depicts Hoover as a clear conservative in the 1930s, shocked by the excessiveness of the New Deal, but is less clear on his stance in the 1920s. Davenport and Gordon argue that, throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Hoover held constant to two core American values: constructive government and American individualism. Given the 1920s context of postwar reconstruction, with thriving innovation and an industrial boom, following those tenets required active leadership within the bounds of conservatism. The 1930s, with the subsequent New Deal and Hoover’s reaction, were a different time and required a different type of leadership.
To read the chapter in depth, or to read the other chapters in the book, you can purchase a copy here. To read more on how the debate between Hoover and Roosevelt over the New Deal led to the beginning of modern conservatism, you can also purchase the Hoover Press book here.
Link to Hoover.org: http://www.hoover.org/news/162691
Tags: Conservatism, Healthcare Reform
The debate surrounding the Affordable Care Act continues — remarkably — more than three years after it was signed into law. Both liberals and conservatives alike seem to understand that this is not only the signature accomplishment of Barack Obama’s presidency, but the most important extension of the New Deal since the adoption of Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s. Indeed, the healthcare debate is a reminder that, after eighty years, the New Deal remains as the basic framework for American domestic policy and it is still going strong.
When we go back to examine the debates between Franklin Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover about the New Deal in the 1930s , we come back with a better understanding of principles underlying the public policy debates today. Both Franklin D. Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover agreed that the quarrel of the 1932 election was, as Hoover said, “more than a contest between two men, more than a contest between two parties.” It was a contest, said Hoover, “between two philosophies of government” that would decide “the direction our nation will take over a century to come.” Roosevelt agreed: March 4, 1933 (his inauguration as president) marked the transformation of America. It was an historic clash between liberty and democracy.
Starting with his 1932 Commonwealth Club campaign speech and continuing through his Second Inaugural Address in 1937, Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed that the old American order of “the financial Titan” and do-nothing laissez faire government had come to an end. “The day of enlightened administration has come,” Roosevelt concluded. It was time for a “new deal” to secure a decent life for “the forgotten man.” We needed to realize, Roosevelt proclaimed, that democracy is actually “a quest, a never ending seeking for better things.” We needed a reappraisal of American values articulated in the Declaration of Independence as well as the Constitution and Bill of Rights, away from the earlier attachment to Jeffersonian individualism and states’ rights and toward an interdependent “national democracy.” We needed to turn away from a focus on the negative rights of the individual that constrains a government already constitutionally divided against itself and move toward a united centralized administration that secures the positive rights of “everyone.”
In his First Inaugural Address, Roosevelt reinforced his intention to move the country away from congressional deliberation to presidential action: “I shall ask the Congress for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis: broad executive power to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.” And in his Second Inaugural, Roosevelt declared “the challenge to democracy: I see one-third of a nation ill housed, ill clad, and ill nourished. … We are determined to make every American citizen the subject of his country’s interest and concern. …The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
Former president Hoover, however, was shocked by the excesses of the New Deal in the 1930s, seeing Roosevelt’s philosophy and governmental programs as “a challenge to (individual) liberty” and a deliberate effort to replace robust, even “rugged” American individualism and a limited but constructive government – what Hoover called the exceptional American System – with a European version of regimented community. The New Deal programs, he argued, represented “a radical departure from the foundations of one hundred fifty years which have made this the greatest nation in the world.”
To be sure, the American System contained imperfections, Hoover acknowledged, but these problems were at the margin rather than systemic. Besides, the really “forgotten man” was much closer to, say 17 percent to 25 percent, than 33 percent of the population. Accordingly, Hoover argued, there was no need to engage in a radical transformation of basic values, regimentation of the lives of a majority of the people, and treating constitutional principles as the plaything of lawyers. The New Deal “steps off the solid highways of true American Liberty into the dangerous quicksands of governmental direction,” Hoover said. There was no need for “a gigantic shift of government from the function of umpire to the function of directing, dictating, and competing in our economic life.” Hoover urged Americans to resist the temptation to adopt the regimented European System.
This is precisely the debate that continues today. In order to deal with a relatively small percentage of Americans who were unable to obtain health insurance, Obama and his fellow progressives sought to implement a transformation of the entire healthcare system. Realizing now that they do not have the “liberty” the president promised of keeping their own policies, the American people are even more unhappy with the transformation than before. Progressives and conservatives alike acknowledge that the Affordable Care Act is doubtless an interim step toward a single-payer (government) system.
The two icons of the 1930s, Hoover’s “rugged individual” and Roosevelt’s “forgotten man,” must learn to coexist. There must be room for both individual liberty — in this case allowing people to earn and keep their preferred health policies — and coverage for those who cannot otherwise get it. The American people seem to understand that Obamacare tips the scales too heavily away from liberty and toward government regimentation. Let’s hope our leaders in Washington, D.C. get that message soon.
Link to History News Network: http://hnn.us/article/154099
An 80-Year-Old Argument, by Victorino Matus (The Weekly Standard) November 20, 2013Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
The battle over government’s role in society has been raging for some time—culminating in today’s clash over Obamacare. But for how long? In The New Deal & Modern Conservatism: A Defining Rivalry, Professor David Davenport, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, and Gordon Lloyd, a professor at Pepperdine University, reexamine the Hoover-Roosevelt debates of the 1930s and find not much has changed.
At a Hoover Institution discussion this afternoon, Davenport explained the need to “go back to come back,” or “using history to come back to public policy today.” What he and his coauthor find are that the debates over health care reform and the budget battles of 2012 are the same, philosophically, as the disputes between Herbert Hoover’s “rugged man” versus Franklin Roosevelt’s “forgotten man” and the equality of opportunity versus equality of outcome. Hoover feared FDR’s plans for economic revival would forever change our relation to the federal government, creating a dependency that could not easily be reversed. Hoover’s concern, says Davenport, “was more qualitative—what happens to the individual when the government takes over your life?”
Indeed, Davenport mentions polls showing that the 30-and-under generation deem government absolutely necessary to solve our current problems, whereas older generations are less enthusiastic about government involvement. “The current generation,” he points out, “has had big government all their lives.” It brings him to the question of whether liberty is still relevant?
From shower heads to large cups of soda to plastic bags, the government is constantly telling Americans what to do. The authors are hopeful that a constituency for liberty still exists and can be galvanized—and there’s probably no better moment for this than the present.
Link to The Weekly Standard op/ed: http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/80-year-old-argument_767963.html
New Book Released with Davenport/Lloyd Chapter November 18, 2013Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
Tags: Conservatism, Constitution
Palgrave McMillan this week announced the release of a new book, Toward an American Conservatism: Constitutional Conservatism During the Progressive Era. The book contains a chapter by David Davenport and Gordon Lloyd on “The Two Phases of Herbert Hoover’s Constitutional Conservatism.” Whereas their recent Hoover Press book–The New Deal and Modern American Conservatism: A Defining Rivalry–deals with Hoover’s post-presidency debates with Franklin Roosevelt and their relationship to public policy today, this chapter addresses the history of Hoover’s work at Secretary of Commerce and President as well as his fruitful post-presidency.
Link to Palgrave McMillan site: http://us.macmillan.com/towardanamericanconservatism/JosephWPostell
American Conservatism Will Implode Unless Republicans Go Back To Kindergarten (Forbes.com) November 14, 2013Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.
These are not happy times for conservatives. Rather than fighting President Obama and the Democrats, they are busy pummeling one another. No sooner had New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a self-proclaimed conservative, won a landslide reelection in a Democratic state than Tea Party activists dismissed him as “no more conservative than Senator Harry Reid” and Senator Rand Paul damned him with the “M” word (“moderate”). With his party taking a beating in the polls for shutting down the government in a hopeless quest to defund Obamacare, Senator Ted Cruz described his fellow Republicans as the “surrender caucus.” Even with Obamacare fraying badly and the president’s poll numbers at a new low, conservatives can’t seem to get out of their own way.
It occurs to me that to avoid imploding altogether, conservatives need to take a page from that 1980’s classic All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. With apologies to author Robert Fulgham, I propose to rewrite a few of those basic lessons for conservatives to consider as the elections of 2014 and soon enough 2016 come to the fore.
- “All or nothing” in politics produces “nothing.”
One disease that has become rampant in politics is to win at all costs. Compromise has become a dirty word. But in a republic, we have a divided government, with people from different parties and viewpoints in power. No one wins everything. As Otto von Bismarck said, politics is the art of the possible. Defunding Obamacare, the latest conservative crusade, was not going to pass a Democrat-dominated Senate or get by its sponsoring president. In the end, this crusade produced nothing but hard feelings and bad ratings for its sponsors. Another way to put it is that winning at all costs, in politics, usually means losing expensively, as Republicans did here.
- When your opponent is busy imploding, stand back and watch
The irony is that things were starting to break for Republicans prior to the shutdown. This could have been, should have been, a strong year for them. Mid-term elections are often good for the party out of power, and Republicans were looking to strengthen their hold on the House and increase their power in the Senate. As we now know, Obamacare had plenty of problems of its own, without falling under a direct political attack. Rather than make themselves and the government shutdown the issue, Cruz and Company would have done far better to step back and let the healthcare website and all the many legal and court problems unfold on their own. Unfortunately the government shutdown was so noisy, no one could really listen to the underlying case about healthcare.
- You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em
A colleague and I recently discussed how much political (and other) wisdom is in the old Kenny Rogers song “The Gambler.” Much of life truly is knowing when to hold ‘em, when to fold ‘em, when to walk away, and when to run. Conservatives all agree that Obamacare is a really bad thing and that the president and his allies need to be replaced in 2016, there is no disagreement on that. But tactically, the Tea Party conservatives seem to have no feel at all for when to push and when to walk away. In kindergarten terms, Ted Cruz was the classroom bully who was determined to have his say and his way.
American conservatism is the kindergarten game “fruit basket upset” right now. It is an uneasy coalition of fiscal conservatives, social or Christian conservatives, libertarians, business leaders, national security types and others all scrambling for the empty chair of leadership. Unless conservatives relearn some kindergarten lessons—as Robert Fulgham said, share everything, play fair, don’t hit people, clean up your own mess and the like—it is a movement that will implode and miss the opportunity Obamacare and the president are putting right in front of them to make gains with the American electorate. They need to be like the kindergarten-age girl I saw at a hotel swimming pool with her younger brother who, when she asked her dad if they could stay a long time, was told, “as long as you make good decisions.” “Oh daddy,” she replied, “we’ll make lots of good decisions.” It’s time for conservatives to quit making statements and start making lots of good tactical decisions.
Please click on the link to view the op/ed on Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2013/11/14/american-conservatism-will-implode-unless-republicans-go-back-to-kindergarten/