Opinion

Nicholas Wapshott

Enlightening the puzzled Republicans

Nicholas Wapshott
Oct 31, 2013 18:00 UTC

Moderate Republicans cannot fathom what has happened to their party.

Once a happy band of no-nonsense, pro-business conservatives, cautious in everything from money to marriage — including their wary response to the onward march of 1960s liberal social values — they were prepared, within reason, to trim their policies to match the voters’ mood. After all, to achieve anything in government you first have to win elections.

But that was before the revival in fundamental conservatism that has turned the GOP from a pragmatic party to a collection of inward-looking ideological tribes. Republicans puzzled by the rise of dogma and division in their party can find answers in a new survey that explains how large the factions are and what they think. They will be surprised by the findings.

The GOP has long been considered a three-legged stool: big business, Southern evangelical Christians and anti-government Westerners. But, largely since the world financial panic of 2008-9, these three have been joined by two new aggressive, popular movements: the Tea Party and the libertarians.

To put the transformation of the GOP in context: the only postwar departure from steady, old-school Republican moderation was an experiment in conservative radicalism in 1964 when the government-hating Barry M. Goldwater became the party’s presidential champion.

The result was disaster: “Mr. Republican” was painted by his opponent President Lyndon B. Johnson as a trigger-happy rube who would trip nuclear war with the Russians.

Not in the spirit of Hayek

Nicholas Wapshott
May 14, 2013 18:50 UTC

It has been a bad couple of weeks for conservative social scientists. First a doctoral student ran the numbers on the study by Harvard’s Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff that underpins austerity and deep public spending cuts as a cure for the Great Recession and found it full of errors. Then a policy analyst, Jason Richwine, who angered Senate Republicans trying to pass immigration reform with a one-sided estimate of the cost of making undocumented workers citizens, was obliged to clear his desk at the Heritage Foundation when it became known his Harvard dissertation suggested Hispanics had lower intelligence than “the white native population.”

It makes you wonder what Friedrich Hayek would have to say about such aberrant research. Hayek has become the patron saint of conservative intellectuals – and with good reason. He went head to head with John Maynard Keynes in 1931 in an effort to stop Keynesianism in its tracks. Hayek failed, but his attempt gave him mythical status among thinkers who deplore big government and central management of the economy.

Hayek became a conservative hero a second time with publication of his Road to Serfdom  (1944) that suggested the larger the state sector, the more there was a tendency to tyranny. Many of today’s Hayekians harden up Hayek’s carefully expressed thoughts to declare that all government is potentially despotic, while also ignoring his arguments in favor of governments providing a generous safety net for the less advantaged, including a home for every citizen and universal health care – perhaps because Americans were first introduced to Serfdom in a much truncated Reader’s Digest edition. They would do well to re-read the original.

When Thatcher met Reagan

Nicholas Wapshott
Apr 8, 2013 18:14 UTC

 When Margaret Thatcher met Ronald Reagan in April 1975, neither was in their first flush of youth. She was 50 and he 65. She was the leader of Britain’s opposition; he a former governor of California. It was by no means obvious that either would win power. They bonded instantly.

Although born almost a generation and an ocean and continent apart, they found they were completing each other’s sentences. Both instinctive politicians rather than taught ideologues, they discovered they had both found validation for their convictions in the works of Friedrich Hayek, at that time a long-forgotten theorist even among conservatives.

From that sure beginning began a working partnership, or political marriage, that solidified the alliance between the United States and Britain at a crucial time when the Soviet Union was facing collapse and the democratic forces in Eastern Europe were pressing to be freed. There have been other Anglo-American alliances. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill eventually became friends, though FDR never let the English bulldog forget that America had overtaken Britain as the world’s most powerful nation and that Churchill was a supplicant.

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