Saturday, June 5, 2004

Ronald Reagan: 1911 - 2004

A great man has passed. Not only was Ronald Reagan instrumental in reversing the tide of Marxist/Leninist totalitarianism in the twentieth century, but he, perhaps more than any other politician of the last sixty years, changed the course of political philosophy in the United States.

After Reagan, conservatism emerged as a philosophy of vigorous ideas and tremendous appeal for many who had grown up under the influence of the liberal orthodoxies of the sixties and seventies. After Reagan, liberalism was exposed as a philosophical Wizard of Oz, full of promise and good feeling but hollow inside. Bereft of any ideas that hadn't been discredited by human experience, bereft of political appeal, the only chance a liberal national candidate had, and still has, of being elected to office was to camouflage his liberalism, which is what Clinton did in 1992, perhaps a major reason why he was able to defeat George H.W. Bush.

The amiable, polite Reagan stood in sharp contrast to many of his detractors who, with few good ideas to offer, often substituted insults, mendacity, and aspersions in their place. Indeed, this mode of political discourse has been amplified in the intellectually barren precincts of the leftward end of the political spectrum, until it is virtually the only form of expression one hears from some of the key contemporary spokesmen of the secular left.

Reagan showed us a better way, a way based on courtesy and respect for one's domestic opponents, and strength against one's foreign foes. He was supremely confident in himself, his principles, and his cause, and that confidence was contagious. He was a beacon on a hill for many in a generation that had come of age amidst the chaos of the sixties and seventies and who had grown disillusioned with the social and moral revolutions of that era and with the impotence America seemed to unnecessarily project in the face of deadly challenges from our enemies abroad. He will long be remembered. Perhaps there's still enough room on Mt. Rushmore.

Machiavelli's Disciples

Reading and listening to the Democrats as they've come increasingly undone in the last month or so has brought to mind Niccolo Machiavelli's little book The Prince, a classic essay on how to attain and keep political power. What, for example, are we to make of the ridiculous shrieking in speeches by Al Gore, Howard Dean, Teddy Kennedy and their left-wing allies attacking the Bush administration in recent weeks? Their irrational screeds remind one of an ignorant medieval mob, convinced they've caught themselves a witch and, having worked themselves into a frenzy of mindless excitement, are determined to commit her to the flames. Yet one can't help feel that with the Democrats the whole thing is a manipulation, a fraud, designed to work the faithful into the ever higher levels of political ecstasy needed to cement their irrational resolve to thrust Bush onto the pyre.

The pathetically phony hysteria, the hyper-strident outrage and ludicrous allegations of betrayal, extremism, lies, Nazism, and so on, ad nauseum, are all intended to accomplish exactly what? Do they really believe this rhetoric? Then they are fools or lunatics. Are they merely seeking political advantage? Then they are contemptible hypocrites, destroying a man in order to advance their own interests. In their mind, however, that's not necessarily a bad thing. To understand why, recall Machiavelli:

"In the actions of men, and especially of princes (i.e. Democrat politicians)...the end justifies the means. Let a prince aim at conquering and maintaining the state (i.e. acquiring political power), and the means will always be judged honorable and praised by everyone, for the vulgar is always taken by appearances...and the world consists only of the vulgar, and the few who are not vulgar are isolated when the many have a rallying point in the prince."

Like billionaire George Soros who is prepared to shed his fortune in order to unseat George Bush, Democrats like Gore, Dean, and others seem happy to shed their dignity for the same cause. After all, no price is too high to pay to regain the throne of power, certainly not the price of honor, nor of truth, and the "vulgar" masses on the left just eat the stuff up anyway. The more outrageous the allegations the more they howl for Bush's blood. Machiavelli again:

"It is necessary to be able to disguise this character (i.e. that of being deceitful) well, and to be a great feigner and dissembler; and men are so simple and so ready to obey present necessities, that one who deceives will always find those who allow themselves to be deceived."

Just for the sake of discussion imagine that GWB had, subsequent to 9/11, done what the Democrats are insisting he should have done, which is essentially nothing. Suppose Bush had perhaps rattled a few sabers with tough talk and rattled a few Iraqi aspirin factories with a cruise missile or two, but other than that had done nothing. What would the Democrats be doing right now? I can't say with complete certainty, of course, but I feel reasonably sure that they would be flaying Bush alive for putting the nation at risk by not taking decisive action to depose Saddam in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan. John Kerry, who perhaps thinks he is following the apostle Paul's example of being all things to all men in order that he might save some, or at least win their votes, would, in his sonorous, somnolent, soporific way, be running as a war-hawk reminding us at every opportunity how he didn't pussy-foot around in Vietnam where he won a silver star for apparently killing a wounded and helpless Vietcong.

If Bush were to plead in his defense that he didn't think it wise to act unilaterally in Iraq, but that the U.N. was dragging their feet, the Democrats would be roasting him for his timidity and for entrusting our security and our sovereignty to a corrupt United Nations. One may think this an ignoble, immoral way to do politics, but the left in general and Democrats in particular, though they may be ethical relativists and subjectivists in their personal lives, are in politics guided by a Machiavellian pragmatism. Whatever works is right, and it must work toward the end of the acquisition and maintenance of political power. Whatever Bush might have done, the Democrats would have attacked him for not doing the opposite. Their Machiavellian value system would have demanded it:

"A man who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything must necessarily come to grief among so many who are not good. Therefore it is necessary for a prince, who wishes to maintain himself, to learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge and not use it, according to the necessity of the case."*

In preempting Saddam, however, Bush also preempted the war-hawk prong of the Democrat strategy and enabled them instead to condemn Bush as a militaristic cowboy determined to go to war no matter what Saddam did, and to assert that what is called for in these parlous times is calm, reasoned negotiations with people like Saddam and bin Laden. In other words, to assert that what is called for is doing nothing.

The left has a long history of this sort of hypocrisy. In the early years of WWII when Hitler and Stalin had signed a non-aggression pact, the left bitterly opposed those who said we should get into the war to help Europe against the fascists. As soon as Hitler betrayed Stalin, however, by invading the Soviet Union, the left dropped all pretense of pacifism and demanded that we come to the aid of the "allies" against the axis powers.

The lesson here is that the left usually has a political motive for any position they take. They may cloak it in the language of morality in order to befuddle the "vulgar," but their positions are not based upon principles that most people would regard as moral or honorable. When we realize this we'll better understand why, when Bush sneezes, like chimps at the zoo, the whole cage goes berserk with screams, howls, and name-calling. When we understand this we'll also recognize this strident behavior for what it is: desperate acts of shameless men, arising not out of a principled opposition to the policy of the Bush administration, but out of a bitter resentment at having been deprived of the political power to which they feel they are entitled and for which they have an unbounded lust.

* To understand the modern secular left read Machiavelli's The Prince, to better understand George W. Bush read Terry Eastland's article in the Weekly Standard of March 1st entitled Bush's Gospel.