1988 is Finally Over: 2016 Ought to Be the Next Great Election

1988 is Finally Over: 2016 Ought to Be the Next Great Election January 17, 2016
We need a Sam Houston, a new leader.
We need a Sam Houston, a new leader.

1988 was the year we affirmed the Reagan Revolution by electing, against most odds, his Vice-President George HW Bush. Bush was an unlikely vehicle for a third Reagan term, but that is what most Americans wanted. Michael Dukakis was much less Reagan than Bush so he lost.

The primaries in both parties were “open” in 1988. There was no incumbent and every election in my adult lifetime has been shaped by both 1988 primaries.

The Democratic Party was shaped by Gary Hart and his new ideas.

Gary Hart was the Gingrich and Reagan combined of the Democratic Party. His self-destruction by his failure to understand the new rules of 1988 media set the Democratic Party back to this day. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were both modest “Hart Democrats.” Clinton was limited by an imitation of Hart’s personal peccadillos and Obama by a failure to imitate Hart’s vision with very modest successes.

Joe Biden survived 1988, but scarcely.

Plagiarism and serial puffery ended Biden’s campaign. (Ben Carson should have checked his own “books” more closely). He might have served as an effective vehicle for Hart’s ideas, but health problems and a lack of personal discipline limited him.

The Republican Party was dominated by the memory of Reagan as Democrats of the 1950’s were by memories of FDR.

I am Proud to be an American in 2016 is Happy Days are Here Again in 1984.

George HW Bush won the Presidency and began the Bush domination of Republican politics.

I have voted in only one election without a Bush or a Clinton on the ticket. Bush gained the White House in 1988 or George W. would not have won it in 2000 and 2004. Jeb Bush marks the end of the Bush dynasty in this period of Republican policy. The Bush period is remarkable for candidates that mostly lost (1992, 1996, 2008, 2012) and that were awkward fits for the party.

Pat Robertson and the new Christian voters were the most lasting legacy of 1988.

When Pat Robertson ran for President, he faced scrutiny of his war record, education, marriage, and ministry that the comfortable “old boys’ club” of Christian media never would have given him. The testament to his overall character is that he survived a test that peers like Oral Roberts would have failed.

What contemporary “religious right,” Christian media, or educational leaders do not understand is that Google gives a college freshman the research ability of the big foot media of 1988.

My son’s friends come to the house having Googled or Facebooked us. They go to a class knowing about their teachers. Christian institutions have yet to adopt the transparency this requires. We are all Robertson in 1988 now.

Just as Robertson was a quantum leap forward from the relatively corrupt and ineffective “old religious” right, so a new step forward is needed. The children of 1988 are now adults and the methods of 1988 are counterproductive. Robertson himself anticipated much of what would be needed, but the time has come to complete that vision.

To move forward:

Christians must articulate as plainly as possible that we are subjects of King Jesus in the City of God and citizens of this Republic in the City of Man. We know the church is not the state and the state is not the church. We wish to integrate our personal lives, not the Kingdom and the Republic.

We must stop the cult of celebrity. No more hidden ghost writers. No more dodgy degrees. No more tolerance of grifters for Jesus. If a leader could not pass the presidential media test of 1988, he or she cannot pass the freshman with the Google media test of 2016.

The weakness of the present Democratic Party is that there is no Hart left. Sanders is not a new idea man and Clinton represents a corrupt establishment whose only reason for existing is power. The Hart veteran of the group, Martin O’Malley, is a longshot, but he is Hart without new ideas. The present Democrat Party is intellectually bankrupt and wrong.

Little change is happening on the Republican side. We may be fundamentally right, but are also stuck in 1988.

Ted Cruz has dominated the shards of the 1988 Robertson coalition, a group that gave Pat more votes for President than Howard Dean ever gained, combined with Tea Party support. He has done what Robertson failed to do in his run: unite the religious right.  He is a candidate for 1988, however, and not 2016. The nation has changed and he no longer speaks to a majority.

He also lacks Robertson’s pragmatism or connection to the “old establishment” so is much less sunny.

Marco Rubio attempts to revive the sunny optimism of Reagan and rebuild his coalition with a 2016 flair. He has never hit twenty percent in the national polls.  He has yet to give us new ideas to break the old gridlock that had Republicans defending a shrinking number of states. What would make us competitive in California or Michigan or Pennsylvania?

Like Jack Kemp in 1988, he may look better on paper than practice. Go look up the number of delegates Kemp won.

The Republican Party in 1988 reaffirmed 1980 and have been doing so ever since. Newt Gingrich, for whatever reason, had the ideas to change the party in a good, conservative direction, but not the means or the power to do so. I affirm 1980 for 1980, but we need a fresh application of the great ideas that were far older than 1980.

Are Rubio or Cruz capable of learning the new rules and developing new governing visions?

The other candidates have failed to look around the corner or deal with the new media reality. Only John Kasich has even tried, but he has done so by becoming grumpy. He seems intent on winning primary voters by disliking them.

Jeb Bush is pitiable. He is a good man running in the wrong decade. He marks the end of the Bush period in Republican politics.

This brings us to Donald Trump. He alone seems to understand the “warts and all” transparency of new media. He alone uses Twitter to give actual opinions instead of blah, blah, blah. He is running as Donald Trump, not really as a Republican, because he knows the personal has become the political.

Does he have new ideas? Is he like Hart looking to change America? I think not. Is he like Robertson in defending the old order that his father, Senator Robertson represented (minus the race problems)? No. He is not Jack Kemp or Newt Gingrich proposing ideas a minute, but he is the only candidate at present who sees that the rules are changing.

He is transparent. They are controlled and on message.

He is entertaining. They are talking points.

He is understandable. They are talking to pundit friends.

Unless a “conventional” candidate can match Mr. Trump on those three qualification, they may beat him (either Clinton in the general or Cruz/Rubio in the primary), but they will be unable to govern.

If we cannot find a leader that understands the new order and can govern, if we do not reboot in 2016 from the politics of 1988, then we will put off a needed change for another four years, another failed presidency (Bush, Obama, Clinton/Cruz?) unable to get around the “old rules.”

I am reminded of Sam Houston, a great leader in his time. He found himself an old man in a time when the old truths were still true, but young men would not hear them. They nearly destroyed all he had built, though the Republic survived because we found a better leader than we deserved: Abraham Lincoln.

God, send us such a leader again.


My initial thoughts were shaped by reading three key books over the weekend:

What it Takes by Richard Ben Cramer.

All the Truth is Out by Matt Bai.

Pat Robertson: A Life and Legacy by David Edwin Harrell Jr.

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