Getting Beyond Nostalgia for Reagan or for the New Deal

Getting Beyond Nostalgia for Reagan or for the New Deal April 17, 2018

The Republican agenda has long been shaped by its nostalgia for Ronald Reagan.  The Democratic agenda has long been shaped by its nostalgia for Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his New Deal.  Donald Trump has shaken up the Republicans with some new approaches.  But the Democrats are still championing 1940s-style big government programs.

So says Jonah Goldberg, an anti-Trump conservative, who nevertheless gives the president credit for bring a “desperately needed new rhetoric and a new approach” to the Republican party. Democrats, though, remain stuck in an even more remote past.  Goldberg shows how the solutions being proposed by Democratic leaders are just New Deal, Great Society recyclings.  The Democrats are even calling their new platform the “Better Deal.”

Goldberg makes an excellent point, but I think the Democrats may have a Trump-like paradigm shifting moment of their own.  And I see some post-Reagan and post-FDR factors in both parties.

Donald Trump did indeed overthrow the Republican establishment with its Reagan-era conservatism, though it retains its hold in Congress and the state party infrastructures.  Trump’s ideology can be described as nationalism, with its protectionist economics, restrictions on immigration, America-first foreign policy, and “make America great again” goals.

The Democratic establishment is dominated by Roosevelt-style liberalism.  But from the grassroots–where the Trump insurgency came from–I am seeing the rise of a much harder-leftist ideology.  It is advocating not just a bureaucratic health care program like Obamacare, but single-payer socialized medicine.  Not just regulating big corporations but taking them over.  Not just gun control but revisiting the Bill of Rights, including putting restrictions on freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

I predict that a leftist firebrand will win the next Democratic presidential nomination just as Trump won the Republican nomination last time.  The Democratic platform will call for single-payer health care and the legalization of marijuana.

A difference in both parties since the FDR and the Reagan eras is the rise of libertarianism.  But this has taken different forms in each party.  The Republicans have advocated political and economic libertarianism (small government, free market economics), while the Democrats have advocated moral and cultural libertarianism (sexual liberation, abortion, civil rights).  Republicans, though, have resisted moral and cultural libertarianism, just as the Democrats have resisted political and economic libertarianism.  (Actually, Reagan embodied the current Republican version of libertarianism, while Roosevelt was statist all the way, with his party in the 1940s even opposing civil rights for racial minorities.)

Meanwhile, libertarians who advocate both kinds have achieved little traction.  Maybe at some point they will.  Or maybe their time has passed.

Perhaps when future Americans decide whether to cast their votes for Republicans or Democrats,  their choice will be either  nationalism or statism.

Do you see any better ways forward for the political parties?  (For example, the way of the Christian Democrats in Europe, who are conservative morally and culturally but liberal politically and economically?)


Illustration, Rosie the Riveter Updated.  U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Senior Airman Veronica Stamps.  Public Domain

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