Category: General

Blog author: rnothstine
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
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Ronald Reagan on the campaign trail 1976

As we enter the presidential primary season, a look back at the 1976 Republican Primary is appropriate, considering it was a pivotal moment in American conservatism. It is a presidential race that conservative writer Craig Shirley calls a “successful defeat.” While Ronald Reagan ultimately lost the nomination to incumbent President Gerald Ford, this race would end up transforming the conservative movement, the Republican Party, the country, and eventually the world.

Reagan came into the 1976 North Carolina primary having lost the first five consecutive primaries to Ford. The national party establishment was against Reagan, the media started to write him off, and his campaign was broke and in debt. Needless to say, the pressure to drop out of the race was nearly overwhelming.

Tom Ellis and then Senator Jesse Helms helped resurrect Reagan’s campaign from the dead. By spearheading a grassroots movement and focusing on Reagan’s conservative credentials, it led to a shocking upset in the Tar Heel State. Reagan’s victory meant it was the first time a sitting president had been defeated in a primary of a state where he actively campaigned. Many more primary victories for Reagan would follow.

During the race in the state, Reagan continually brought up the issue of the Panama Canal, following a rumor the Ford Administration was going to turn it over to Panama’s dictator. With heated energy and anger Reagan would repeatedly shout at every campaign stop, “It’s ours! We built it! We paid for it! And we should keep it.!” It was classic Reagan, and North Carolinians loved it.

Reagan also hit the administration hard on federal spending, government regulations, and being soft on Soviet aggression. He also attacked leaders in the other party, taking aim at Senator Ted Kennedy’s universal health care proposal. Reagan warned:

What the nation does not need is another workout of a collectivist formula based on an illusion promoting a delusion and delivering a boon-doggle. It is up to the private sector to provide answers in the onrushing health care political battle. If not, nationalized medicine will represent one more instance of surrendering a freedom by default.

Part of the reason for Reagan’s eventual loss showcased the extreme power of incumbency and Ford’s ability to raise his political game as well. Ford was again overshadowed however, when he invited Reagan down from his sky box at the GOP convention after Ford finished his acceptance speech to lead the party. Reagan delivered some highly inspirational off the cuff remarks, which is still considered one of his best speeches. It has been reported that horrified party activists on the convention floor gasped, “Oh my gosh – we nominated the wrong candidate.” Reagan was 65 years old at the time, some undoubtedly saw his remarks as a farewell to the party.

After the primary the political landscape in the United States changed. Jimmy Carter also ran against Ford as a Washington outsider, who sought to reform government. In addition he was a self avowed born again Christian, who promised to return a high degree of ethics to the oval office in the wake of Watergate.

But Carter’s enduring legacy was mismanaging the country and creating an election ripe for Reagan’s brand of conservatism. However, the 1976 campaign is where it all really started on the national level. Many Reagan biographers are correct in assuming without 1976, there would have been no campaign in 1980. The primary campaign in 1976 saw the power of conservative ideas on a national stage, and a reference to modern conservatism other than Barry Goldwater’s failed presidential campaign in 1964.

That Republican presidential candidates try to emulate Reagan only adds to his glory, but also creates an unrealistic expectation for themselves. But If conservatism is ever going to be revolutionary, anti-establishment, and popular again, the country and candidates will have to recapture some of the Spirit of 76.

[For a complete study of the 1976 Republican Primary Campaign and its significance check out Reagan's Revolution by Craig Shirley]

Blog author: jspalink
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
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Taking a cue from No Straw Men, I’m updating the look and feel of the Acton PowerBlog. Jonathan Rick suggests that completely separating your blog from your organization’s main Web site is a bad idea because you cut off access to useful information and create two distinct audiences rather than integrating traffic between two distinct sections of one Web site.

Website Updates
Acton’s blog has always been on the same domain as the main Acton site (www.acton.org) but we’ve recently given the blog its own sub-domain (blog.acton.org). You can still reach us from www.acton.org/blog/ but will be redirected to the new page rather than the old.

We are adding a new navigation menu bar at the top of our blog page to help tie in the blog to Acton’s main site. We hope to encourage people to explore events, programs, and publications from the Acton Institute. Acton has a lot of great content and resources for people who are interested in the intersection between religion and economics.

Finally, we are updating some of our colors in an attempt to make the blog look a bit more like Acton’s main site and also to make it “look a bit more webbish.” But not too webbish, of course.

(By the way, if the blog looks really odd or the same as it did last week, you may need to reload the page so that you get all the new css stylesheets and images.)

Blog author: kschmiesing
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
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French president Nicholas Sarkozy has recommended the formation of a “Council of the Wise,” which would have the task of “elaborating proposals for the future development of Europe.” A recent survey by the Bertelsmann Foundation finds a lot of support for the idea in France, the UK, and Germany. I suppose there are various ways to read this. One, hinted at by the survey story linked above, is that people in the EU are uneasy about the direction Europe is moving and want to establish a counterweight to the politicians in Brussels. More likely, it seems to me, is that this would be one more bureaucratic agency–only this one not actually doing any of the work of government but instead churning out grandiose projects that would gobble up even more of the continent’s tax dollars. All of which leaves aside the at once frightening and amusing title of the group, which calls to mind something out of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

A long and detailed essay on the topic is available at The Gates of Vienna. A very small sample:

The end of religion, thus, didn’t herald an age of reason; it led to a new age of secular superstition and new forms of witch-hunts.

This will take at least an hour of your time, perhaps more, but it’s worthwhile.

Railing against corporate dictatorship, delocator.net helps consumers find locally-owned cafes, bookstores, and movie theatres in their area — alternatives to the “invasion” of Starbucks, Borders, and their ilk. The site itself is actually quite an interesting capitalist idea in its freshness and creativity, and people certainly should eat or drink or shop where they are most comfortable. That’s the beauty of competition! And the kind of community-building that often takes place at familiar, time-tested, local shops is to be encouraged.

But to say local businesses possess some kind of moral magic simply by virtue of being family-owned and homey is preposterous. Such shops may be more ethically run in some ways, partially through close personal ties to the community and to fellow owners and employees. But this bespeaks the virtue of the management, not of the abstract institution of the local business itself (just as it indicates the poor character of the management of a corporate business, and not all of corporate business itself, when one falls into unethical dealings). Also, independent stores are often smaller, so they may provide fewer jobs to people in the community and supply fewer products to their customers. Neither of these are inherently good qualities for businesses to have.

In saying that independent, community-operated businesses “deserve your dime,” delocator.net forgets that consumers may have different preferences, needs, and reasons for choosing bigger stores, and that it is not immoral for them to do so. While it is true that corporate business is not inherently praiseworthy, neither are small businesses — but inherently good things can come out of both types of stores in different circumstances, even if ignoring the economic benefits of competition. Making books more widely available to average people is a good thing. Having a choice of coffee shops — for atmosphere, taste, cost, or convenience — is a good thing. Even facing more snack options at a bigger movie theater is, in its own sense, desirable.

If delocator fans don’t find these things desirable, they should by all means avoid them. But to limit personal choice and to condemn the multiplicity of options seems to defeat the principle of independence that claims to inform them in the first place.

Acton Alum, Andrae McGary, recently launched a blog to offer some perspective on hip hop for the hip hop community. It’s called Street Soul Arts. His latest post discusses Princeton University religion professor, Cornell West, and the release of West’s second rap album. I’m glad to see this blog because he knows this world far better than I ever will.

Lately, I’ve heard one too many emo kids misread T.S. Eliot as being one of their own. In Russell Kirk’s words, it is easy for the “rootless and aimless” of the new generation to over-identify with Eliot, seeing him as a spokesman “for the futility and fatuity of the modern era, all whimper and no bang — a kind of Anglo-American ritualistic nihilism.” And whining, pining, Anglo-American ritualistic nihilism is the cultural trend of the day, whether you look at the musically and lyrically directionless music that tops current charts, the shapelessness and androgyny seeping into high fashion, or the melodramatic and attention-seeking ways teenagers and college students spend their social time (not the least of which takes place on the Internet, through personal blogs, Facebook, and chatting).

Vindicating Eliot won’t restore the Waste Land to health or happiness, but it’s important to wrest him from the claws of both actual and perpetual adolescents who would make him a posterboy for their own disillusionment. As Kirk says, Eliot wanted to expose the soulish devastation modern life creates, but also to “show the way back to permanent things.” Speaking of The Waste Land, Eliot himself wrote, “I may have expressed for [approving critics] their own illusion of being disillusioned, but that did not form part of my intention.” Careful readers of Eliot will realize that he railed against exactly the kinds of things that misguided existentialist or socialist types promote, such as in this passage from Murder in the Cathedral:

Those who put their faith in worldly order
Not controlled by the order of God,
In confident ignorance, but arrest disorder
Make it fast, breed fatal disease,
Degrade what they exalt.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
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Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam provoked a cottage industry of commentary and debate on the question of “social capital” when he published his book, Bowling Alone, a few years ago. Now he’s at it again with an intriguing study concerning the effects of diversity on civic life.

The controversial finding is that the more diverse a community is, the lower its index of social connectedness (measured by volunteer rates, for example). The implications of the finding are significant for all sorts of issues, from immigration to education.

It’s a provocative finding for promoters of Christian social thought, as well. The Christian social vision is dependent on the existence of strong communities made up of close personal bonds. On the one hand, we want to believe that the Christian imperative to love one’s neighbor as oneself trumps any tendency to withdraw from “the other”—anyone who is different in some way. On the other hand, grace is not magic; it builds on nature. Is the natural tendency to associate with those like ourselves a harmful trait that must be eradicated, or is it simply an inherent piece of human nature that must be taken into account?

HT: Rick Garnett at Mirror of Justice.

Enthusiastic atheists are on the offensive in an effort to tear down private faith, now that religion has increasingly lost influence in the public square. Richard Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion”, and Christopher Hitchens’s, “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” have sold hundreds of thousands of copies. The reason for this attack is because the atheists claim to be committed to justice, while people of faith, along with the divine itself, are and have been purveyors of injustice, according to the new breed of aggressive atheists. It’s an interesting and alien perspective for those with a religious world view, especially those who are familiar with Christ, scripture, and so much of Church history. It is in fact Christ who is the greatest liberator of humanity from evil, and Christian practice and thought that has helped liberate the oppressed, and eased the burdens of the weak.

Harvard Professor Harvey Mansfield in a piece entitled Atheist Tracts in the Weekly Standard, discounts the notion that real justice and societal advancement will be empowered by the absence of a belief in the creator. Some essential quotes from Mansfield’s article are provided below:

Atheism isn’t what it was in the eighteenth century. Now, the focus of the attack is not the Church, which is no longer dominant, but religion itself. The disdain one used to hear for “organized religion” extends now to the individual believer’s faith. Despite the change, politics is still the thrust of the attack. It’s just that the delusion of religion is now allowed to be the responsibility of the believer, not of some group that is deluding him. A more direct approach is required.

Edmund Burke said, with a view to the atheism of the French Revolution, that we cannot live justly and happily unless we live under “a power out of ourselves.” By this he meant a power above us, transcendent over our wills and our choices. We must choose to live under a power that limits our choices.

In the contest between religion and atheism, the strength of religion is to recognize two apparently contrary forces in the human soul: the power of injustice and the power, nonetheless, of our desire for justice. The stubborn existence of injustice reminds us that man is not God, while the demand for justice reminds us that we wish for the divine. Religion tries to join these two forces together.

One of the reasons of the failure of atheism to overtake the world is noted by Mansfield in today’s Weekly Standard piece. He notes, “More pointedly, has not the atheist totalitarianism of the twentieth century, with its universal pretensions, proved to be the worst tyranny mankind has ever seen?”

Ironically, it was the atheist dream of utopia which helped secure atheism’s diminishing influence. When put into practice in the twentieth century, it was a hopeless, dark, and dreary mix of bread lines and gulags. It was a Baptist Minister from the American South, Martin Luther King, who was famous for saying, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Picking up on the themes of the importance of narrative from recent weeks, I pass along this worthy saying of Lord Acton:

“Government rules the present. Literature rules the future.”