The Politics of History

The Politics of History – WSJ.com

This episode reminded me of an inquiry posed last fall by a respected public radio producer. After interviewing me for a program on campaign history, he asked me to suggest prominent Democrats who might comment for the show. He wanted the views of a few politicians to compliment those of historians, but he could only think of Republicans who knew much about history.

Having once worked for Congress, I started running through its members in my head. Various Republicans sprang to mind, but no living Democrats. Finally I hit on former Sen. George McGovern as probable and a couple of others as possible, but it was tough.

A few days later a journalist asked me this question: Why do conservatives like history more than liberals? Most historians vote Democratic, I assured him, but I realized that there might be something to his query. The current Republican candidates for president often refer to past presidents from both parties, he noted, while the Democratic candidates rarely do. (Barack Obama has expressed admiration for Illinois Republican Abraham Lincoln and the inspirational leadership of John F. Kennedy.)

The author then continues on to discuss how the Democrats are likely embarrassed by their “ancestors,” to a greater extent than Republicans are. He cites: Jefferson was a slaveholders; Jackson was as well, plus a murderer; William Jennings Bryan fought the teaching of evolution; Woodrow Wilson was a racist and a fascist; FDR put Japanese Americans into prison camps; LBJ brought the Great Society, but also the Vietnam War. In addition, I’d add the indisputable fact that the Democrat Party was the party of slavery and segregation.

But Republicans, and conservatives, also have skeletons in their closets, or given the history at question, crazy uncles in the attic might be a better analogy. Why are they less embarrassed at their history and more likely to draw lessons from it? (Conservatives even cite John C. Calhoun favorably, and he was certainly pro-slavery.)

Why the difference? I think it comes from the implicit assumption in all conservative thought that people are, by nature, imperfect. We all have flaws, and once we accept that about ourselves, we become more tolerant of flaws in others. So, we can draw political lessons from a Calhoun or a Jefferson, and ignore them where they seem to be wrong. It seems that one of two impulses drives liberals: they either believe people to be perfect, only to be dragged down by a corrupt society, or essentially flawed, and therefore need the guidance of an elite who will steer them in the proper direction, against their will, if necessary. Conservatives, recognizing the essential, but incomplete, goodness of people, resists a concentration of power, lest that power tend to corrupt, as Lord Acton so cogently warned us.

There are other factors that I believe tend to diminish a liberal’s interest in history. One, liberals, believing they know how best to order society, are less likely to be interested in other opinions about how to do so, so feel less need to learn from the mistakes and successes of the past. Conservatives, on the contrary, recognizing the organic nature of any culture, believe we must know where we come from, lest proposed changes take us in a completely new direction that people are not ready for. As an analogy, we can’t go straight from Nevada to New Jersey; there are many states in between. Many non-conservatives, since anyone of an ideological bent can be guilty of this rashness and radicalism, would have us attempt to skip those intermediate states and cause much disruption and error.

Additionally, as my cousin-in-law, a former liberal, told me: study of history, especially American history, tends to make one conservative. The allegedly soon to be beatified and convert to Catholicism Cardinal John Henry Newman told us “To be steeped in history is to cease being Protestant,” the same is often true of ceasing to be liberal.

Political Facts of Life

Sent via email:

The two most important events in all of history were the invention of beer and the invention of the wheel.

The wheel was invented to get man to the beer. Beer and the wheel are the foundation of modern civilization and together were the catalyst for the splitting of humanity into two distinct subgroups:

1. Liberals
2. Conservatives.

Once beer was discovered, it required grain and that was the beginning of agriculture. Neither the glass bottle nor aluminum can were invented yet, so while our early humans were sitting around waiting for them to be invented, they just stayed close to the brewery.

That’s how villages were formed.

Some men spent their days tracking and killing animals to B-B-Q at night while they were drinking beer. This was the beginning of what is known as the Conservative movement.

Other men who were weaker and less skilled at hunting learned to live off the conservatives by showing up for the nightly B-B-Q’s and doing the sewing, fetching, and hair dressing. This was the beginning of the Liberal movement.

Some of these liberal men eventually evolved into women. The rest became known as girlie-men or wussies. Some noteworthy liberal achievements include the domestication of cats, the invention of group therapy, group hugs, and the concept of voting to decide how to divide the meat and beer that the conservatives provided.

Over the years Conservatives came to be symbolized by the largest, most powerful land animal on earth; the elephant.

Liberals are symbolized by the jackass.

A few modern liberals like Mexican light beer (with lime added), but most prefer a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc,with passion fruit and kiwi aromas which are marked by grassy notes, then rounded out on the midpalate by peach flavors. Crisp and refreshing, with a hint of chalky minerality on the finish; or Perrier bottled water. They eat raw fish but dislike beef. Sushi,
tofu, and French food are standard liberal fare.

Another interesting evolutionary side note: most of their women have higher testosterone levels than their men. Most social workers, personal injury attorneys, Ivy League professors, journalists, dreamers in Hollywood and group therapists are liberals. Liberals invented the designated-hitter rule because it wasn’t fair to make the pitcher also bat.

Conservatives drink Budweiser, Beck’s Dark, Coors, Harpoon IPA or Yuengling Lager. They eat red meat and still provide for their women. Conservatives are big-game hunters, rodeo cowboys, lumberjacks, construction workers, craftsmen, firemen, tradesmen, medical doctors, police officers, corporate executives, athletes, Marines, and generally anyone who works productively.

Conservatives who own companies hire other conservatives who want to work for a living.

Liberals produce little or nothing. They like to govern the producers and decide what to do with the production. Liberals believe Europeans are more enlightened than Americans. That is why most of the liberals remained in Europe when conservatives were coming to America . They crept in after the Wild West was tamed and created a business of trying to get more for nothing.

Here ends today’s lesson in world history: It should be noted that a Liberal may have a momentary urge to angrily respond to the above before forwarding it.

A Conservative will simply laugh and be so convinced of the absolute truth of this history that it will be forwarded immediately to other true believers and to more liberals just to annoy them.

I always knew no conservative came up with the DH.

Quote-a-palooza

“No man can well doubt the propriety of placing a president of the United States under the most solemn obligations to preserve, protect, and defend the constitution.” – Joseph Story

“We, the members of the New Republican Party, believe that the preservation and enhancement of the values that strengthen and protect individual freedom, family life, communities and neighborhoods and the liberty of our beloved nation should be at the heart of any legislative or political program presented to the American people.” – Ronald Reagan

“We believe that liberty can be measured by how much freedom Americans have to make their own decisions, even their own mistakes.” – Ronald Reagan

“Families must continue to be the foundation of our nation. Families- not government programs- are the best way to make sure our children are properly nurtured, our elderly are cared for, our cultural and spiritual heritages are perpetuated, our laws are observed and our values are preserved… We fear the government may be powerful enough to destroy our families; we know that it is not powerful enough to replace them.” – Ronald Reagan

“Extreme taxation, excessive controls, oppressive government competition with business… frustrated minorities and forgotten Americans are not the products of free enterprise. They are the residue of centralized bureaucracy, of government by a self-anointed elite.” – Ronald Reagan

“We must be ever willing to negotiate differences, but equally mindful that there are American ideals that cannot be compromised. Given that there are other nations with potentially hostile design, we recognize that we can reach our goals only while maintaining a superior national defense, second to none.” – Ronald Reagan

“Our party must be based on the kind of leadership that grows and takes its strength from the people… And our cause must be to rediscover, reassert and reapply America’s spiritual heritage to our national affairs. Then with God’s help we shall indeed be as a city upon a hill with the eyes of all people upon us.” – Ronald Reagan

“[Bill] Clinton left office insisting that he’d restored liberalism in America, but in reality he bequeathed a confused mishmash of ill-formed ideas, slogans and hatreds. President Bush is winding down his presidency much the same way, talking about limited government, personal liberty and spending restraint, but he’s left his party’s troops scattered across the battlefield, with no overarching strategy and an awful lot of friendly fire.” – Jonah Goldberg

“Today, the political platforms of at least one party in the United States and pretty much every party in the rest of the Western world are nearly exclusively about… government health care, government day care, government this, government that. And if you have government health care, you not only annex a huge chunk of the economy, you also destroy a huge chunk of individual liberty.” – Mark Steyn

“I’m now going to sleep in hopes that, when I wake up, it will all be a bad dream and Calvin Coolidge will be ahead in the primaries.” – Mark Steyn

Jay Leno: How about those commercials during the Super Bowl? There was one called ‘My Talking Stain’ Sounds like Bill Clinton’s worst nightmare. … Action stars are endorsing candidates. Mike Huckabee has Chuck Norris; Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone came out for John McCain; and today, Clinton picked up Janet Reno. … John Edwards said that even though he is out of the presidential race, he still cares for the little people, and to prove it, he had lunch with Dennis Kucinich.

Quote-a-palooza

“No man can well doubt the propriety of placing a president of the United States under the most solemn obligations to preserve, protect, and defend the constitution.” – Joseph Story

“We, the members of the New Republican Party, believe that the preservation and enhancement of the values that strengthen and protect individual freedom, family life, communities and neighborhoods and the liberty of our beloved nation should be at the heart of any legislative or political program presented to the American people.” – Ronald Reagan

“We believe that liberty can be measured by how much freedom Americans have to make their own decisions, even their own mistakes.” – Ronald Reagan

“Families must continue to be the foundation of our nation. Families- not government programs- are the best way to make sure our children are properly nurtured, our elderly are cared for, our cultural and spiritual heritages are perpetuated, our laws are observed and our values are preserved… We fear the government may be powerful enough to destroy our families; we know that it is not powerful enough to replace them.” – Ronald Reagan

“Extreme taxation, excessive controls, oppressive government competition with business… frustrated minorities and forgotten Americans are not the products of free enterprise. They are the residue of centralized bureaucracy, of government by a self-anointed elite.” – Ronald Reagan

“We must be ever willing to negotiate differences, but equally mindful that there are American ideals that cannot be compromised. Given that there are other nations with potentially hostile design, we recognize that we can reach our goals only while maintaining a superior national defense, second to none.” – Ronald Reagan

“Our party must be based on the kind of leadership that grows and takes its strength from the people… And our cause must be to rediscover, reassert and reapply America’s spiritual heritage to our national affairs. Then with God’s help we shall indeed be as a city upon a hill with the eyes of all people upon us.” – Ronald Reagan

“[Bill] Clinton left office insisting that he’d restored liberalism in America, but in reality he bequeathed a confused mishmash of ill-formed ideas, slogans and hatreds. President Bush is winding down his presidency much the same way, talking about limited government, personal liberty and spending restraint, but he’s left his party’s troops scattered across the battlefield, with no overarching strategy and an awful lot of friendly fire.” – Jonah Goldberg

“Today, the political platforms of at least one party in the United States and pretty much every party in the rest of the Western world are nearly exclusively about… government health care, government day care, government this, government that. And if you have government health care, you not only annex a huge chunk of the economy, you also destroy a huge chunk of individual liberty.” – Mark Steyn

“I’m now going to sleep in hopes that, when I wake up, it will all be a bad dream and Calvin Coolidge will be ahead in the primaries.” – Mark Steyn

Jay Leno: How about those commercials during the Super Bowl? There was one called ‘My Talking Stain’ Sounds like Bill Clinton’s worst nightmare. … Action stars are endorsing candidates. Mike Huckabee has Chuck Norris; Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone came out for John McCain; and today, Clinton picked up Janet Reno. … John Edwards said that even though he is out of the presidential race, he still cares for the little people, and to prove it, he had lunch with Dennis Kucinich.

It’s not the Economy, Stupid

Robert J. Samuelson – Why It’s Not The Economy – washingtonpost.com

We have a $14 trillion economy. The idea that presidents can control it lies between an exaggeration and an illusion. Our presidential preferences ought to reflect judgments about candidates’ character, values, competence and their views on issues where what they think counts: foreign policy; long-term economic and social policy — how they would tax and spend; health care; immigration. Forget the business cycle.


Sensible voters should look beyond the cheery or dreary economy of the moment. They should recognize that if presidents could control the business cycle, recessions would never occur, there would always be “full employment” and inflation would remain forever tame. Instead of judging prospective presidents on what they can’t do, voters ought to concentrate on what they can do. There are plenty of real differences among the remaining candidates. But Carville is probably right. For many, it will be the economy, and it will be stupid.

The President’s power to influence the economy, for good or for ill, is overrated. The Federal Reserve Chairman has much more influence, as noted in the article. Other issues, beyond the economy, should take precedence when deciding how to vote for President.