June 27, 2004


The Big Opportunity Ronald Reagan Missed (Otis L. Graham, 6/21/04, History News Network)

In the late 1930s, Roosevelt gave voice and policy leadership to those who concluded that fascism, with its global ambitions, required a new world role for the United States. FDR, too, had the gift of conveying optimism and confidence and used those talents to ease the way toward difficult and necessary national readjustments. A sunny temperament, like FDR's and Reagan's, must be connected to a transformative mission matched to history's new directions and demands.

Reagan, when his turn came, cheered people up with the message that all of their old habits remained sound. Endless growth and expanding affluence had been the American formula, and this was what Reagan meant by "freedom." He told Americans that the old perpetual growth-as-usual formula should still be the nation's guide and goal. We know now that this is a recipe for mounting national and global disruptions and instability.

Indeed, it was known when he took office, for two national commissions (the 1972 National Commission on Population and the American Future, and the 1980 report, Global 2000) had arrived at similar conclusions: America had to get off the old unsustainable growth path, stabilize its population, then devise, and export, sustainable energy, agricultural, waste disposal and oceanic protection systems.

Reagan's predecessor, Jimmy Carter, understood and embraced these conclusions, but he entirely lacked the skills to deliver the message and point a new way without sounding like a pessimistic disciplinarian. Reagan had the gifts to rally the nation toward a difficult transition, to stitch it into the American story as a new, exciting phase of our journey and a tomorrow better than yesterday.

He squandered this opportunity and instead led in the opposite direction, toward economic and population expansion unhindered by the sort of environmentalist concerns nurtured in his own Republican Party during and for a few years after the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1908).

Let's give Mr. Graham and FDR the benefit of the doubt and assume that there was an incipient trend towards fascism in the early '30s, despite the fact that Hoover was a liberal who pursued policies largely indistinguishable from the New Deal.

The idea though that what was needed in 1980 was population controls and an orderly decline towards oblivion is just as monstrous as facism in its own way. That this what the Left envisioned (envisions?) as our appropriate future makes Raganism seem even greater than we already recognize it to have been.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 27, 2004 4:18 PM

If there wasn't at least an incipient trend toward fascism, where did all the fascists of the later '30s come from.

In 'Burying Caesar,' Graham Stewart quotes Samuel Hoare as thinking that Churchill, in 1933 (when he was busy addressing the Anti-Socialist and Anti-Communist Society) fancied himself a British Mussolini.

As Stewart comments, there was an incipient fascist in the woodpile, but it turned out to be Hoare.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 27, 2004 7:47 PM

Churchill was British. Even he quickly realized that fascism could lead to Nazism. There was never any serious threat of fascism here--though FDR and Hoover obviously have to get some credit for the fact that we never strayed too far from the mainstream since it's so hard to determine exactly why we were unique.

Posted by: oj at June 27, 2004 7:53 PM

What Stewart fails to realize is that the pro-growth free market opportunity society that Reagan championed is exactly the right path to follow to bring down population growth rates, as well as promote ecological progress. Affluent societies have less children, and can afford to pay more attention to the environment. Africa's environment is being destroyed, not by heavy industry, but by unsustainable low tech farming and hunting.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at June 27, 2004 8:42 PM

Unsustainable? America could support 3/4 billion
people comfortably if we eased up on that
whole "National Park" thing.

Posted by: J.H. at June 28, 2004 9:00 AM

I notice that all of those in favor of population controls made certain to get born first.

Hmm. I think that's a quote, but I can't remember from where.

Posted by: Mike at June 28, 2004 3:24 PM

Some people thought Huey Long was an incipient Mussolini.

Probably the only thing that saved America from serious fascism was its size. It was hard to break out as a regional tyrant to nationwide clout.

You can also thank the bishops for silencing Coughlin, though the other side of that coin is that American Catholics were as ready to stampede for fascism as Italian Catholics.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 28, 2004 7:57 PM


Posted by: oj at June 28, 2004 8:15 PM

American catholics ... stampede for fascism..Harry, what world do you live in, I mean, does it resemble planet Earth?

Posted by: at June 29, 2004 11:33 AM