Where Does the Mob Go Next?

I was the only guy on that stage who said [the economy] may be doing great if you're at the top. But ... if you pay attention to the people who are the single moms and the working people who barely get from paycheck to paycheck, you'd find out months in advance that this economy was headed for a downward turn. And that's what I think people need in the president, is somebody who understands the totality of the American family and not just the folks at the top…

Former Gov. Michael Huckabee responding to a question about the state of the economy

Huckabee on stimulating the economy:

Mike Huckabee, his above response notwithstanding, has never really earned a reputation as an economic oracle, but his sensitivity to struggling breadwinners and anxious wage earners throughout America has struck a nerve with voters. Huckabee made another direct appeal last night in California -- "I think what Americans are looking for is somebody to just honest with them and straight with them and tell them that, no, it's not better and it's not going to get better unless we have some serious leadership in Washington that says that we're going to have to start having policies that touch the people not just at the top, but the people at the bottom. And they feel like they're invisible to a lot of people in government today."

While economic populism is not the stuff of orthodox Republican conservatism, Huckabee's message landed him in the top tier of candidates for the GOP nomination, much to the consternation of mainstream conservatives. Huckabee is fading fast, but it has not stopped leading conservative voices from warning such positions would destroy the movement. Many have scrambled to describe how the Reagan coalition can address such concerns and remain united into the future.

The key shortcoming in such an effort is assuming that Huckabee’s constituency, the socially conservative and pro-defense, but economically populist, supporters of the party -- the Reagan Democrats – are an organic component of the coalition established by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. As characterized by this author previously, Huckabee and Reagan Democrats represent both the triumph and tragedy of the Reagan Revolution. They delivered historic majorities to Ronald Reagan, but they were fellow travelers to the conservative revolution whose core beliefs were at cross-purposes with tenets of the conservative philosophy.

Discerning who they are and what motivates them provides an insight on how conservatism should proceed and what opportunities there are.

Reagan Democrats are in fact the modern heirs of Andrew Jackson and the defiantly populist tradition of the American commoner he represented.

First, a little history. Prior to Jackson’s election in 1828, American government and political discourse was
the domain of the nation’s elites. In the newly born American Republic, the common laborer could only focus on daily survival while the matters of state were left to the propertied classes. Jackson's election, titled the “Revolution of 1828 ” was derided as a a triumph for the "mob," but it did herald the triumph of the common man and a new departure in American politics. Future contests and administrations could increasingly appeal to popular concerns and seek their mandates from the entire American body politic, not just the elites.

President Jackson did not proceed on the basis of ideological liberal or conservative arguments, but in concert with the fundamental preoccupations of his constituency -- their livelihoods, their identity, and their pride in America. Jackson abolished the Bank of the United States, a symbol of plutocracy. Jackson waged continuous war against the Indians, seeing continental expansion simply part of Americans' manifest destiny. Slavery was inherently divisive, but Jackson steadfastly stood by the preservation of the Union.

Identifying livelihood, identity, and pride in America is not a breakthrough insight, because nearly all American political movements have claimed them as their motivation. However, observers can readily acknowledge the two major parties' platforms have evolved over time while other movements have been short-lived.

Conversely, the Jacksonian constituency has been enduring, recurring throughout American political history in many guises. Coming after the first great ideological split in American poltiics (Hamilton vs. Jefferson), but before the rise of the two party system, this constituency were attracted to Andrew Jackson's defense of their priorities and never really became attached to either of the two major parties. The Jacksonian mob arises amidst periods of great (usually economic) turbulence. Jacksonians raise their voice and demand action until a movement or leader emerges to address their concerns. In this sense, this constituency trusts outsiders and insurgencies, not the mainstream parties.

For the Jacksonian mob, democracy is a transaction - if you're trustworthy, we'll give you a mandate. In between elections, we need to work to make ends meet so leave us alone until we have to meet again. And if you don't deliver, you can be sure we take our trust and votes elsewhere.

In the period between Andrew Jackson and Franklin Roosevelt, this dynamic occurred over and over. In post-Civil War America, rapid industrialization and the rise of the robber barons spurred tremendous anxiety on the part of agrarian and urban laborers. The period witnessed great clashes over labor rights, the tariff, and monetary policy. The Jacksonian mob turned first to the People's Party and then the Democratic Party under the radically pro-silver candidacy of William Jennings Bryan from Nebraska. Bryan's challenge was valiant but insufficient. The Republican victory in 1896 marked the end of populism in America, but it laid the seeds for re-emergence in the Progressive movement sixteen years later. In the 1912 election, President William Taft, the candidate of the status quo, lost decisively to Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt, two men devoted to reforming an America still in the adolescence of economic change.

When the stock market crashed in October 1929 and President Herbert Hoover failed to address the economic catastrophe, a Jacksonian rebellion was redundant because virtually all Americans were preoccupied with their livelihood. The Democrats led by FDR turned out the Republicans and captured the government for the next twenty years. Under FDR’s New Deal, the full energy of the federal government was directly committed to addressing the economic well-being of the country. As such, the Jacksonian constituency became a longstanding pillar of the Democratic coalition, repeatedly voting for New Deal Democrats right through the 1960s.

Between 1964 and 1980, the Democratic coalition flew apart and its hegemony over American politics ended. A long and vicious debate between Republicans and Democrats over the role of government, the economy, crime, civil rights, and national security resulted in a very fluid political environment whereby the Jacksonian constituency would continually seek a standard bearer and platform they could support.

In 1964, the first rumblings of new Jacksonian discontent emerged with the burgeoning conservative movement under Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater. Jacksonians were receptive to his opposition to civil rights and calls for a more vigorous fight against global communism. Goldwater was trounced in the 1964 election, but the unprecedented turbulence of the late 1960s only aggravated the growing anxiousness of Jacksonians. After the Republican Party forsook Goldwaterism in the 1968 election and the Democrats coming apart at the seems, the Jacksonian mob turned to Alabama Democrat turned independent George Wallace. Railing against civil rights, the counterculture, and the paralysis in the country, Wallace famously declared there wasn't a "dime's worth of difference" between the two parties and the Jacksonian mob angrily agreed.

Wallace lost in 1968 and was then unable to run again in 1972 having been wounded in an assassination attempt. With the Democrats nominating a hopelessly out of the mainstream George McGovern, Jacksonians turned en masse to the champion of the "silent majority," Republican Richard Nixon, handing him one of the largest re-election victories in U.S. history.

In 1976, Jimmy Carter won narrowly as an "outsider" but his presidency was an unqualified disaster. The nation was ravaged by stagflation, endured growing apprehension over a permissive popular culture, and was humiliated by the spectacle of American hostages held by radical Iranians for over a year. Jacksonians in search of a savior readily turned to Reagan's message of economic renewal, traditional values, and optimistic patriotism in 1980.

Reagan's victories in 1980 and 1984 were turning points in modern American politics. Key to his massive re-election were the votes of the Jacksonian mob -- "Reagan Democrats" -- southern whites and northern blue collar ethnics wholly turned off by Democratic economic, cultural, and national security policies. In Reagan, the Jacksonian constituency end its search for a standard bearer. Soundly detached from the Democratic Party presidential coalition, their switch signified the legitimacy of Reagan conservatism.

Reagan Democrats became a sought after prize in subsequent presidential elections. Republicans aimed to retain their affection while Democrats debated how to regain their trust. However, as the label emphasizes, Reagan Democrats were still Democrats. They continued to elect liberal Democrats to Congress in stark contrast to their votes for conservative Republicans to the presidency. True to their heritage, the Jacksonian mob did not become a permanent component of the Republican conservative coalition and their independent status has continued to upend American politics.

Within four years of his leaving office, Jacksonians revolted against the Republican Party, joining Patrick Buchanan's insurgency against Reagan's successor. When Buchanan failed, they flocked to third party candidate, Ross Perot.

How did a hard-right Beltway commentator and a folksy Texas billionaire rouse millions of average Americans to their quixotic causes? Because Buchanan's and Perot's message protesting international free trade agreements, tax increases, and gargantuan deficits, resonated with traditional Jacksonian anxieties about their livelihood, identity, and patriotism. As always, the Jacksonian mob sought a standard bearer they can trust; when they were abandoned by Bush, they flocked to Perot and Democrat Bill Clinton.

Clinton promised to be a "New Democrat" but once in office he reverted to the old Democratic orthodoxy of big government and identity politics. In the very next election, voters delivered Republicans their first congressional majority in forty years. For the remainder of the decade, the political arena stabilized into a delicate balance where both party commanded just under a majority of the voters as well as opposing branches of the government. The arrangement, while increasingly partisan, produced results in the only area where both parties could compromise -- balanced budgets and lower taxes.

While liberals and conservatives clashed mightily on other fronts, the Jacksonian constituency retreated, content with the coinciding economic prosperity. Bush should have lost in 2000, but the Electoral College (and the Supreme Court) saved his bid for the presidency. In 2004, his bold leadership after 9/11 saved him, but barely - Bush received over 12 million more votes than his first bid, but he still only won by two percentage points.

Now, the Bush presidency is ending, limping across the finish line. Mismanagement of the war in Iraq, the failures during Katrina, and the collapse of the housing bubble has stoked tremendous angst in the electorate. The mantra of change has upended the presidential race in both parties as both Barack Obama and Huckabee defeated their parties' frontrunners in Iowa.

While Huckabee's viability is dwindling, his success in highlighting the economic anxiety of Republican voters should not be easily dismissed as mere populism. His candidacy is the canary in the coal mine for conservatism's electoral viability. The Jacksonian mob's affection for Republican conservatism is evident, but should not be taken for granted.

Amazingly, it has taken Obama's recollection of Reagan's success to remind us how the Reagan Democrats will continue standing with conservatives. Obama asserts Reagan convinced the middle and lower classes to vote against their economic interests because of cultural divisive appeals. This, however, is incorrect because of the priorities identified above. Reagan convinced the middle and lower classes to vote for their cultural values and patriotism and against a liberalism that practiced identity politics, accommodation of the Soviets, and promised a tax increase. (How raising taxes is in anyone's economic interest Obama hasn't explained yet.)

Huckabee signals that Jacksonians want to remain in the Republican Party. Obama reminds us their core beliefs need not be at cross-purposes with conservatism as it evolves. Fortunately as Michael Dougherty has pointed out in a recent American Conservative cover article, conservative thinkers are increasingly recognizing the need to focus on rising middle-class anxiety.

Consider the following examples of how conservative positions could be crafted to appeal to the Jacksonian constituency.

1) Livelihood -- Jacksonian anxieties should be re-packaging conservative calls for tax reform and mechanisms to overcome the turbulence of a globalizing economy. Instead of resurrecting tax cuts, conservatives should identify a flatter and more transparent tax structure as a matter of fairness. Once the tax structure is flatter, voters will clearly recognize the benefit of announced tax rate reductions, instead of cuts geared to certain income levels. Once the tax structure is more transparent and cleared of alternative minimums, exemptions, credits, and loopholes, voters will have greater faith the playing field is just and demands the same sacrifice of all.

Instead of advertising free trade as a principle, conservatives must be ready to support lesser skilled workers as they make the transition. Aiding the establishment of wage insurance mechanisms (via the private sector) and strengthening trade adjustment assistance will signal to voters that conservatives are support global trade as an opportunity for workers not a way for faceless corporations to abandon their years of hard work.

2) Identity -- Immigration apologists claim Americans won't take the jobs illegal immigrants take or hint darkly the opposition is simply borne of nativist scapegoating. To the Jacksonians, this is only further proof the elites are ignoring a direct challenge to their identity. As the children of immigrants either persecuted for their bloodlines or religion, they readily recognize newly arriving peoples, such as their forefathers, will have to take whatever jobs are available and overcome that first rejection borne of unfamiliarity. Moreover, Jacksonians recall the tremendous effort undertaken by their forefathers to become Americans - to become assimilated, to earn and proudly practice the civic rights American citizens are lucky to enjoy, and prosper spiritually as well as financially.

In the present day, illegal immigrants hover in the shadows, cling to their own safe ethnically separated communities and embrace only the consumer culture. And if illegal immigrants do participate in the civic debate, it is to protest with flags from their home countries and demand rights and privileges. Even worse, Jacksonians observe the nation's oldest political party appease their demands with calls for their amnesty and a refusal to consider making English the official language.

Conservatives must stand by the consensus of all Americans to secure the border. Moreover, conservatives should continue the fight against liberal identity politics and the manner in which multiculturalism and multilingualism creates a cleft country. Jacksonians know all Americans are the descendants of immigrants; what they resent are immigrants illegally entering this country to merely flourish as residents and not become full-fledged Americans.

3) Pride in America -- Jacksonians needed no academic sophistry or esoteric dissections of Middle East affairs to recognize the mortal challenge Islamist extremists presented on September 11th. The Jacksonian contingent in this country, especially its Southern component, heeded the call as they always did in America's wars and manned the force. Their husbands, wives, sons, and daughters all proudly serve in the military -- only to be told you go to war with less men than need and with the army you have, not the one you have. They braved the enemy and took fire - only to return home to scandalously decrepit facilities and neglect.

Conservatives given the reins to the US military need to resist the temptation of sexy but monstrously expensive and irrelevant weapons programs and the lure of exotic new theories of warfare that reduces fighting to a targeting exercise instead of the strategic undertaking history teaches it has always been. When half a trillion dollars cannot meet the needs of our citizen soldiers in the existential fight of their generation, conservatives need to vigorously re-evaluate their priorities and apply their purported expertise to strengthening the US military basis of its people not its platforms. The trust awarded to conservatives on national security needs to be reciprocated with pledges to support the warfighter to the fullest extent possible.

Some may assert the above closely resembles the idea of "Sam's Club Republicanism," a variant of Bush's big-government conservatism packaged as a way to out-maneuver the Democrats for the affections of the Jacksonian constituency. The difference lies in where conservatives should take a stand. Sam's Club Republicans urge conservatism to compromise its faith in the market by supporting the re-importation of prescription drugs from Canada and Mexico, increased government subsidies for alternative energy, and mandatory health insurance coverage -- proposals presented by Democrats. Liberals will always outbid conservatives in developing government programs and giveaways when appealing for votes so why should conservatives consider this approach. The above suggestions speak to conservative principles on lower taxes, border integrity, and military strength, not bigger government.

Jacksonians are anxious not because they've witnessed a dearth of government action, but a lack of principled and effective government. When gas prices soared, the work ethic was held up in contempt, and wild-eyed radicals held their fellow citizens hostage, the government acted -- it rationed gasoline, permitted inflation to undermine a lifetime of savings, and stood idly by for months until launching an ill-fated rescue attempt that failed tragically in the desert. Reaganite conservatism addressed those anxieties, righted the ship of state, and gained the loyalty of the Jacksonian mob for a generation. Conservatism can do so once again.

Rumblings on the Liberal Plantation

Last February, in a tremendously funny, but unfortunately very prescient, comedy bit on the Daily Show, John Stewart and Larry Wilmore, the show’s “senior black correspondent” dissects the challenge Senator Barack Obama will have in navigating the tricky racial terrain of American voting. First, Wilmore brilliantly exposes the lunacy that is identity politics in the liberal universe by discussing how the African-American community cannot support Obama because he is not “black” because he is (with a straight face) part Kenyan. Then, Wilmore cautions Obama to play down his appeal to black voters otherwise white voters will be turned off – because in the overall scheme of things:

the last thing a black candidate wants to be seen as is the black candidate… for every three black votes you get, you scare away five white votes… do the math, black support is only worth three-fifths of white support…”

Observing the last few weeks of the increasingly bitter Clinton-Obama face-off and you begin to wonder if the Clinton strategy is pulled right from this bit. Margaret Carlson first detected the stratagem in a Jan. 17 article, noting the subtle but repeated reference to Obama’s teenage drug use by Clinton surrogates, followed by the rhetorical back and forth over MLK and LBJ, amounted to an underhanded pulling of the race card. Carlson wrote, “Once the race card is on the table, no matter who puts it there, it's impossible to put it back up anyone's sleeve. … For Clinton's campaign, it was Mission Accomplished, intentional or not. Obama was now the black candidate. … Obama may look back on the first two weeks of 2008 as the time when he lost the nomination to Clinton.”

Written just before the Nevada caucuses, Carlson provided the first half of the story. After the Nevada vote, Lisa Schiffren at the National Review added “Why would Hillary think [employing racial stereotypes] is smart politics? Because it works. … There are 35 million black Americans — and 150 million American women, about a third of whom are reliable Democrats. You do the math.” Similarly, Pat Buchanan noted the rewards of the strategy by reviewing the basis of Clinton’s win in Nevada – Obama lost the Hispanic vote and, “equally ominous,” he lost both the white vote and the women's vote by a three-to-two margin. Obama’s large majorities in the African-American vote amounted to little. With their large Hispanic populations looming in the upcoming Feb. 5 Tsunami Tuesday primaries, Buchanan argued Clinton can safely lose African-American heavy South Carolina only to capture delegate-rich Florida, California, New York and New Jersey and then sew up the nomination. Former Clinton advisor Dick Morris even predicted Hillary Clinton will retain the African-American vote in the fall because “blacks will even likely feel guilty about rejecting Hillary [after she went hat in hand to them trying to out-civil rights Obama] and will be more than willing to support her in the general election.”

For all the self-righteousness liberals exhibit when decrying the alleged Republican “southern strategy” of “coded” appeals to racism, they have proven far more astute practitioners of this gambit than anyone could have ever conceived.

For all intents and purposes, the Democratic derby is essentially over unless Clinton errs tragically or Obama lands a devastating counter-punch. Mickey Kaus writes Obama can “escape his electoral ghetto,” by re-establishing his trans-racial appeal, by declaring his intent to transform affirmative action into a class-based system of preference. Obama has indicated as much; endorsing school choice and vouchers is another. Obama demonstrated toughness during the Jan. 21 debate in South Carolina and did not seek status as an aggrieved victim as Bill and Hillary Clinton are so inclined to do, but if he cannot overcome their street fighter tactics, his candidacy is finished.

There are a number of considerations should Clinton defeat Obama on the basis of such ruthless maneuvering.

First, watch for Clinton to begin aggressively assembling the coalition Buchanan had discussed – whites, especially women, and Hispanics. Obama has succeeded in some outreach, but there is little time to overcome the damage done. Steven Malanga, senior editor at the City Journal, posted an exceptional article with insights into the growing discord between the African-American and Hispanic immigrant communities. Malanga notes expectations were initially high for a black-brown "rainbow coalition," but the indulgence of black elites of liberal allies on open immigration has caused resentment throughout the community. But the African-American community must be cautious - if the Clintons have demonstrated anything, it is that friends are expendable. Ask Lani Guanier. In a cruel twist of identity politics and the long-time marriage between the Democratic Party and the African-American community, Hillary and Bill Clinton seem prepared to supplant one minority for another in their quest for the presidency. Once Clinton’s state-by-state primary victory margins begin mirroring the national poll averages prior to Iowa, Clinton will then begin making conciliatory gestures to Obama and healing the bruises from this fight.

Second, Hispanic voters are a key swing voting bloc now and for all the conservative wailing and gnashing over McCain, he is the Republican candidate with a liberal record on immigration, and thus, he could be conceivably be competitive for the Hispanic vote if he is the nominee. Alternatively, McCain or another candidate could press proposals to counter illegal immigration as a means of peeling the black vote away from the Democrats. If liberal and African-American elites persist in pressing for open immigration policies or even amnesty, they encounter a serious risk of alienating a black community increasingly dissatisfied with the societal and economic dislocation presented by illegal immigrants. Moreover, conservatives could pointedly argue how liberal immigration policies are unjust and are fundamentally an affront to their struggle for equality. Imagine the potency of exposing how liberals are eager to extend benefits and rights to illegals immigrants only recently arrived at the expense of Americans who were denied their constitutional rights for over a century. The conservative movement, and the Republican Party by extension, has to decide on an immigration policy soon if it is to counter the Clinton strategy and remain competitive for the growing Latino vote, because at the end of the day, whatever stands on curtailing illegal immigration conservatives take will be depicted by liberal Democrats as nativist.

Third, is Morris correct? Will the African-American community stay in the Democratic fold after such a horrendous betrayal? It’s hard to tell. After all, where else can the liberally inclined African-American community go? The Republican Party has labored for decades to garner just 20 percent of the African-American vote to no avail. But after the 2000 election and Hurricane Katrina, it is very unlikely the African-American vote will go Republican for a long time. Furthermore, successful African-American politicians and their machines are closely integrated with the Democratic Party and an independent venture would be stillborn.

Beyond 2008, a more fundamental and longer-term transformation may have to occur and a betrayal by the community’s allegedly most erstwhile allies – indeed, its “first” black president – may be just the catalyst.

In White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era, Shelby Steele, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, recounts how the African-American bid for equality ultimately foundered because a key to successfully constructing a black identity and consciousness entailed a condemnation of white American society and all of its values – including adherence to societal norms, family cohesiveness, and the work ethic – as racist mechanisms for restraining the black man. Steele notes this condemnation may not have succeeded if it had not been for white liberals contending they had been guilty participants in this construct. In doing so, liberals enabled the “victim” posture assumed by African-Americans to be the basis for their claims on preferential privileges in a newly integrated society, while at the same excusing African-Americans of culpability in their own regression. Instead of condemning a black fathers’ abandonment of their families, white liberals set up a generous welfare state. Instead of holding African-Americans to equivalent standards in education, African-Americans are pressured from achieving scholastically for fear of being identified as “acting white.” Black empowerment was illusory because white guilt indulged segregation and pathology by refusing to “blame the victim.” As deviance was defined downward, the African-American community was further handicapped and segregated and dependent on their liberal allies and the practice of identify politics.

But identity politics has not produced the gorgeous mosaic espoused by some, but the balkanization and cleavages predicted by many. Liberal good intentions and guilt has evolved into liberal Machiavellian machinations and cynicism. Worse, it has left the black population impoverished with little to show for it except a small quota of representation and community mores at odds with achievement. If the African-American can recognize the liberal mindset of identity politics for the philosophical and political plantation it is, they can then herald a new era of political empowerment, national integration, and ascendancy based on individual achievement and meritocracy.

A Very Brady Conservative

The unlikeliest heir to the Reagan Revolution has just assumed the governorship in Louisiana. Piyush Jindal (he adopted the name Bobby after watching “The Brady Bunch” as a child) was inaugurated on January 14 to wide acclaim in the Bayou State. In the aftermath of Katrina, Louisianans have opened their hearts to Jindal, vesting in him their hopes for recovery and their best bet for a miracle. However, the nation has been captivated by a raucous primary season and barely noticed this momentous event. While his election has been cast an expected repudiation of fumbling ex. Governor Kathleen Blanco and the corruption entrenched in Baton Rouge, Jindal’s turn as an elected executive official with a principled Reaganite conservative agenda offers a glimmer of hope amidst a season of conservative wailing and gnashing.

As the conservative movement endures its first election cycle without a clear leader, pretenders to the Reagan mantle rise and fall with alarming speed. Mike Huckabee shocks the nation with a victory in Iowa thanks to the evangelical vote, only to lose to a resurgent John McCain bringing his own surge to the campaign, who then yields to Mitt Romney, unable to match his economic message and business bona fides. The limits of one candidate’s appeal to one faction of the movement is readily evident, especially in light of the sometimes vitriolic disdain the other factions will voice in response. Huckabee is denounced as a closet liberal, McCain a neocon maverick, and Romney a Clintonesque chameleon. Even worse, a rising Democratic Party is proceeding with an orderly (for them) nomination of historic proportions – for the first time a woman or African American will lead a major national ticket (who knows, maybe on the same ticket).

For all the dread in anticipation of liberal ascendancy, a sojourn in the political wilderness will serve the movement well. To recall, it was sixteen years after Barry Goldwater’s catastrophic run before Ronald Reagan led the conservative crusade to victory and then another twelve years before conservatives solidly captured Congress. To succeed, we must suffer. Conservative verities of limited government and traditional values united in defense of the American constitutional creed at home and its continued advance around the globe are enduring. Our failing is not a dearth of principles, but a dearth of leaders.

While Jindal’s arrival does not mean a pretender to the Reagan throne will win the White House in 2008, it does confirm conservatism’s vitality going into the future.

Jindal stands proudly on Reaganite conservatism, having announced an attractive agenda of fiscal discipline, pro-growth policies, and limited government for a state long accustomed to the opposite. A convert to Christianity from Hinduism since his childhood, he invoked the Almighty at the opening of his inaugural address. Jindal is a steadfast and thoughtful opponent of abortion. He is a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment. And for those who worry the Bush Administration’s foundering in Iraq has soured the next generation of conservatives on a moralistic worldview and the importance of a pro-democratic foreign policy, recall his leading the GOP freshman class in enthusiastically raising purple inked fingers at the 2006 State of the Union in solidarity with Iraqi voters in the December 2005 elections. Finally, as the current crop of candidates for the Republican nomination have wrestled with the nettlesome issue of immigration, conservatives can remind themselves Jindal, as the son of Punjabi immigrants, is living proof of this nation’s ability to transform newcomers from around the world into successful American citizens – on the basis of merit and not grievances.

In defiance of commentators asserting the Democratic candidates have an edge on history making this year, we can point to Jindal’s own astonishing superlatives – a former Rhodes scholar and the youngest governor in the country. And his youngish thirty-seven years belies a formidable resume of accomplishments easily exceeding that of Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.

Clinton and Obama have proposed extensive health care reform plans – Jindal was the principal adviser to the secretary of health and human services at age 30 after having served as the executive director of the Medicare reform commission. Prior to that, Jindal (at age 24!) was Louisiana’s secretary of health and hospitals, an agency then representing about 40 percent of the state's budget. During his tenure, Louisiana's Medicaid program went from bankruptcy with a $400 million deficit into three years of surpluses totaling $220 million. Should he succeed with reform in backwards Louisiana, Jindal may finally present a true conservative contrast to the calls for socialized medicine perennially emanating from the liberal establishment.

More importantly, Jindal represents a stark contrast to the despicable accusations of liberals who have contended Republican conservatism captured southern voters affection through coded appeals to racism and a cynical “southern strategy.” As the first non-white governor in Louisiana since Reconstruction and the first Indian-American governor in the nation’s history, Jindal signals the emptiness of this charge and the hypocrisy of identity politics.

Jindal, of course, is not perfect. He lost his first bid for the governorship in 2003, losing narrowly to Blanco. However, like Reagan in 1976, the pause in his rise was critical. Just as America had to endure the fiasco of what was the Carter presidency, Louisiana had to witness Blanco’s ineptitude during Hurricane Katrina in order to truly appreciate what could have been possible if the previous election outcome had been different. In the aftermath of disastrous relief efforts and inexplicable fraud, Louisiana voters delivered the governorship to Jindal by a solid majority to avoid a runoff.

How did Jindal respond did the voters’ mandate? Within hours of taking the oath, he issued four executive orders and convened a Cabinet meeting. In February, he will call a special legislative session to pass ethics reform. In contrast to the empty and stale protestations of change in this campaign, Jindal is implementing it in vigorous fashion.

Bobby Jindal will be a leader to watch.

Huckabee: Triumph and Tragedy of the Reagan Revolution

Former Governor Mike Huckabee has described himself as a “paradoxical conservative,” quipping he’s conservative “just not angry about it.” Whether a clever branding formulation or a posture rooted in rigorous self-examination, the paradox he declares himself to be is indeed a major challenge for the conservative coalition forged by President Ronald Reagan. While each Republican candidate has presented himself as the heir to Reagan, Huckabee’s claim is the most problematic as he stands alone as both the triumph and tragedy of the Reagan Revolution.

Lost in the astonishment over the rise of an evangelical with an economic populist message and pointed critiques of the Bush Administration is that Huckabee is, in truth, not a Reagan conservative but a Reagan Democrat. When Senator Barry Goldwater launched the conservative movement in 1964 against Rockefeller Republicanism in 1964, the voters drawn to Huckabee now were those originally delivering ample majorities to President Johnson and his promise of a Great Society. When those voters felt betrayed by President Johnson’s civil rights agenda, his failures in the Vietnam War, and his inability to confront the counterculture, they turned not to Republican conservatives, but to independent George Wallace at their next opportunity in 1968. His vehemence on behalf of the working man and lower middle classes matched their frustration. They would pull the lever for Nixon in 1972 but with Reagan’s failed nomination in 1976, these voters were left without an alternative until 1980 and 1984. In those elections, the Reagan Democrats added to his first margin of victory and then the re-election landslide. However, the potency of the conservative movement’s success in the executive branch was undercut by the persistence of liberal Democratic majorities in the Congress. True, Republican conservatives felled a number of liberal giants in 1980, but they surrendered control in 1986, a year of tremendous popularity and success for Reagan.

Why? Again the reason lies with the Reagan Democrats.

The ideological composition of Reagan Democrats entails strength on national security and foreign affairs, traditional stands on cultural issues, and economic populism on the part of the government. Since the presidency is the foremost branch on matters of international affairs, Reagan Democrats naturally gravitated to the decisive anti-communism voiced by Reagan. Since Congress controls the power of the purse and liberal Democrats practice Santa Claus economics, Reagan Democrats voting for liberal Democrats to the Congress. When the Cold War ended, the Republican edge on national security disappeared. Moreover, when a nasty recession hit in 1991, the Reagan Democrats rebelled, enthusiastically supporting Patrick Buchanan’s “peasants with pitchforks” campaign against incumbent George H.W. Bush in 1992. Some Reagan Democrats remained in the party, but the rest were drawn to Perot’s independent candidacy and Bill Clinton’s promise of middle class tax cut in 1992. However, when President Clinton reneged by raising taxes in 1993) and allowed First Lady Hillary Clinton to propose a takeover of one-seventh of the economy in 1994, Reagan Democrats flocked back to the Republican Party, well remembering the party’s steadfastness in support of tax cuts. With Congress now a bulwark for deficit reduction and lower taxes, a durable Republican majority in the Congress soon followed. In no small coincidence, the newfound affection for Republican conservatism was mirrored at the state and local level, where stalwart conservatives won a majority of governorships and the two former bastions of liberalism – New York and Los Angeles.

In this milieu, Huckabee was emblematic of the Reagan Revolution’s triumph – a successful Republican governor in a Southern state long run by liberal Democrats.

To the immense frustration of conservatives, President Clinton won re-election and this arrangement of a majority voting in a Democratic president and a Republican Congress persisted through the 1996 and 2000 election cycles. (Yes, Bush was elected, but he did lose the popular vote and without September 11, it remains unknown whether Bush would have been such a formidable candidate in 2004.) Bush 43’s conservatism has been closer to Reagan than his father, but his easy inclination to augment the government’s reach as well a horrendous record on spending has spurred well-deserved criticism as to the authenticity of his conservative credentials. Bush recaptured wayward Reagan Democrats for the Republican Party, albeit marginally, in 2004 and earned the largest popular majority since Reagan in 1984. By 2006 however, the enormous difficulties encountered in Iraq and the contemptible corruption in evidence among congressional Republicans led to the party’s downfall in midterm elections and predictions of defeat in the upcoming 2008 presidential election. Worse, the volume of predictions regarding the demise of Reagan conservatism has risen, alleging not only are the current crop of movement’s leader out of touch, but its supporters as well.

Enter Mike Huckabee. While the conservative brand has been marred by the course of events abroad, fiscal mismanagement, and the immigration reform fiasco, Reagan Democrats want to remain in the Republican Party because while their economic anxieties leave them amenable to Democratic appeals, liberal political correctness and a negotiations first approach to the war on terrorism is anathema to them. With Reagan’s natural heir, Fred Thompson, channeling Calvin Coolidge on the campaign trail and all the other candidates either flawed or unresponsive to Reagan Democrats’ economic and social anxieties regarding globalization and runaway immigration, Huckabee earned their trust with piety worn on his sleeve and a message of solidarity in their struggle to get ahead economically. The Club for Growth was denounced as the Club for Greed, Mitt Romney was castigated as the “guy likely to lay you off,” and a remarkably harsh immigration plan has been proposed – in stark contrast to his record as governor. Despite a Foreign Affairs essay not worthy of a college Intro to American Foreign Policy class and a dubious record on taxes, Huckabee became a first tier candidate and shocked everyone with a solid win in the Iowa caucuses. Now he is the frontrunner and is being heralded, in combination with Democratic phenomenon Barack Obama, as a harbinger of “change” in contemporary politics.

And as such, Huckabee embodies the tragedy of the Reagan Revolution.

Instead of a small government enthusiast with conservative cultural views and a readiness to tackle the most pressing existential challenge since international fascism, the movement is successfully being contested by one of its step-children -- one unabashedly religious, skeptical of the free market, and clearly unprepared to lead the United States on the world stage. In a single election, a Huckabee candidacy would gravely weaken a conservative coalition painstakingly built over decades. If he lost, the recriminations over the outcome and what it meant for the conservative movement would be incapacitating. If he won, against all odds, the founding libertarian and traditionalist wings of the movement would be marginalized to a degree not experienced since the days of the New Deal.

An arduous walk in the wilderness while contemplating core principles would serve the conservative movement well, more so than a convenient ride hitched to a folksy preacher and his pithy put-downs of esteemed allies.

In 346,000 Iowans We (Have To) Trust

On the evening of January 3rd, 2008 presidential voting finally began and the results are indeed remarkable. On the Democratic side, an inspiring young senator has defeated his party's presumptive frontrunner, and on the Republican side, an affable ex-governor of Arkansas has delivered an emphatic setback to a well-funded establishment candidate. Such dramatic narratives are the great joy of political observers and this most recent race has certainly provided. However, the fact remains that only 346,000 of our fellow Americans have voted, or for the most part, caucused under arcane rules precluding onetime secret ballots, in a midwestern state featuring a population unrepresentative of the country and trending Democratic in recent presidential, congressional, and gubernatorial elections. In the space of one evening, the race's results have led one political commentator to exclaim the occurrence of not one but two political earthquakes and confirmation of one veteran campaign manager's assertion the vaunted Reagan conservative coalition has been smashed.

Such hyperbole can be expected in the aftermath of a contest much anticipated -- especially after a campaign enjoined nearly 14 months ago.

Yes, after a seemingly interminable fourteen months ago and negative attacks citing one candidate's kindergarten scribblings and the subliminal content of another candidate's Christmas commercial, the votes of 346,000 Iowans have spurred predictions heralding a new departure in American politics.

For all the valid criticisms leveled at the current state of the American presidential nomination process -- the unrepresentativeness of the first caucus and primary states, the ridiculously early and compressed schedule -- the entire cadre of practitioners, commentators, and reporters are conveniently setting them aside and examining and spinning the latest results as fantasy football fanatics would after the first round of playoffs.

The year 2008 will culminate in the election of a president who must confront the challenges of global terrorism, economic change, and the content of the American character and we continue to read the tea leaves of a process initiated and dominated less than 1 percent of the population.

The primary process should not remain static simply because underdog nominees defied expectations in early states and provided the media with a great story but did not herald the eventual nominee (McCarthy in 1968, Bush in 1980, Dole and Robertson in 1988, Tsongas in 1992, Buchanan in 1996, McCain in 2000). While early states have on occasion served up the eventual victor (Carter in 1976, Bush in 2000), certainly there has been buyer's remorse in regard to those decisions and certainly resentment of the weighted role played by the early states. While numerous reform proposals have been conceived - graduated, rotating regional, and nationwide systems -- but rejected, perhaps the following alternative should be considered.

To accommodate complaints about the size of the population, representativeness, and regionalism as well as the need to ensure dynamism from cycle to cycle, the primary schedule should follow the results of the preceding election according to the narrowest margins of victory. For example, in 1996 the margin of victory was narrowest in Kentucky, then Nevada, and then Georgia. As such, in 2000, the primary schedule would have featured Kentucky first then followed by Nevada and Georgia. Similarly, in 2000, as everyone well remembers, the narrowest margin occurred in Florida (and then New Mexico followed by Wisconsin). Again, the next primary schedule would have been Florida first, then New Mexico, then Wisconsin. Since Iowa provided the fourth narrowest margin, it would have remained an early state, but no longer the sole focus of the primary season. Finally, if 2004's results had dictated the schedule, Wisconsin, Iowa, New Mexico, New Hampshire, and Ohio would have been the first five states. Again, as well remembered, Ohio was the decisive battleground in 2004 and its inclusion early in 2008 cycle would have been a welcome departure from the routine focus on Iowa and New Hampshire.

A primary season where the contests are scheduled in states with the preceding election's 10 narrowest margins, staggered every 2 weeks (see below table) backwards from Labor Day, would restore a semblance of sanity to election cycles where candidates and the media have injected themselves into the holiday season and focus on the vagaries and idiosyncrasies of states with clearly unrepresentative populations. Moreover, this proposal would add dynamism to the process and could have presented interesting alternative scenarios, at least beginning in 2004. Would Al Gore have decided to run if the first primary had been in Florida, a state that would have been a layup for him? Would Howard Dean have rocketed to frontrunner status if he delivered his antiwar message to Florida first? In 2008, the wide open dynamic in the GOP race beginning in Wisconsin could have been less impacted by the strong evangelical vote as evident in Iowa. Similarly, perhaps the strongly liberal tradition of voters in Wisconsin would have dismissed Edwards's class warfare rhetoric and made Obama's victory more clearcut.

1996 Results -->
2000 Primary Schedule
2000 Results -->
2004 Primary Schedule
2004 Results -->
2008 Primary Schedule
New Mexico
New Mexico
New Hampshire
New Hampshire
South Dakota
North Carolina

America won't know this time but hopefully primary reform can be achieved -- after 14 months and just one vote, the race is rapidly being decided and the candidates will essentially be selected in the next six weeks and then another 10 more months of the campaign will remain.