Conservatives Stumble Into the Future

Conservatives Stumble Into the Future

Some conservatives believe that when Ronald Reagan leaves office he will take the conservative movement with him into retirement. Kevin Phillips, author of Post-Conservative America, writes, “The tides that began launching the conservative era twenty years ago are old and beginning to ebb.” New Right activist Paul Weyrich complains that “the ‘Reagan Revolution’ turned out to be not a revolution at all, but rather a temporary bloodless coup.” But others believe that the Reagan years laid the foundation for a conservative America. A future historian, writes Irving Kristol, could define the Reagan years “as the first critical stage in the evolution of a conservative majority in American politics.”

Both sides could be right. If one looks at conservatism as a rising movement that formed in the mid-1950s, won the 1964 Republican nomination for Senator Barry Goldwater, and then the presidency for Reagan in 1980, its moment may have passed. In 1988, Republican conservatism is very much like the Democratic liberalism of the late 1940s. It has lost its political majority. Its immediate legislative agenda has been exhausted. Its older leadership
is tired. But like the liberalism of the 1940s, American conservatism has expended neither

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