Politics & Policy

The Republican Party & The Conservative Movement

On losing.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ronald Reagan wrote this piece for the December 1, 1964, issue of National Review, where it first appeared.

By now a new cliché has been added to the time-worn lit, but I know of no other way of comment on the election than to open with the by now familiar–”Well, it’s over and we lost.”

#ad#Yes, we did; we lost a battle in the continuing war for freedom, but our position is not untenable. First of all, there are 26 million of us and we can’t be explained away as diehard party faithfuls. We cross party lines in our dedication to a philosophy.

There are no plans for retreating from our present positions, but we can’t advance without reinforcements. Are reinforcements available? The answer is an unhesitating–”Yes!” They are to be found in the millions of so-called Republican defectors–those people who didn’t really want LBJ, but who were scared of what they thought we represented. Read that sentence very carefully because in my opinion it tells the story. All of the landslide majority did not vote against the conservative philosophy; they voted against a false image our Liberal opponents successfully mounted. Indeed it was a double false image. Not only did they portray us as advancing a kind of radical departure from the status quo, but they took for themselves a costume of comfortable conservatism. Read again their campaign fiction and you will find their normal flamboyant Liberalism hidden under the protective coloration of “the great society,” or as Hubert Horatio Humphrey (who can’t ask what time it is without conducting a filibuster) put it: “We don’t want a planned society–we want society planning.”

Unfortunately, human nature resists change and goes over backward to avoid radical change. It’s a head shaker, I know, but the whole Liberal apparatus which can be quoted ad infinitum on “the wave of the future, the need for new approaches to old problems, adopt new rules for complex new problems, forget the Constitution,” was able to campaign in a last-year’s model, singing, “The old songs–the old songs are good enough for me.”

Very shortly, though, they’ll bring the show into town for a four-year run, complete with a new score–words and music by Reuther, Joseph Rauh, and the “Great Society Chorale.” Time then for the music critics–that’s us. We must dwell unceasingly on the change of tune. Our job beginning now is not so much to sell conservatism as to prove that our conservatism is in truth what a lot of people thought they were voting for when they fell for the cornpone come-on.

In short–time now for the soft sell to prove our radicalism was an optical illusion. We represent the forgotten American–that simple soul who goes to work, bucks for a raise, takes out insurance, pays for his kids’ schooling, contributes to his church and charity and knows there just “ain’t no such thing as free lunch.”

I’ll add a postscript–I don’t think we should turn the high command over to leaders who were traitors during the battle just ended.

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