Times Change, Successful Political Movements Change With Them


Noemie Emery did a pretty goofy article for the Weekly Standard, suggesting that conservatives need to emulate Ronald Reagan’s actions from 1977 to put themselves back in power. Missing from the piece is any kind of sense that Reagan’s political successes might have related to specific elements of the era that aren’t necessarily replicable at all times and places. Ed Kilgore notes:

I’d add that even Reagan’s anti-government rhetoric and domestic agenda is hardly a panacea today. In 1977 the federal government had been steadily acquiring barnacles for 35 years. The top federal income tax rate was 70%. The number of violent crimes had more than doubled in the previous ten years, as had the number of Americans on public assistance

At any rate, to state the obvious successful political movements need plausible answers to problems people care about. When marginal tax rates were extremely high, “cut marginal tax rates” fit the bill. With rates much lower, it’s not clear that it does these days. But in some ways, the crime thing is the best example. Violent crime went up a lot under the liberal regime of the mid-60s to late-70s and was a fruitful issue for the right in the 1980s. More recently, crime is down from its peak. But the murder rate in the United States is still much higher than it was back in the “good old days” and also much higher than in other developed countries. So this could, in principle, continue to be a fruitful political issue. But since it’s not really financially feasible to undertake further dramatic expansions in the prison population, conservatives seem to have just dropped the whole subject.