The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Fools' Pope

An interesting online-only article in TNR today talks about Reagan's storied conversion from Hollywood liberal to dyed-in-the-wool right-winger. The rest, as they say, is mythology. According to the author, he might just have been one of the earliest Kool-Aid drinkers-- and I guess that pretty much would make him the father of the modern conservative movement.

There's something else everyone knows about Reagan: In the 1950s, with his career on the skids, he took a job hosting a TV anthology program, General Electric Theater, and giving motivational speeches at G.E. factories around the country. That leads to another swing-and-a-miss theory on the great communicator's great conversion: It started when he noticed that factory workers were frustrated by out-of-control taxes and runaway government.

It's a theory to flatter a favorite conservative prejudice--that other things being equal, middle Americans naturally agree with them. The scenario is at least half-true. G.E. workers were concerned with out-of-control taxes and runaway government. But there was nothing natural about it. It was the product of one of the most remarkable p.r. campaigns in American corporate history. It was run by Reagan's most important but most obscure ideological mentor: Lemuel Ricketts Boulware.

These days, Boulwarism typically goes by the name 'business consulting,' and seems to consist largely of assuring executives that nickel and diming workers to death is more than sound business practice-- it's a moral obligation. A fascinating story, and highly recommended.

UPDATE: Ezra Klein comments on the post at the Prospect: The focus [of conservative institutions that arose in the 40s and 50s] was, quite literally, on creating conservatives. Not Republicans, not GOP voters, but ideologues of a certain brand and style, whose foundational world view, rather than mere partisan allegiance, would be aligned with the movement.

Liberals, he argues, have spent their time trying to argue their cases empirically, employing such tools as logic and reason. And you've got to admit, we haven't had quite as much success in the last decades.