By Brad Lips for RealClearPolicy
Those of us old enough to remember the Jimmy Carter years are having a moment of déjà vu. The 1970s saw the coining of the term “stagflation” to describe when inflation was rising and employment was slowing at the same time.
We might be seeing it again under the Biden administration. And that’s not all. Gas lines? Check! Russia and Iran emboldened to challenge the U.S. and its allies? Check! American “malaise?” I’m feeling it – how about you?
If you find these Carter/Biden parallels interesting, let’s explore whether there’s a deeper pattern cycling through recent American history – and whether there might be a happier twist in the plot ahead for champions of a more free and inclusive society based on rule of law, limited government, property rights, and individual liberty.
Our journey begins with Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, two presidents who won huge landslide victories — in 1932 and 1980 — that realigned American politics.
They were followed in the White House by Harry S. Truman and George H. W. Bush, who oversaw the end of World War II and the Cold War, respectively.
Continuing on these parallel tracks, next came a switch in the party controlling the White House, via Dwight Eisenhower (Republican) and Bill Clinton (Democrat) — both remembered for their centrism, essentially reconciling their parties with the political zeitgeists that had begun with Roosevelt and Reagan.
John F. Kennedy and George W. Bush again reversed partisan control of the White House, installing a younger-generation member of an established political family. Both Kennedy and Bush got America involved in wars that would prove vexing problems for their successors.
Those successors, Lyndon Baines Johnson and Barack Obama, took bold measures to expand the role of government, especially on health care.
On the heels of Johnson and Obama, we get the inevitable comparison: Richard Nixon with Donald Trump. Both men won the White House with the support of a “silent majority” while being despised by most of the media, and both made what may be their most lasting contribution by changing American policy toward China.
This brings us to our present moment — in which Joe Biden seems to be doing his best impression of Jimmy Carter.
This brief historical analysis begs a few questions: Is there a silver lining here? Is there an even more consequential presidential election coming in three years? Are we in store for another realignment? Might we get something akin to Ronald Reagan Redux in 2024?
Fans of smaller government, individual liberty, free enterprise, and robust civil discourse can hope so.
If we want to do more than hope, however, we need to create a popular demand for a big course correction in our politics.
We need to rearticulate — and demonstrate wherever possible — how the principles of smaller government, individual liberty, free enterprise, and robust civil discourse provide for a far more inclusive America here at home and a freer, more prosperous and peaceful world generally.
And finally, the realization of a consequential political realignment or Reagan Redux will require that – rather than leading with big personalities, loyalty tests, and gotcha party politics — we lead with big, bold ideas that address our social, political, and economic challenges in ways that energize and inspire a broad cross-section of Americans.
The Biden administration’s efforts to implement the Jimmy Carter 2.0 agenda, with its long gas lines, stagflation, and equivocation in the face of oppressive regimes has opened a window of opportunity that we have not seen in 40-plus years.
Americans are rediscovering the wisdom that Reagan voiced in his First Inaugural: “Government is not the answer to the problem; government is the problem.”
Of course, freedom’s advocates cannot be content with merely diagnosing the problem. Solving it requires a compelling vision of how all Americans can prosper under more limited government. Let’s not let this opportunity go to waste.
Brad Lips is the chief executive officer of Atlas Network.
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