Is Reagan Optimism Passé For Conservatives?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Over at The Week, I’ve penned a short essay on the border crisis.

But that’s really just the timely hook. It’s also about a much broader concern I have regarding the current state of conservatism.

Here’s an excerpt:

…I’m tired of conservatives acting as if we live in a world of limited resources, where we are all fighting over a small piece of the same pie, instead of realizing we can grow that pie. This populist rhetoric is the talk of defeatism, of fear, of scarcity. It is in utter opposition to the Reagan/Kemp brand of optimistic conservatism that helped transform the world.

It’s the cry of victimhood — not the talk of a prosperous nation, or of kindness or of greatness. It’s the mindset of a nation that truly believes its best days are in the rearview mirror. To paraphrase Reagan, I reject that worldview, partly because such beliefs have a way of becoming self-fulfilling prophesies.

Fear leads to hoarding and bitterness. We can go that direction; conservatives can make that their brand. The GOP can become the party of the angry and the dispossessed — not the party of the aspirational and the generous. But why would we want to?

Conservatism, it seems, has reverted to a pre-Reagan movement that is much more pessimistic. This was, perhaps, inevitable. It might be that only Reagan could pull off cobbling together a coalition that incorporated populist themes attractive to “Reagan Democrats,” while simultaneously summoning us to our better angels — and assuring us we had an optimistic future ahead.

It may be that there are a generation of conservatives who were only drawn to modern conservatism because their political awakening coincided with a unique moment in time — The Reagan years (and/or the following years where we lived off its leftover momentum).

And it may be that I am a part of this dwindling cohort of conservatives sold on an optimistic philosophy that won elections, but was utterly contingent on a leader like Reagan to sustain it.

What do we do now?