Demise of two conservative journals helps explain GOP problems

by CalWatchdog Staff | February 28, 2013 9:54 am

Policy Review No. 1, 1977[1]Feb. 28, 2013

By John Seiler

Two venerable old conservative print journals have died in recent days. Policy Review has ceased operations entirely[2].

Human Events, which was Ronald Reagan’s favorite weekly journal, will cease printing[3] but remain online.

I was associated with both of them. Although printed in recent years by the Hoover Institution, Policy Review was started in 1977 by the Heritage Foundation. That summer, I had just graduated from Hillsdale College and was hired to be the assistant editor on the first issue (cover shown nearby; full text here[4]).

I soon took a job as a cub reporter at the Colorado Gazette-Telegraph, then joined the U.S. Army in Feb. 1978, was taught Russian, and served in West Germany with the 533 Combat Electronic Warfare Intelligence Battalion. Ah, youth!

When I was mustered out in 1982, I returned to my native Michigan. But it was the depth of a Depression, with unemployment at 16 percent. I couldn’t find a job. So I got an scholarship at the National Journalism Center that fall. I did an internship at Human Events. After that, I became assistant editor at Conservative Digest (itself long defunct) and other publications. In 1987, I got a job with the Orange County Register, where I still write editorials freelance. The Register’s longtime editorial and commentary director, Cathy Taylor, became the editor of Human Events in 2011.

The demise of both Human Events and Policy Review shows us something of the problems of conservatives today, and of the Republican Party to which they usually are closely attached.

Look at the articles listed on the cover on that first issue of Policy Review in 1977, and the full contents here[4]. The articles are dominated by the Cold War against communism, then by the “malaise” economy, as it was called, in the 1970s under President Jimmy Carter. I don’t have any copies of Human Events from 1977 or 1978, but the stories covered were similar. (As they were in National Review and other conservative publications.)

Conservatives also were just starting to formulate their “supply side” approach to economics: putting tax cuts before everything else, including balanced budgets.


In 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected president to “stand tall” against communism and get the economy moving again. In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. In 1991, the Soviet Union — the Evil Empire, as the Gipper had branded it — dissolved itself. The Cold War was over, without getting us all nuked. We won.

Reagan also cut the top income tax rate from 70 percent to 28 percent when he left office. It’s now 39.6 percent, increased this year from 35 percent. But would President Obama ever try to raise it back to 70 percent? Only in his dreams. So conservatives still mostly have won that issue.

In the 1970s, inflation also pushed the middle-class into upper-income tax brackets. Reagan won a partial victory there by indexing the tax brackets to inflation beginning in 1985. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it retroactive to the tax rates of 1971, before the Nixon Shock[5] took us off the gold standard and sparked the huge inflation of the 1970s.

But at least tax rates were indexed. Without Reagan’s “supply-side” reforms, today the middle-class would be paying 70 percent income tax rates, plus another 9.3 percentage points in California. Total: 79.3 percent. Think you could survive on 20.7 percent of your income?

So, although the victory was only partial, on taxes conservatives/Republicans also took another victory.

Two victories is more than any movement should expect. So the real problem with the conservative movement and the Republican Party today may be that they don’t know how to move on and find new ways to meet the needs of the voters — whatever those needs may be. After 9/11, Republicans geared up for another Cold War in what then was called the GWOT — the Global War on Terror, a mouthful of a phrase and acronym Reagan never would have allowed to cross his Telepromptr.

But however deadly terrorists can be, they don’t have 40,000 nuclear warheads and a 5 million-man, goose-stepping army the way the Soviets did in 1984.

The Iraq and Afghanistan wars President George W. Bush launched turned into fiascoes, smaller-scale versions of the Vietnam debacle. Republicans/conservatives got the blame. President Obama/Democrats are getting the credit for winding down the wars.

What’s next?

So what’s next? As Jonathan Chait pointed out last fall in “The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy is On Your Screen[6],” Republicans/conservatives lost the “culture wars” so badly over the past 20 years that few people even use the phrase anymore. Liberal Democrats now control public K-12 schools (attended by 89 percent of children), almost all the colleges and universities, almost all TV and movie entertainment, most newspapers and almost all TV news except FoxNews.

They only thing liberal Democrats don’t dominate is independent conservative and libertarian Web sites, of which there are many.

Republicans now, comically, are trying to attract Latino voters, whom they’ve never had much success with, even before immigration became a big issue in the 1990s. And as I’ve written here, Republicans also can’t afford to alienate their “base,” which strongly opposes amnesty on immigration. So, they’re stuck. 

However, there are bright spots. New Internet technologies, such as[7], are breaking the leftist monopoly on learning. Just about any book ever written is free on the Internet,  or can be purchased cheaply on Amazon or some other book seller. In the past 12 years, both Republicans and Democrats effectively have bankrupted the federal government with their wild spending. So cuts in Leviathan’s immense powers are inevitable, and will be so large as to make the current struggle over the 2 percent sequestration look like playing tiddly-winks.

Keynesian economics is the delusion, held by almost all liberals and many conservatives, that you can make something from nothing — in this case, through monetary manipulation. But you can’t.

As to conservatives and Republicans, most still live mentally in the 1970s and pine for Reagan to a disco soundtrack. That day is gone. What comes next is unknown.

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  2. has ceased operations entirely:
  3. will cease printing:
  4. here:
  5. Nixon Shock:
  6. The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy is On Your Screen:

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