How did we get where are today and where are we headed?
Twenty-two years after Ronald Reagan left the presidency with the United States in strong and self-confident shape, that cry of exasperation is heard often from conservatives nationwide.
As the U.S. faces a threat on a par with that of Soviet totalitarianism in the form of radical Islam, perilous economic times at home and the hand of big government clearly on the rise, many conservatives are uncertain of who their leaders are or where they are headed.
One proud, outspoken conservative has tried to deal with this uncertain situation, explaining how he thinks we got here and where we may be headed. In Bringing America Home, Tom Pauken draws on a life spent in the modern conservative movement—from serving as chairman of the College Republicans during the height of the anti-Vietnam protest movement to working in the Reagan Administration to being state GOP chairman of Texas and now as chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission.
His strongly stated case against those he feels subverted conservatism is sure to engender controversy since some of those he blames are still held in high regard by other conservatives.
Pauken argues that “The process of changing the face of American conservatism began with Ronald Reagan’s fateful decision to select George Herbert Walker Bush as his running mate in 1980.” Had Reagan chosen someone else, says Pauken who had had his differences with the Bushes for many years, Bush would have never become President and his son George W. would therefore never have been elected governor of Texas in 1994 or President six years later.
Pauken vividly recalls how allies of the elder Bush purged old Reagan hands from government once their man moved into the White House in 1988. Citing his own clashes in the 1990s with then-Gov. Bush and his right-hand man Karl Rove, Pauken concludes: “You either supported the Bush-Rove agenda as a Texas Republican or you were viewed as disloyal and ended up on Karl Rove’s enemies’ list.”
Pauken charges that the cool treatment given traditional conservatives by both Bushes, coupled with the rise in influence of neoconservatives, whose ideology, he believes, has more in common with FDR and LBJ than Reagan has led to “the Goldwater-Reagan brand of conservatism [falling] on hard times in the post-Reagan era.”
The author lays an especially hard lash on “neo-cons” within George W. Bush Administration for pursuing what he thinks was an adventurous and interventionist foreign policy. Among his targets are such popular figures on the right as former National Security Council official Elliott Abrams, former Pentagon official Doug Feith, and former UN Ambassador John Bolton. All were encouraged by their “godfather,” Vice President Dick Cheney, whom Pauken describes as “a longtime centrist Republican turned into a neoconservative hawk.”
Pauken blames much of the present-day economic turbulence on the spending policies of the Bush Administration, the domestic agenda of the neocons, and the policies of former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, who he says fueled the stock market and housing bubbles of the 1990s. He also attacks the rise of relativism in modern America—in Pauken’s words, “the coarsening of the culture.”
Most of the solutions to the crisis in foreign and domestic policies and the culture offered here are not new. Pauken calls for a revival of the Goldwater-Reagan small-government conservatism and a more careful approach to foreign intervention, much like that advocated by an earlier conservative hero, Sen. Robert Taft (R.-Ohio).
Two proposals in Bringing America Home that are sure to provoke spirited discussions among conservatives are Pauken’s call for replacing many present taxes with a European-style Value-Added Tax and a closer relationship with Russia to counter radical Islam.
Bringing America Home is certainly provocative, but it serves a noble purpose by sparking fresh debate over some old concepts and personalities on the right, as well as raising the question of where conservatives go from here, which makes it well worth reading—and debating.