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When a movement is ‘upward upward,’ how high can it go?


Too Dumb To Fail: How The GOP Betrayed the Reagan Revolution to Win Elections (and How It Can Reclaim Its Conservative Roots)

By Matt K. Lewis

Hachette Books

240 pages, $28

By Michael D. Langan

Nothing in politics can be explained simply – witness “Too Dumb,” a good book written by Matt K. Lewis, senior contributor for the Daily Caller and a frequent columnist to the Telegraph (U.K.).

In it, Lewis explains “a persistent and peculiar American trait: the frequent expression of disdain for education and knowledge.”

This is an attitude best expressed earlier by Buffalo native and Columbia University professor Richard Hofstadter in his landmark 1963 study, “Anti-intellectualism in American Life.” (I had an informative hourlong conversation with him in my office when he visited Canisius College in 1969. That was the year after he published “The Progressive Historians.”)

Lewis and others have come out of the woodwork just in time to tell us the sky is falling. His beat, American politics, is disintegrating like a prefab post WW II house from a Sears Roebuck catalog.

The author isn’t telling us much new in this book, but his careful exposition of material about conservativism is largely unknown to many Republicans, perhaps 50 percent of them, he estimates, who don’t want to be confused with history.

Lewis writes with panache when he notes, “Today, the GOP is a traveling circus of empty-headed talking point reciters, rookie politicians who’ve never managed anything in their lives, media clowns like Donald Trump, professionally outraged shout-fest talking heads, and so on.”

This is a run-on sentence so deliciously true that pundits can’t help but run with it.

So what does Lewis do for the reader? His publisher writes, “He traces the conservative movement’s roots – from Edmund Burke to William F. Buckley – and from Goldwater’s loss to Reagan’s landslide victory – and highlights visionary thinkers who understand nuance and deep ideology and changed the course of the nation.”

There’s an excellent recitation about “The Speech,” a 30-minute deal on television where Ronald Reagan tried brilliantly to resuscitate Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential candidacy. Instead, he propelled himself into the national spotlight as someone who had more than a few good ideas.

Lewis points out some ugly facts in this book. The dumbing down has gone on for so long that nearly half of the Republican Party doesn’t know what the Grand Old Party (GOP) signifies. “It was founded on big ideas,” he writes, “abolishing slavery and holding together a federal republic.”

Now the party is Palinized by what Lewis calls “Sarah Palin’s infamous posts to her four million-plus fans on Facebook, which concludes with the words, “thank you, prayer warriors! I love you!” Lewis calls this paltry business “Hijacked by the divisive and the dumb.”

In fact, even Republican Party stalwarts like Peggy Noonan seem to be giving in to what seems inevitable, a Trumpism that has infected the party, when she writes in the Wall Street Journal, “If Mr. Trump is not a conservative, why is that bad?...what’s wrong with a little disorder?” Is she kidding?

(Frankly, as I look at Trumpism and what it offers, I prefer Robert Oppenheimer’s remark when he saw the atomic bomb explode: “I am become death, destroyer of worlds.”)

And as you might guess, stalwarts in the Republican Party are fighting back against Trump. The National Review, the Conservative magazine founded by William F. Buckley, Jr., has an issue out where 22 Conservative thinkers argue against a Trump candidacy. If anything, this indicates that Trump is a serious candidate.

In an editorial, it says, “Donald Trump is a menace to American conservatism who would take the work of generations and trample it underfoot on behalf of a populism as heedless and crude as The Donald himself.”

A word about the title, “Too Dumb to Fail”: It’s a play on words, “an allusion to Andrew Ross Sorkin’s “Too Big to Fail,” about the financial crisis of 2008. In this case, individual actors and financial institutions behaved unethically and ignored warnings that bubbles would eventually burst.” Sorkin described this situation as a “moral hazard.”

This 2008 story is the predicate for “Too Dumb to Fail,” a book about the irony “that the dumbing down of conservativism has (so far) resulted in the worst offenders falling forward. They are, in essence, too dumb to fail.”

So if you think there’s no hope for Republicans, “Too Dumb” could be your book. It explains the great thinkers who invented Conservativism, gives a summary of those who screwed it up, in a section called “The Great Betrayal,” and continues on with a division called “What a Mess,” followed by “How to Fix It.” (Hint: “Adapt conservativism to a 21st century world … Grow the tent without burning it down.”)

You can’t beat that “to-do list” trio. Lewis has a sense of logic.

Good luck to Lewis and his mother lode of philosophy to the Boobus Americanus of Republican voters who come out to thug-let rallies by Donald Trump.

Nobody wants to admit it, but America has really dumbed-down in the last 60 years. I’m not sure that Lewis’ preachment to a choir of Republicans who can no longer read the sheet music will do any good.

Most Democrats won’t care.

Michael D. Langan worked in Republican and Democratic administrations in Washington, D.C., over a 20-year period. Earlier, he served as vice president for student affairs at Canisius College from 1968 to 1974.