Derek Charles Catsam ’93 offers advice to Republicans.

If Republicans don’t want to consign themselves to irrelevance, they’d serve themselves well to look back to that most maligned of decades, the 1970s. In the years of Jimmy Carter, the Republicans were similarly divided, but they recovered and even flourished.

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By 1977, after the triple blows to the American psyche of Vietnam, Watergate and an economic crisis that lingered into the 1980s, the Republicans appeared hopelessly divided. Internecine warfare threatened to tear the party apart. This division ran the risk of continuing indefinitely the Democratic ascendancy that began with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition and re-establishing liberalism’s place as the defining paradigm in American politics.

By 1976, President Gerald Ford, a member of his party’s moderate wing, found himself besieged by the GOP right wing. No critic was more vocal than Ronald Reagan, the former California governor with an amiable face but a deadly serious sense of politics. Many people, including Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, who by the end of the Ford years served as chief of staff and secretary of defense respectively, undermined Ford from within the administration.

But a series of funny things happened on the way to the Democratic stranglehold on American politics. By 1981, they were on the ropes, not the Republicans. It was the “Age of Reagan.”

Today’s GOP need not despair, and Democrats ought not to celebrate. Four years is a generation in American politics and a lifetime in political memories. But the lesson from the 1970s rings clear. It is fine for the Republicans to embrace conservatism. But in so doing they should not reject moderation.

Funny, but, if memory serves, Reagan’s nomination in 1980 was widely (universally?) perceived, by both Democrats and liberal Republicans, as a rejection of “moderation.” One of the reasons that I voted against McCain was precisely because I wanted to see the Republican Party become less moderate (immigration, cap-and-trade, torture, and so on).

In 1977, Reagan represented the GOP’s disenchanted, angry and ambitious right flank. In November 2009, that angry fragment of the party is embodied by Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Joe Wilson and their ilk.

These politicians have mobilized the Tea Partiers with their Glen Beck-fueled rage, the Town Hall screechers with their vitriol and “death panel” talking points, the denialist “Birthers” with their tenuous grip on reality.

I can’t think of a single Republican who would take advice from someone who views the Town Hall protesters as “screechers.” Perhaps they should . . .

Derek is an EphBlog author so, if you make a substantive comment, he may reply.

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