Monday, September 17, 2007

Who is Jack Galt?

What conservative with even the smallest streak of Randian libertarianism could resist that title?

And yet, serendipitous name-similarities aside, the story that Charles Johnson told this weekend about long-time Montana rancher and Republican "baron" Jack Galt has some similarities to the literary John Galt.

Both Galts worked largely behind the scenes, both men recognized early on what they believed and what causes they wanted to promote, and both men had a penchant for holing up in their private rustic kingdoms far from the usual sources of political "civilization."

It is hard to read about Montana's Jack Galt without more than a a little twinge of nostalgia, since the story of Jack Galt is in many ways the story of Reagan Republicanism and its grassroots leadership.

When James Q. Wilson wrote his now historic Commentary article "A Guide to Reagan Country" back in 1967 or so, the subtitle was "the political culture of Southern California." (My how times have changed.)

But the expanded subtext of Wilson's article was about more than Orange County and surrounds. He, and the writers who little by little expanded on the subject, noted that Reagan shouldn't be written off as a flash-in-the-pan novelty of California and its sometimes surreal atmosphere.

His article pointed out that there was a informal network of people throughout a broader "Reagan Country" who were just waiting to be tapped into. Goldwater had won his nomination on the strength of a nascent form of this informal network (and then promptly betrayed it by advising country-club Republican Gerald Ford on how to defeat his own former loyalists in 1976, when the former "Goldwater people" were backing Reagan.)

"Reagan Country" was largely comprised of what we today think of as "Red America" -- "red" because of the decision by television broadcasters in 2000 to reverse what had most commonly been a red=Democrat and blue=Republican convention and to start coloring Republican states red on the maps on election night.

Whatever the color, it was Western, Southern, rural, small-town, AM radio, little newspapers, church suppers, county Republican meetings in the basement of the REA building, barbershops with men in boots discussing the weather and cussing the government (or is it the reverse?) -- and men who had quietly made their millions in humble ways ranging from car dealerships to small engineering firms to oil-field supply companies. And always, ranchers -- lots of them.

When he wrote about the people of "Reagan country," Wilson was talking about men like Jack Galt, as Charles Johnson's article illustrates. Johnson notes that Jack Galt backed Reagan for the GOP nomination back in 1968 against Nixon -- a forgotten bit of Reagan history, when Reagan was actually Nixon's most serious contender for the nomination, even though Nelson Rockefeller is usually thought of in that role and though Reagan came in third in the delegate count.

Galt was emblematic of that generation of Reagan Republican leaders -- self-employed, well-off but not born wealthy, unpretentious and usually quiet, and determined to use what money and power they had accumulated during their lives to turn the political tide in a country they loved, but that had drifted ever leftward. Self-interested and unapologetically honest about it -- and yet selfless enough to give of their time and money in order make a difference in public life.

Those who knew Reagan often remarked on the fact that for all of his being lumped in with "corporate interests," Reagan never cared to be around "trust-fund" Republicans (part of his long-time disconnect with his Vice-President,) but tended, from his earliest years, to surround himself with self-made men who, like himself, had started out with little or nothing but had done pretty well for themselves.

Republicans seem to need regular reminders that Ronald Reagan is dead and in the grave -- and that he isn't coming back. Reagan probably couldn't be elected President today, but then, he didn't need to be. He needed to be ready for his time, and in spite of the fact that many of us thought that his time was 1976 (or 1968) rather than 1980, the good Lord had other, and probably better, plans for the Gipper.

Less often remembered is that the backbone of the generation that elected Ronald Reagan is also dead or dying, sort of like the generation of WWII veterans that a wee Montana Headlines once thought would never, could never, die. Now, every time one has a chance to talk to those remaining vets, it is hard not to pepper them with questions until they are too tired to say any more.

The same is true of the veterans of the Reagan political battles -- the men and women who remembered the dark days of 1964 when Barry Goldwater's landslide defeat "proved" that no conservative could win the White House. We can be grateful that the Jack Galts of this country collectively decided to say "nuts" to that idea, and as a result changed the landscape for a generation -- and for the better. And we talk to them every chance we get about their experiences and recollections. Not so we can try to copy them, but so that we can learn from them. There is a difference.

We don't need "another Ronald Reagan." As good conservatives we do revere his memory and the memory of those who made his election possible, against all odds.

We now need leaders for our own time, who understand the particular challenges of our generation just as Reagan and his supporters throughout the 60's and 70's understood the challenges of their own time.

It is hard now not to think of Reagan as a sort of inevitable President. But he wasn't.

His Presidency was possible only because of the Jack Galts who were ready and waiting for him across the country. Looking around, trying to identify those state and local leaders today, it is, then, not at all inappropriate for us as conservatives living in Montana to use our own version of the most famous line in Atlas Shrugged, and ask, for our own time: Who is Jack Galt?


Dave Rye said...

Great comparison between John and Jack!

Kinda makes you want to take a stick and trace into the sand the sign of the dollar, except I think in Jack's case a cross would be even more appropriate.

carol said...

Great post! I stood right next to Reagan at a Goldwater rally in 1964. I was very, very young of course. ;) Yeah SoCal was a lot different back then.

That red/blue state thing DID start in 2000, didn't it? Someone needs to tell the gal at 4&20, who seemed to think I was trying to fly under the radar for using blue signs in my campaign last year.

Montana Headlines said...

Just refer her to my post and have her follow the link to the Wiki article -- it tells the whole red/blue story.

It talks about a famous anchor (can't remember which one, now) referring to the 1984 map of Reagan's landslide as a "sea of blue."

One thing that those of us who served in the military have noted is that traditionally in British and American war-games, the good guys are blue and the bad guys are red on the maps. Some say that this goes back to even before the Soviet's made the color red infamous.

And aren't you lucky to have stood next to Reagan back in the day!