Donald J. Devine and his book, America’s Way Back Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition, and Constitution were featured at a Heartland Author Series on Thursday, October 17. For conservative Republicans, the Heartland event was perfectly timed to offer much needed affirmation that there is a way back to reclaiming America’s freedom, prosperity, and creativity despite the obvious divisions displayed between establishment and conservative Republican Party members during the past several weeks.
Currently, Donald J. Devine is a vice chairman of the American Conservative Union, senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, and the author of eight books. Devine is best known as a long time adviser to Ronald Reagan, serving as head of the federal civil service during Reagan’s first term, where he saved $6 Billion in taxpayer money and reduced more than 100,000 non-defense bureaucratic slots. Don Devine describes himself as a proud libertarian.
Here is what fellow libertarian U.S. Senator Rand Paul has to say about Devine’s book, America’s Way Back:
Devine spells out the solution for the modern GOP — a fusion of the best of conservative ideas with those of the liberty movement, all rooted in the Constitution. This book provides plenty of intellectual ammunition for the modern conservative movement.
Edward Feser’s, associate professor of philosophy at Pasadena City College, expressed this acclamation for Devine’s book:
To many conservatives have forgotten that freedom and tradition, limited government and conservative morality, stand or fall together. Devine’s fine new book, a vigorous defense of fusionism, provides a much-needed reality check. If conservatives want to win again — and want to ‘deserve’ to win again — they need to listen to Devine.
Introduced by Heartland Institute Chairman Joe Bast as the “founder of the great modern Republican movement,” Mr. Devine went on to explain how the fusionism of Frank Meyer and William F. Buckley, Jr. led to the conservative revival in the 1959, which, in turn, influenced President Reagan, thereby enabling Reagan to create a strong unified whole (synthesis) so both freedom and tradition could exist harmoniously in his administration. Such a transformation begs and cries out for a revival today.
First off, Don Devine shared a question he directed to President Reagan when asked to serve during Reagan’s first term as chief bureaucrat to head the Office of Personnel and Management (OPM). “Why me?”, asked Devine. “Isn’t this a funny position to offer a libertarian like me?”
Reagan replied: 1) Cut 100,000 non-defense personnel. 2) Reduce their benefits. 3) Make them work harder.
It was then that Devine remembered something President Harry Truman had say, “If you need a friend buy a dog.” Mr. Devine went out and promptly bought two of them. Don Devine did put in place a pay for performance system, among other notable achievements, while heading Reagan’s Office of Personnel and Management.
Regarding President Reagan, every modern president since Woodrow Wilson has increased non-defense discretionary spending. Ronald Reagan, however, reduced non-defense spending by 9.5%. Even entitlement spending under Reagan went from 17.4% to 16.6% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product).
In challenging those present, Don Devine asked his audience to name the years when the American people experienced economic depressions?” Quickly mentioned were the Great Depression of 1929 and the most recent one in 2008.
Missed was the year of the third depression. It happened in 1987 during Reagan’s administration and was described as a serious crisis and second in severity to that of the Great Depression. President Reagan was advised to shut down the stock market and further stimulate the economy. To which Reagan said: “If you don’t let the stock market go down, it will have no place to grow.”
As Reagan’s answer suggests, President Reagan did nothing, and the economy bounced back. Although President Reagan did increase spending on defense, he did so during the “cold” war which Don Devine called “a real war.” Reagan also won the cold war without firing a shot, which was defined by Devine as the way to “win a real war.”
How did President Ronald Reagan manage to accomplish that which other presidents could not do? Ronald Reagan had a vision fashioned by our Founding Fathers of what made America work right. It was based on Western tradition and on the idea that a synthesis exists between freedom and tradition. Freedom without an underlying foundation of custom and tradition could no exist. Likewise, tradition and custom couldn’t exist without the existence of freedom.
It was Fredrick Hayek’s book, The Road to Serfdom, which influenced Ronald Reagan by setting forth what constituted Western tradition. The book may never have gained notoriety had it not been for Reader’s Digest excerpting Hayek’s book over a period of several weeks. After its publication, the crazy idea that freedom works became a viable concept to embrace among the American people.
Upon reading Hayek’s book, Ronald Reagan came to believe that freedom and tradition were what made America great, just as a few decades earlier William Buckley’s whole view of life was changed when reading The Road to Serfdom. Gathering together a group of creative individuals in the hope of finding some common ground — including anarchists and communists — Buckely found Frank Meyer, once an avowed communist, who turned to become Buckley’s right-had man.
As Bill Buckley’s “side kick,” Frank Meyers developed the theory of fusionism, a term used frequently in Don Devine’s book and defined as “a political philosophy that unites elements of libertarianism and traditionalism into a philosophical synthesis which is considered the definition of modern American conservatism.”
Together Buckley and Meyers led the conservative revival of the 60′s This recreation of the conservative movement led to the nomination but failed election of Barry Goldwater in 1964 and was the impetus for the modern conservative movement culminating with the election of Ronald Reagan.
Lamented by Don Devine is how far this nation is today from the era of Reagan. As to stopping the creeping statism of today, Mr. Devine opined that this nation can’t survive unless a core of people who are passionate about both freedom and tradition step forward to explain why individuals who believe in freedom aren’t crazy. Conservatives have a message but not a messenger. That some one is still out there to be found. It wouldn’t even have to be a politician to spearhead the movement. Devine spoke of himself as being too old to lead such a revival movement.
It would be nice to have another Bill Buckley step forward to communicate conservatism in a new and exciting way. Nevertheless, that conservative vision of Reagan must be put together again, for a free society will always be a tradition-based society with moral principles that define slavery, theft and murder as evil.
Our Founding Fathers created a great system of government, understanding that power could be a problem and that the solution was to divide it. The 10th Amendment must be restored designating “that powers not delegated to the U.S. by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively. . .”
Woodrow Wilson, as 29th president from 1913 -1921, is attributed with fostering a revolutionary, progressive turn in government that is still with us today. Traveling abroad, Woodrow Wilson went to Russia so see how government worked. Wilson was impressed with how Bismark operated. When Bismark wanted to get something done he went out and did it. The problem with the U.S. was its Constitution which divided power, when centralization of power was needed to do a good job. Wilson was able to convince the intellectual elite that if those having power and expertise were gathered together and given control, a good society would be created.
Wilson’s idea has never gone out of fashion and is now blooming with vigor in the Obama administration. Presidents Harding and Coolidge tried to return to a normal view of the Constitution. President Roosevelt at first desired the same return, but was told by intellectuals to go back to the Wilson era of operation.
A warning by Don Devine: This nation is now at the end of its ropes. Money is running out. Our nation’s bureaucratic system has become overbearing. Then too, this nation is in constant deadlock because our Constitution was not built to do all the things we expect of it today. It was set up so things can’t be run by the central government.
According to Don Devine, this nation has three choices:
- Place power in one House of Congress.
- Centralization of power in government.
- Go back to the way of the Constitution.
The way back to our Constitution is enumerated in Article 1, Section 8, which outlines just what Congress is authorized to do.
Don Devine’s account of his final cabinet meeting with Ronald Reagan demands a hearing. President Reagan is reported to have said: “In my reading of history, no nation has ever gone this far down the road of statism and has been able to come back, but we want to be the first that will overcome this challenge.” President Reagan, known for his story telling to make a point, used this story to explain his expressed optimism for the nation:
Parents, upon finding their son always finding good in every happening, decided their son had to be taught a lesson to prepare him for the hard knocks life would surely bring him. Their decision: With Christmas approaching, it was decided not to give their son any Christmas presents. On Christmas morning, and with great anticipation, their son entered the living room to find a room without a Christmas tree with presents underneath. Noticing their son’s surprise, the parents instructed their son to open a door leading to another room.
This the boy did, only to find a room filled with manure. Instead of expressing anger or dismay, the boy hurriedly ran to find a shovel. Upon his return the boy started to dig frantically away at the manure. “What are you doing,” asked the boy’s parents? To which the boy replied, “Wherever there is so much manure there must be a pony underneath! These two questions directed to Don Devine are especially reverent to our current political situation.
The first question inquired of Devine were his thoughts about the shutdown of the government over defunding Obamacare. Mr. Devine spoke of technical mistakes made by Republicans, and how he would not have gone down the same route; nevertheless, the sequester was kept in tact. Democrats hate the sequester and rolling back the sequester is their number one goal. Prior to the last House vote, Harry Reid did attempt to add the sequester roll back as a condition to opening the government along with increasing the debt limit. The sequester has given this nation the only deduction of non-descretionary spending (now for two years) since Reagan.
About the media being the biggest enemy? Mr. Devine didn’t hold back when he called the media “outrageous.” Furthermore, the media has always been biased, with intellects naturally left-wing in their views. Why this bias isn’t going to change: 1) This generation of reporters is much stupider than in other generations. 2) Others generations of reporters at least felt some guilt over not giving any positive coverage at all to the other side. 3) As the media loves Obama, Republicans will never receive fair play from the media.
Editor’s note: The Heartland Institute hosts many events that are open to the public. For more information and to register, please visit our page.[Image credit: opm.gov]