What It Takes to Lead the Right

Question: Does today’s Republican Party have a unifying leader like Reagan and Nixon?

Rick Perlstein: I mean, I don’t see it over the horizon, and Reagan is a perfect example of someone who simultaneously, you know, kind of honored the impulses of this grassroots right, but also kind of massaged them. You know, also treated them like a politician treats a member of its coalition. Like, you know, Franklin Roosevelt treated the unions or Lyndon Johnson, you know, treated the civil rights movement, the consumer rights movement. Ronald Reagan was able to basically massage the concerns of the pro-life movement without ever giving a speech to them. Without ever granting them any major policy concessions, while able to, you know, being able to place their accolades in positions of relative powerless - powerlessness, symbolic positions. You know, things like smaller ambassadorships, you know, independent government commissions, and with his charisma and skill he was able to mitigate the kinds of tensions that created. And there were tensions. You know, early in the 80’s George Will was one, Richard Viguerie was another. There were a lot of conservatives saying that Ronald Reagan is betraying conservatism, which tend to happens whenever a conservative president is politically unsuccessful. You know, conservatism never fails, it is only failed. They’ll say that a Ronald Reagan or a George Bush - it fails because they’re not conservative. And that sentiment lasts for as long as they're politically unsuccessful. With George Bush it’s, you know, every other day you hear a conservative say, “Well, the reason he failed was he wasn’t conservative enough.”

Well, the problem with that is George W. Bush brought to Washington alongside a - for most of his term a majority conservative congress and quite conservative judiciary, an entire movement, entire set of institutions, an entire bureaucracy that conservatives have built up, you know, in the years since Barry Goldwater. So, when George Bush is president, he is not just acting independently, but he’s acting for the figurehead for, you know, an enormous movement that was able to insinuate itself up and down the bureaucracy and up and down the political change. So, that’s where the blame has to lie, not with George Bush.

Question: So if you had to put forth a Republican leader, whom would you choose?

Rick Perlstein: Well, those kinds of people only come across once in a generation and you can’t pick them out of a catalog and they can - tend to come from surprising places. You know, certainly, you know, 1962 when Ronald Reagan was, you know, this washed up actor going around from GE plant to GE plant giving patriotic speeches, no one saw that it was him, you know. I don’t see who it is, but if I saw who it was then, you know, I’d be a, you know, a genius political consultant or I’d be a great leader myself. I mean, leaders see things in the public will that are often invisible to the rest of mere mortals.

Question: If a leader doesn’t arise soon, may the conservative movement die out?

Rick Perlstein: Well, there will always be an American conservatism. It’s completely continuous, you know, throughout our history. It has its own shifts and changes and evolutions and some positions, you know, that held in the past it doesn’t hold now and some positions it holds, you know, it holds now and it didn’t hold in the past. You know, for example, you know, if you're a conservative in the 1930’s you were known as someone who, you know, didn’t believe in foreign military intervention. Right? You were fighting against the idea that America should rearm for World War II. Now, of course, you know, conservatives are the people who are most likely to, you know, call for a huge defense establishment and be more eager to kind of go on overseas adventures.

But, something having to do with individualism, having to do with sort of this fetishization of the nuclear family and traditional values, having to do with the belief that a businessman’s republic kind of run by and for businessmen whose benevolence kind of trickles down to ordinary people, that’s always been a part of American political culture and always will be. I mean, the challenge for progressives is just to, you know, put together a coalition to make sure that, you know, the conservative coalition doesn’t have enough power to, I would say, push through their agenda. But, it’s often the case that, you know, they don’t have an agenda. I mean, there really is not conservative theory of government as we saw, you know, for especially the first six years of the Bush administration in which, you know, basically had, you know, a conservative hammerlock on the forces of the state and all they were able to really do was weaken, you know, the state. Weaken our ability to collectively, you know, solve our problems together.

Recorded on:  October 19, 2009

To tap conservatism's deep-rooted power, the author of "Nixonland" advocates "massaging" pro-lifers and other special interests.

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Of all the dietary trends, superfood cleanses, high-intensity workouts, fad pills and powders, and metabolic superstar programs guaranteeing weight loss, one tried and true method continues to be a sound means for maintaining a healthy weight: reducing your calories.

A Cornell study, published in August, has discovered that restaurants that list calorie content help customers moderate the amount of food they consume — albeit, by a little. Still, a little can go a long way once you become accustomed to it.

The research team of John Cawley, Alex Susskind, and Barton Willage set up shop in two restaurants for a randomized field experiment. Two different groups were then told to order: a control group with normal menus and a treatment group, which read from menus featuring calorie information. By the end, 5,500 diners contributed to the study.

The treatment group ended up ordering 3 percent fewer calories than the control group — a result of 45 calories per meal. The biggest effect seems to be on consumer awareness. The researchers noted that customers were surprised by how many calories basic meals, such as a tomato soup/grilled cheese combo, has. They continue,

The findings come at a time when most Americans don't have a precise estimate of how many calories they're eating, because one-third of their food is prepared outside the home. At the same time, the obesity crisis in America has reached epidemic proportions; the prevalence of obesity in adults has nearly tripled in the past 50 years, to nearly 40 percent of the population in 2016.

This follows a law requiring chains with 20 or more locations to post calorie content on menus and menu boards, which went into effect earlier this year. The move was set to launch in 2011 as part of the Affordable Care Act's requirements, yet pushback from lobbying efforts delayed its implementation.

Part of the gripe from restaurant chains (especially pizza establishments) is that it will reduce profits. Yet in the Cornell study researchers found no evidence of monetary loss between the groups. In fact, healthier options often cost more than junk food. That said, patrons realizing which restaurants are not healthy could have a ripple effect. Though the Cornell study is an outlier — other studies have found that the calorie content does not change minds — it might be pushing restaurants to offer more low-calorie options.

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The cost to restaurants does not nearly equate to those on our medical infrastructure. According to the CDC, obesity is costing the U.S. $147 billion each year. This involves direct and indirect medical problems related to being overweight, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, immune system-related problems, and many other ailments.

John Cawley, a professor of policy analysis and management in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell, views the calorie listing on menus as an easy to implement solution.

It's a cheap policy to put in place, and the fact that there is a reduction in calories ordered makes it appealing.

While not the only solution, it's a step in the right direction. Awareness is a catalyst for change, and one thing is certain: we can't keep heading blindly in the direction we've been going. The consumption of unhealthy high-calorie foods, beginning with the frozen dinner revolution of post-World War II America right up through pumpkin spice lattes, has made us a sick and diseased nation. Every calorie counts.

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