If I were locked in a life-and-death struggle for lieutenant governor or county commissioner anywhere and had only two phone calls to make for advice, one would be to John Sears. Sears served Ronald Reagan as campaign manager until February 1980, when he departed in a staff shakeup. He's now doing well as a Washington lawyer. Recently, in an interview, John Sears offered a few thoughts on American politics in the '80s:
Americans welcome change; we celebrate change. In 1980, acording to Sears, the Democrats lost control over the activist or "change" side of the political debate to the Rebublicans. Instead, the Democrats seemed to be saying: the best is now behind us; what's ahead is worse and less. The Democrats forgot that Americans are congenital optimists for whom change is a fellow traveler of progress. It is categorically un-American to tell those who are not children of privilege and affluence that their hard work and ambition will not make a difference, that there will be no improvement.
In Sears' view, from 1860 to 1930, change in American political and national life was defined by the Republican Party. Then, from 1932 to 1980, the Democrats were the definers of activism, but "about 10 or 15 years ago they ran out of ideas." The remarkable era of FDR "with the maximum use of federal power to solve problems nearly anywhere," came to a complete close in 1980. What if the Reagan policies were to fail completely. Even then, the Democrats would not be able to say: let's go back. The Democrats, in Sears' opinion, "must come up with a new way to define activism without total dependence on federal power to solve problems." He sees ahead a period of public argument, perhaps extending over several elections--over exactly what should determine government action and what that government action should consist of. But sometime in the '80s, "the country will feel comfortable with a new definition for the use of government power, and whoever makes it stick will win a lot of elections."
Included in that new definition will be an interpretation of what the United States is about in the world. People are aware, says Sears, that America's mission in the world is much broader than simply "to thwart Russian intentions."
For 1984, Sears sees Sen. Edward Kennedy, the current leader in the Gallup poll, as the odds-on favorite for the Democratic nomination. He bases that assessment on old realities rather than on any new ideas: Kennedy has been through the marathon process before and, as of now, he commands an intense following, which is a big advantage in a crowded primary field. Still, if somebody else can come up with a new definition of change with which the American people could feel comfortable, then, in the words of John Sears, all bets are off.