John B. Judis, senior editor of The New Republic, can be a top-flight reporter; he has in the past done first-rate reporting about politics. He thinks about it on a serious level and tries to make judgments that take into account demographics and the current political scene. He has gone to contested areas to conduct interviews with regular people in the districts, as well as to spend time with prospective candidates and to travel with them during campaigns.
He can also be highly ideological and wrong-headed. With Ruy Teixeira, he wrote a highly acclaimed book, The Emerging Democratic Majority, (2002), which, somehow or other, never has seemed to quite emerge, although when Barack Obama was elected president, he argued that the 2008 results had vindicated their analysis. Then, of course, came the 2010 mid-term elections, and the prognosis again looked rather dim, which Judis readily acknowledged.
Now, Judis has the cover story [which temporarily is behind TNR’s firewall but will eventually be posted for all to read] in the latest issue of TNR, “Return of the Republicans,” in which Judis does his best to demonize Republicans as totally evil and dangerous, as a political party that has departed from the American consensus, a group of “counterrevolutionaries” whose program “could imperil the country’s recovery-or even precipitate, as happened in 1937 and 1938, a double-dip recession.”
He argues that the Republicans, unlike the Democrats or the old Republican Party, have departed from the old paradigm of Clinton Rossiter, who in 1960, explained that our political parties are “creatures of compromise and moderation” that produce “coalitions of interest in which principle is muted and often even silenced.” That is why, Judis argues, America escaped violence and revolution during both wars and depression.
Now, he argues that the current Republicans, rather than following in the old direction, are determined to stand on principle. What he is doing, as Dennis Prager points out with other recent examples of the litany, is “libeling the Right.” In Judis’ eyes, only the Democratic Party maintains the Rossiter standard; the Republicans, as he says they did in the past:
[S]hut down the government, ambushed the president and his Cabinet with intrusive investigations into corruption—many of them mind-bogglingly trivial—and eventually tried to impeach President Bill Clinton on the most frivolous of grounds.
And in the present, during the past few years, they “disrupted the normal working of Congress and threatened not simply the president, but the power and prestige of the presidency.”
This means, Judis asserts, that in their desire to take power, they are doing so “at the cost of disrupting the political system.” To prove his argument, Judis goes back to the 1930s and the era of the New Deal, when old-style conservative Republicans from rural and small-town districts combined with Southern Democrats — the racist Dixiecrats — to oppose FDR’s New Deal legislation. Like today, these Republicans falsely accused the New Deal of moving to fascism and/or communism, and planning an American form of totalitarianism. He gives us a series of attacks from those days, from politicians like Arthur Vandenberg and Hamilton Fish, and groups like the American Liberty League. You get the picture: reactionary troglodytes used specious arguments to oppose progress.
FDR, of course, argued that he welcomed the opposition of congressmen like Hamilton Fish, and vowed to “push the money changers out of the temple.” But as I argued many years ago in an article I titled “The Myth of the New Deal,” the major New Deal reforms of the Second New Deal, supposedly achieved because of the mass protests of organized labor and the Left, were actually favored by and vigorously supported by the large commercial and financial interests. Judis cites the opposition from small business groups like the N.A.M., and ignores the powerful corporate leaders, for example, who visited the White House to support and to propose the Social Security Act. There was a time when serious left-wing scholars, like G. William Domhoff whom I quote in the article, understood this truth.
What Judis does to demonize the old Republicans is to pick among those who actually were reactionaries, and who did not comprehend how the New Deal legislation served the interests of the actual corporate powers who benefited from New Deal reforms. Then he jumps to the present, to show today’s Republicans using similar rhetoric, and to hence argue that like in the past, the Republicans are opposing progress — and trying to destroy America in the process.
He refers favorably to someone he calls a “New Deal liberal Democrat” from the South who supported FDR (one of few) — Sen. Claude Pepper. He neglects to inform readers that Pepper’s nickname given him by his opponents was “Red” Pepper, referring not to his hair, but to his politics — since Pepper was an ardent fellow-traveler of the American Communist Party, a Senator who told Americans that Joe Stalin was a “man Americans could trust.”
Judis is right that there was certainly a conservative coalition opposed to the New Deal made up of Southern Democrats and northern Republicans who branded the New Deal as fascist, but he neglects to note that the Socialist leader Norman Thomas also proclaimed that the New Deal was an American version of fascism — and Thomas was anything but any kind of conservative. Of course, during the years of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, so did the American Communists brand FDR a proto-fascist and condemn the New Deal as fascist. As for the New Deal being responsible for a renewed recession, as Judis does not indicate, current scholarship indicates that this conclusion is now fairly mainstream — and that conservatives said it was true back then does not make it wrong.