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John B. Judis' Wrongheaded Screed Against the Republicans: Is This the New TNR?

Finally, let me call my readers' attention to two articles in the Jan. 17th issue of The Weekly Standard. Without having read Judis, its authors reveal what is so wrong about his analysis. First, Jay Cost writes about the Republican Party of the past. But unlike Judis, Cost explains that the current Republican Party is strong in areas like that where John Boehner hails from, and reflects “the rise of the postwar suburbs” that swung voters who used to vote Democrat to the GOP, “which it has consistently supported for president since 1968.” These are, I might add, precisely the suburbs that, according to Judis, would be the heart of the new emerging Democratic majority.  As Cost writes: “Over the last 60 years, Republican strength has moved southward and westward into territory once controlled by the Democrats.” He goes on to explain that “the pro-growth policies of the Republican Party made new suburbs a natural home for these voters.”

And Cost then mentions Judis’ vast omission -- “the leftward drift of the Democratic party.” He is completely on target when he points out that “after the reforms of the Great Society, northern liberals acquired control of the party and pushed it away from the political center, alienating scores of old New Deal voters like culturally conservative Catholics.” He notes that these Catholics handed the Republicans a 20 point victory in the 2010 mid-term elections. Judis should know this. It was the thesis of my 1996 book, Divided They Fell:The Demise of the Democratic Party. I know Judis read it, because he wrote one of the blurbs for it, pointing out that “Radosh makes a good case for why the left must shoulder the responsibility” for the Democratic Party’s decline.

As for Judis’ new claim of extremism, Cost writes the following, to which Judis should take note:

Once upon a time, the Democrats promised a reasonable social safety net that would not impede growth. Social Security and Medicare were perfectly consistent, they argued, with 3 percent or better increases in annual GDP. Yet those days are long gone. Today’s Democrats might talk a good game about prosperity, fiscal responsibility, and a vibrant and secure middle class, but the proof is in the pudding: The last significant action of the 111th House saw a majority of all House Democrats vote to keep taxes low. But of the Democrats who are returning to the new Congress, a majority of them voted to raise taxes just as the economy is limping out of recession.

What the Republicans must do, this conservative author points out, is the following:

What the Republican party​—​supported as it is today by so many former Democrats​—​must do is what the Democrats used to claim to be able to do. The Republicans must find a way to sustain the entitlements that Americans have come to depend on​—​most notably Social Security and Medicare​—​without crippling the economy with increased levels of taxation. Liberal Democrats who demagogue about secret Republican schemes to destroy Social Security and Medicare have it exactly backwards. In truth, the Republican party​—​and only the Republican party​—​can save these entitlements without destroying the prospects for economic growth. The Democratic party can no longer be counted on to do this, which is why the GOP consists of so many old Democratic constituencies. This is the great mandate of the GOP: not to destroy the New Deal and Great Society, but to save their best elements from the ruinous ambitions of today’s liberal Democrats.

He says the Republicans must “sustain the entitlements,” but without “crippling the economy.” He does not say end them and go back to a complete 19th Century laissez-faire system, which is what Judis says is the Republican program. And Judis, as Cost predicts, is the man who leads the pack in demagoguery, arguing about non-existent plans to destroy Social Security and Medicare.

The other point Judis argues -- that Republicans do not want bipartisanship -- is covered in the article by Fred Barnes, who tells readers about how serious talks last fall between Senator Bob Corker and Senator Chris Dodd, who sought to work out a compromise on financial regulations, were ended on March 10th when the White House, deciding that they did not need Republican votes, pulled the plug on the bipartisan negotiations. As Barnes point out, Corker was furious when Obama came to the Senate Republican policy lunch and lectured them on the need for bipartisanship.  I guess Judis also missed that issue of the Standard.

The truth is, as my historian friend Martin J. Sklar continually points out, the Republicans are today the party of progress and the future, and the Democrats, whom Judis heralds are the new reactionaries, are devoted to trying to create a command-state economy. And as National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru writes, “Judis is just ventilating his prejudices.” Too bad The New Republic sees fit to give this venting the lead position in its new issue.