John B. Judis' Wrongheaded Screed Against the Republicans: Is This the New TNR?
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.
His main point is simply that “the conservative coalition of the 1930s is the Republican Party of today,” one that sees liberalism “as the product of communism or fascism that had been imported from Europe ... obsessed with strict fealty to an anachronistic reading of the Constitution”; investigated opponents to stop the administration’s program; and argued against government spending. If it was wrong then, says Judis, it must be wrong now. But today’s Republicans are even worse, because now, unlike the past, there are no moderate Republicans willing to work in a bipartisan fashion with Democrats on behalf of the American people.
Now, he claims, Republicans are trying to dismantle the entire New Deal edifice, not to stop overextended programs rejected by our countrymen, like ObamaCare. It is a pure and simple “counterrevolutionary party” that wants victory at any cost, even if it means destroying our entire government. He of course cites Newt Gingrich as a prime example -- ignoring the fact that the current new speaker of the House is not Gingrich, but John Boehner, who, as everyone knows, is acting in a very different fashion than Gingrich did in the Clinton years. Yes, he manages to write that Boehner and Mitch McConnell “are more cautious than Gingrich” -- hard to ignore that -- but says “they will be vigorously pushed to the right” by the Republican Congress and by other conservatives.
What you will not see anywhere in his article is an assessment of the current Democratic Party, and any awareness that one of the reasons the Republicans have made such major advances is that the Democratic Party has been pushed far to the left. In fact, the leadership of Pelosi and Reid and their supporters took pride in how so many Blue Dog Democrats lost in the mid-term election, because that gave the left wing of of their party more control! There is no discussion of the arrogant attempt of Reid to push through a new stimulus at the last moment, and of the mechanism by which the Democrats forced through an unpopular health care program by failing to consider any of the valid criticisms made of it by opponents.
Instead, he bemoans that there are no more “moderate pro-labor Republicans,” without mentioning that there are almost no more moderate centrist Democrats left who have any influence. I don’t recall Judis, for example, backing Joe Lieberman against Ned Lamont in the last Connecticut Senate race. And then Judis moans about think tanks -- they’re all extremist, like AEI and Heritage. I don’t notice Judis mentioning John Podesta’s Center for American Progress, which put out a recommendation that Obama rule by executive decree and bypass Congress, or the Old Left and still existing Institute for Policy Studies, whose staff has put out similar recommendations. As we all know, extremists are only on the right.
According to Judis, Republicans, conservative think tanks, and Fox News “speak the language of insurgency and insurrection.” A while ago, I blogged about Frances Fox Piven’s editorial in The Nation, in which she editorially calls for insurrection and violence. I guess that missed Judis’s reading list. Or is it ok when she does it, since Piven is a voice of the Left? As for AEI, its chief is a “right-wing propagandist.” Actually, he is an academic economist. Would Judis like to be described not as a journalist, but as a left-wing propagandist? Or a Marxist ideologue, since he revealed in early 2009 that he again considers himself a Marxist? (Shortly before Obama took office, Judis wrote, "A decade ago, I might have been embarrassed to admit that I was raised on Marx and Marxism, but I am convinced that the left is coming back." Ok -- I should have begun my article calling him a left-wing Marxist ideologue, not a “top-flight reporter.”)
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.