The Corner

Re: Thank Goodness

Jonah: I read the John Judis article (sub. req’d.) on which that cover is based. I’ve learned a lot from reading Judis over the years, but—and I mean this in the most civil way possible—that essay is totally nuts.

The basic story, familiar to anyone who has been reading the liberal press for the last few years, is that the GOP is ideologically extreme and homogeneous. The new twist is that Judis sees the party’s roots in the Republican/southern Democratic alliance of the 1930s. But even that twist isn’t all that new, and Judis sticks with the convention that racist Southern Democrats can be ignored when they’re contributing to the glories of the New Deal while later, less-racist Southern Democrats who vote for Republican presidents taint any coalition they join.

Judis makes his case through cherry-picking and exaggeration. Example one:

Today, the Democratic Party remains this kind of [ideologically mixed] party. (For example, twelve Senate Democrats voted for George W. Bush’s tax cut in 2001, and, more recently, 27 House Democrats voted against Barack Obama’s financial-services reform bill.) But the Republican Party has become a very different creature. . . . [Judis then provides a quick history of the party from 1995 onward.]

This is cherry-picking. So about a tenth of House Democrats opposed the financial-regulation bill. About a fifth of House Republicans voted to expand the S-Chip program. Why are we supposed to consider the first vote more telling than the second? A recent survey of historical data on party-voting by Congressional Quarterly shows that in 2007, 2008, and 2009—the last three years for which data were available—House Democrats were slightly more unified than House Republicans, and Senate Democrats slightly more unified than Senate Republicans.

My second example comes from Judis’s description of the aims of the Republican “revolution” of 1995.

United within a party, the conservative coalition lost the inhibitions that had previously prevented it from trying to destroy its Democratic opposition and to dismantle the New Deal itself. After taking control of Congress in 1995, the Republicans advanced a maximalist program of eliminating Cabinet departments and eviscerating regulatory agencies—a program that would have reduced the federal government to a pre – New Deal caretaker of business interests had it gone through. The GOP was now following the provocative script of a counterrevolutionary party, seeking to embarrass and cripple the party in power by advancing measures that it knew would not be countenanced—eliminating the Department of Commerce!—and by shutting down the government when it didn’t get its way.

What’s most telling is that exclamation mark. Judis finds it hard to imagine a world in which several of the programs in the Commerce Department continue to exist but others do not and all of them are not organized as a Cabinet-level entity. That’s what the congressional Republicans were trying to do in that case. They were also trying to abolish the Departments of Energy and Education, which were less than two decades old at the time. Some Republicans also went after HUD, which like those two programs was not part of the New Deal. Under the “counterrevolutionary” budget, the federal government would still have been running Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, the EPA. It would still own a huge fraction of the country’s land. It would. . . oh, why bother? Judis is just ventilating his prejudices.

Ramesh Ponnuru — Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg View, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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