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Jewish World Review Jan. 10, 2002 / 26 Teves, 5762

Michael Barone

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Trading places --
HOW have the two major parties changed in the year and a month since George W. Bush was declared the winner of the 2000 presidential election? Start with the Democrats.

The striking thing here is the disappearance of two types of Democrats who at different times dominated the party over the past 20 years-the "blame America first" Democrats and the "new Democrats." The blame-America-first Democrats were named by Jeane Kirkpatrick, a longtime Democrat herself, in her memorable speech at the 1984 Republican National Convention. "They always blame America first," she said repeatedly, documenting how

Democratic politicians reflexively criticized American policies rather than those of America's adversaries. This started with Democrats' criticisms of Richard Nixon's conduct of the war in Vietnam-a war that Democratic presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson escalated but could not win. Increasingly, Democrats seemed to see America as the bad guy and its adversaries as, if not the good guys, at least people whose opposition to America was understandable. This attitude continued through the Iran hostage crisis of 1979-81, in which Jimmy Carter apologized for America's support of the shah, until the Gulf War resolution in January 1991, which most Democrats opposed vociferously.

There is something unnatural about a great political party taking an adversarial attitude toward the nation it seeks to lead-and something politically damaging: During their blame-America-first period, Democrats lost five of six presidential elections. But Bill Clinton's liberal use of patriotic rhetoric and deployments of American troops abroad got many Democrats out of the habit of blaming America first. On September 11, Democrats responded as one with Republicans in defense of an America under attack. The blame-America Democrats are no more-which is good for America and good for the Democratic Party.

Break with the past. More problematic is the near disappearance of new Democrats. Clinton supported freer trade for eight years and gave rhetorical support to investment accounts under Social Security in 1998-99. But the chance for bipartisan Social Security reform was missed, and Al Gore and Joseph Lieberman campaigned against change. Now, virtually all Democrats are against it.

Also, last month nearly all House Democrats voted against trade promotion authority-a sharp break from the party's historic support of free trade. There are still some new Democrats in state and local office, but they are scarce at the national level. That may not be a good thing for the party: No big-government Democrat has been elected president since 1964.

The Democrats have become a party out of the New Deal era-patriotic on foreign policy, statist domestically. The Republicans in the last year have become a party centered on the person of George W. Bush. By design and by accident, he has embodied two strains of Republican thinking. One is the "leave us alone" conservatism articulated by Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform.

He argues that economic conservatives and cultural conservatives just want the government to leave them alone-no higher taxes, no gun control-and that they can stay united because neither threatens the other's goal. The other strain is the "national greatness" conservatism of the Weekly Standard's William Kristol and David Brooks: Republicans should embark on great national projects that tie the nation together.

Bush's strong support of tax cuts and his solid conservative positions on cultural issues in early 2001 appealed to leave-us-alone conservatives; his steely and morally clarified prosecution of the war since September 11 has appealed to the national-greatness conservatives. But what comes after the war? For that, Bush laid the groundwork in 1999. His faith-based initiative and his friendly attitudes toward Latinos were part of a "compassionate conservatism" based on a duty to help the less fortunate. His domestic policies on education, Medicare, and Social Security have the common themes of allowing individuals more choices and subjecting them to more accountability.

These are the characteristics that over the past 20 years have made America's private economy more productive and creative. A post-war-on-terrorism Bush is well positioned to argue that such policies can make government more productive and creative too.

This is because he has gathered together the various strains of conservatism and personifies the Republican Party today more than his father, more than Ronald Reagan or Dwight Eisenhower, more than anyone since his strategist Karl Rove's exemplar, William McKinley.

Michael Baone Archives

JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report and the author of, most recently, "The New Americans." He also edits the biennial "Almanac of American Politics". Send your comments to him by clicking here.


©2001, Michael Barone