The Party Leapfrogging Leftward


The two major political parties appear to be on the verge of an ideological realignment.

Warning against the President’s almost dictatorial assertions of executive branch power, the former presidential nominee of the more conservative of the nation’s two political parties stressed that the unitary executive theory advanced by the occupant of the White House would reduce Congress to "little more than that of the … Congress of the Soviets, the Reichstag of Germany or the Italian parliament [under Mussolini]."

Strong stuff. But the President was getting it from both sides of the aisle, as the nation headed toward mid-term elections. "In our blind gropings," the former President from the more liberal of the two national parties agreed, "we have stumbled into philosophies which lead to the surrender of freedom."

Is that scenario 2006?

No, it is 1934, and the president at the time was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The former President was Herbert Hoover in his 1934 book, and the former Presidential nominee of the more conservative of the two parties was 1928 nominee for President Al Smith, former Governor of New York.

But it could have been 2006.

That the Democratic Party had been the more conservative of the two national parties in 1932 is beyond dispute. The Democrats called for a balanced budget, tax cuts and the following reduction in the size of the federal government in its 1932 platform:

"We advocate an immediate and drastic reduction of governmental expenditures by abolishing useless commissions and offices, consolidating departments and bureaus, and eliminating extravagance to accomplish a saving of not less than twenty-five per cent in the cost of the Federal Government."

Cutting the size of the federal government by one quarter was an ambitious goal, especially for a time when the federal government performed far fewer tasks than today. And the proposed Democratic reduction was far more ambitious than any plan advocated by any Republican Party since. This was the long history of the Democratic Party up until the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Yet by 1936 the calls by the Democratic Party to reduce the size of the Federal Government were gone, and the Democrats had led a four-year charge to ever-larger government with the charisma of its leader in the White House.

The Republican platform of 1936, however, had changed to find itself criticizing the assertions of presidential powers under Roosevelt.

"The powers of Congress have been usurped by the President. The integrity and authority of the Supreme Court have been flouted. The rights and liberties of American citizens have been violated….It has insisted on the passage of laws contrary to the Constitution. … We pledge ourselves to preserve, protect and defend, against all intimidation and threat … petition and immunity from unreasonable searches and seizures."

Does this sound familiar to the rantings of Democrats today? Could reversal of political party ideological positions again happen in America? It may already be happening, according to some inside-the-beltway conservatives. "Conservatives are as angry as I have seen them in my nearly five decades in politics," direct mail maven Richard Viguerie explained to a forum in the October Washington Monthly. Viguerie wanted the Republicans to lose the November elections. "Right now, I would guess that 40 percent of conservatives are ambivalent about the November election or want the Republicans to lose." Viguerie was being overly "conservative" in his estimates. Polling data indicate that conservatives who oppose President Bush and his policies are consistently more than 40 percent, and occasionally more than 60 percent of self-described "conservatives."

Viguerie’s own "ConservativeHQ" polled more than 1,000 conservative activists and donors in January 2006 and found that "77 percent are either seriously disappointed with Republican Congressional leaders or want them replaced." In August, a Zogby poll explained that "Among both conservatives and those who consider themselves very conservative, 59% give him positive marks, while 41% in each group gave [Bush] a negative job rating." A May 2006 Gallup poll found similar results, with just 52 percent of conservatives approving of President Bush.

The number of conservatives opposed to the Republicans largely depends upon the question asked. A May AP-Ipsos poll found that 45 percent of self-described conservatives disapproved of President Bush, an astonishing 65 percent of conservatives disapproved of the Republican-led Congress while a smaller — but still substantial — 31 percent of conservatives said they wanted the Republicans to lose in November.

Polling numbers aside, there are some concrete reasons for the separation of conservatives from the Republican Party. The six beltway conservatives who contributed to the Washington Monthly forum cited various complaints against the Republican Congress/White House, from unrestrained spending increases, record-breaking budget deficits, unnecessary wars (the biggest government program of all), the Bush Administration attack on the Bill of Rights, and the "nation-building" the Bush administration has engaged in despite its earlier promises. Non-defense spending has risen more sharply under Bush and his Republican Congress than under both Clinton and the Republican Congress and Clinton and a Democratic Congress.

This fall, the Republicans in the House of Representatives scored to the left of the Democrats for the first time in The New American’s "Conservative Index" 35-year history. The American Conservative expressed its sentiments simply in the title for its house editorial "GOP Must Go."

Former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough, a leading light of the "Revolution of 1994" freshmen who took control of the House of Representatives after two generations of Democratic dominance, likened returning the Republicans to power in November with "Bourbon Street hookers running the Southern Baptist Convention," explaining: "After six years of Republican recklessness at home and abroad, I seriously doubt Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid or the aforementioned Bourbon Street hookers could spend this country any deeper into debt than my Republican Party." Beltway conservative Bruce Bartlett of the Cato Institute was even more explicit in his Washington Monthly essay, titling it "Bring on Pelosi."

Even veteran Republican leaders are bailing out of the party bandwagon this year as the GOP has positioned itself to the left of the Democrats (and voted that way too!). Absent a post-election internal GOP revolution, the recent realignment of the two major political parties —with the Republicans as the party of big government — would be consolidated more or less permanently.

Some conservatives still doubt that an ideological realignment could take place because social conservatives would never abandon their party, the party that supports the right to life and social conservatism. But the pro-life plank of the GOP’s platform is already a dead letter, and most Republicans of national stature already aggressively support abortion. Presidential contender and Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney flanked Ted Kennedy to the left on the abortion issue when Romney sought Kennedy’s seat a decade ago, and used his position as a member of the Board of Directors of the Boy Scouts of America to try to force the scouts to accept homosexual pack leaders. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has similar positions. Other potential leading GOP candidates Rudy Guiliani, Condoleezza Rice, Bill Frist and George Pataki are all militantly pro-abortion. The closest you’ll come to a pro-life position among GOP leaders of national stature is Newt Gingrich, who runs away from any discussion of abortion, and John McCain, who generally has a pro-life voting record but once said "I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade, which would then force women in America to [undergo] illegal and dangerous operations." And the Republican Party-led Congress and White House have made the United States government the world’s largest purchaser and distributor of condoms.

Social conservatives have lost the Republican Party every bit as much as fiscal conservatives.

There has arguably never been much difference ideologically between the two parties in the modern era, where platforms are determined by candidates elected in primaries. But there has at least been a difference between the Republicans and Democrats since 1936 in the marketing strategy of the two parties. With the Republican Party openly campaigning for total government, a marketing change is not far down the road unless they receive the severe chastisement from the electorate Tuesday that most pollsters expect. Even then, unless Republicans openly reject the Bush White House’s philosophy, the Republican Party will remain the party of Big Government that it has already become.