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Is the Party Over?
Round Two: Response


As we continue this fun roundtable on the proposition that the Republican Party is finished, I hate to be a party pooper. So I'll be brief in mentioning the most recent Pew Center poll (June 4-8) that found likely voters favoring the Republicans in this fall's House elections by 48 percent to 44 percent.

Now back to our debate.

Stanley Greenberg makes two claims: first, that there is a worldwide trend against conservative parties, and second, that in the United States the Democratic Party under Clinton has moved to the center and ceased to be its old "big-spending, big-taxing, unpatriotic, and anti-middle class" self.

Christopher Caldwell responds:
"Maybe Mr. Norquist is right that conservative governments are often thrown out of office only after raising taxes. But why are they always raising taxes?"

See the rest of Caldwell's response.

The idea that the electoral losses of "conservative" parties in Britain, Canada, and France following George Bush's suicide in 1992 are part of some failure of the center-right world view misses one key point. In each case the governing "conservative" party specifically repudiated its Reaganite or Thatcherite tradition and RAISED TAXES. There is one crime a conservative party may not commit if it wants to be re-elected: raising taxes. That breaks the promise conservative parties make to fight for smaller government. Center-right parties that raise taxes lose -- and they deserve to. (Watch the gubernatorial elections in 1998. The only states the Republicans might lose are those where taxes have been raised.)

What Do You Think?
Join the debate in The Body Politic. We'll highlight selected readers' comments here in the margins as the Roundtable progresses.

If I were defending the historical trends as favoring the Left, I wouldn't be too quick to move to international examples. When I was a college student the single greatest argument for the success of the Left was the Red Army. The collapse of socialism resulted from the success of Reaganism in both foreign policy and economic policy. The world continues to move toward lower tax rates, more privatization, more competition -- an explicit rejection of Marxism, socialism, communism, and all the other left-wing "isms" that my college classmates assured me constituted "the future."

Stanley Greenberg's assertions that the Democratic Party has moved toward the center and abandoned its losing beliefs on foreign policy, crime, high taxes, and big-spending centralized government are his own wishful thinking. Bill Clinton's moderate-sounding rhetoric is not the same thing as a sea change in the core beliefs and interests that animate the modern Democratic Party.

The Republican Party is the coalition of individuals (the "Reagan Coalition") who wish to be left alone by the government. The Democratic Party is now the "Taking Coalition" -- a collection of interest groups who view the proper role of government as taking things (usually money) from one group of people and giving to others (usually themselves). This includes the labor-union bosses, the trial lawyers, the corrupt big-city machines, the beneficiaries of government spending and grants, and the two wings of the dependency movement (those locked into welfare dependency and those who make $80,000 a year managing the dependency of others, making sure they don't escape, get a job, and become Republicans).

Stanley Greenberg responds:
"Norquist grabs hold of the NEA as evidence that the Democratic Party remains unreformed and unrepentant. Somehow he failed to notice what happened to Bob Dole when he attacked the teachers' unions and promised to abolish the Department of Education.... Voters are looking for a politics that is relevant to their lives, and the right seems not to get it."

See the rest of Greenberg's response.

As the "Taking Coalition," the Democratic Party must oppose parental choice in education. The reverend and former congressman Floyd Flake has pointed out that school choice is the modern civil-rights movement. Bill Clinton has choice for his child, but when the interests of the teachers' unions are pitted against the future of poor black children in Washington D.C., Bill Clinton, despite his moderate rhetoric, is forced by his party's financial backers to slap down the children of America's poorest on behalf of a powerful union. Just as George Wallace once stood at the schoolhouse door and won votes by telling black children they could not come in, Bill Clinton and the Democratic Party now stand at the schoolhouse door in America's inner cities and tell the parents of black and Latino parents that their children cannot be allowed out. The National Education Association's campaign contributions are more important to Bill Clinton and the Democratic Party than the futures of American children.

Trial lawyers keep Clinton and the Democrats from cleaning up the environment by insisting on siphoning off most of the money that's supposed to be for cleaning up toxic waste sites. And the trial lawyers opposed any caps on their profits from the proposed tobacco-tax increase.

As soon as Clinton won the presidency he pushed for tax hikes. He did so again through his proposed tobacco-tax increase. He has also asked for billions in other taxes recently, including gasoline and energy taxes. The Democratic Party remains the high-tax party, opposing the IRS-reform legislation this past year until the public outcry made Clinton retreat.

The Republicans still have their central winning issue: lower taxes. They are pushing this year to abolish the marriage-penalty tax that Clinton defends. They are pushing for abolishing the death tax Clinton wants to increase and the capital-gains tax that Clinton has already tried to raise.

On education policy the Democratic Party is held hostage by the teachers' unions. On economic policy the Democrats are owned by labor unions and trial lawyers. And Clinton's foreign policy on China and Iraq, not to mention his hostility to Israel, make McGovern look strong. This is the "new" Democratic Party?

What do you think?

See what other readers have to say about the future of the Republican Party in the Body Politic forum -- and share your views. We'll highlight selected readers' comments as the Roundtable progresses.

Roundtable Overview

Introduction and opening questions by Jack Beatty

Round One: Opening Remarks -- posted on June 18, 1998

Round Two: Responses -- posted on June 25, 1998

Round Three: Concluding Remarks -- posted on July 2, 1998

Grover Norquist is the president of Americans for Tax Reform and a close advisor to the Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.

Copyright © 1998 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
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