Bob Dole's recent claim that Reagan wouldnt have won in todays GOP, led to left-wing commentators swooping in to feign sorrow about the state of their political opponents. The problem, argued the New York Times editorial page, is not simply that the GOP has shifted rightward; the party is no longer capable of constructive governance. A “furiously oppositional Republican party” has “mainstream conservatives like Mr. Dole and Senator John McCain shaking their heads in disgust.” Republicans “want to dismantle government, using whatever crowbar happens to be handy, and they don’t particularly care what traditions of mutual respect get smashed at the same time.”
Meanwhile, at the Washington Post, blogger Ezra Klein argued, “Over the last few years, the Republican party has been retreating from policy ground they once held and salting the earth after them. This has coincided with, and perhaps even been driven by, the Democratic party pushing into policy positions they once rejected as overly conservative.”
Is the left-wing accurately analyzing the problems of the right-wing? For that matter, does Bob Dole understand his own party?
Liberal Democrats of the past—far from admiring Republicans for their inherent moderation and good sense—were well aware of the GOP’s tendency to oppose their ideas, which helps explain why the New York Times has not endorsed a Republican presidential nominee in more than half a century. In its endorsement of Bob Dole’s opponent, the paper declared Bill Clinton could offer “protection from Republican excess.” Sound familiar? Of the welfare reform bill of 1996, which Bob Dole helped shepherd through the Senate, the Times editorial board—in a piece headlined “A Sad Day for Poor Children”—bemoaned, “This is not reform, it is punishment.” It denounced the “harsh cut in food stamps,” the “extreme cuts in benefits for disabled children,” the “devastating” impact on cities. The paper derided the bill as “not fair” and “not humane.”
in some respects Republicans have actually moved leftward over the years. Not on every issue, of course; the GOP can still be counted on to oppose Democrat-drafted pork barrel spending gussied up as “stimulus” and liberal designs for universal health care. But when they had complete control over the federal government from 2003 through 2007, Republicans did not eliminate the Department of Housing and Urban Development. They did not ditch Medicare Parts A and B. In fact, for the fiscal years when the GOP had total control of the budget-drafting process, discretionary nondefense spending averaged 3.8 percent of gross domestic product, about what it was during the Great Society and higher than during the Clinton years.
So why are liberals complaining about the GOP’s lurch rightward in recent years? One obvious explanation is the “mobilization of bias.” You cannot win elections in this country as a radical; ergo, if liberals can successfully tag Republicans as radicals, then they can effectively eliminate the GOP as a competitor.