Former Bush Adviser Claims Democrats Moved Further Left than Republicans Moved Right

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Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the ethics and Public Policy Center, and, more critically, a former Bush adviser, claimed yesterday in an op-ed in The New York Times that “in the last two decades the Democratic Party has moved substantially further to the left than the Republican Party has shifted to the right.”

As Jonathan Chait pointed out at New York Magazine yesterday in what is certainly an understatement, “His case is not strong.” In fact, there is no evidence that Wehner is right, and plenty of evidence that he is wrong.

Wehner asserts that the liberal claim that Republicans are the ones who have become more extreme over the years is a “self-flatting but false narrative.”

According to Wehner, the GOP is right where it was at during the Gingrich era of the mid-90s, but that while Clinton “endorsed a sentencing policy of ‘three strikes and you’re out,’ and Obama has “chosen to focus on police abuses.”

For the record, Mr. Clinton has said he was wrong.

Just this past month, Bill Clinton renounced his 1994 crime bill. He said that while “I wanted to pass the bill and so I did go along with it…The problem is the way it was written and implemented, we have too wide a net.”

Wehner, ignoring the fact that the GOP once upon a time (from Nixon to George H.W. Bush) had no problems at all with the idea of contraception, complains that,

Obama is more liberal than Mr. Clinton was on gay rights, religious liberties, abortion rights, drug legalization and climate change.

Wehner also ignores, in advancing these claims, the inconvenient fact of the takeover of the Republican Party by the Religious Right, which on social issues, pushed Republicans so far to the right that Mr. Obama, whom some see as being more of a moderate Republican than a Democrat, looks like a communist in Republican eyes.

But Mr. Obama was correct in saying back in 2012 that “My policies are so mainstream that if I had set the same policies that I have back in the 1980s, I’d be considered a moderate Republican.” By the same token, for all that Republicans have sainted Ronald Reagan, he would not qualify as a Republican today based on his policies.

I will be generous here and say that Wehner is being…disingenuous. The whole country is more liberal on gay rights than it was when Clinton was president. One could say – with great accuracy – that the changes in the Democratic Party only mirror the changes in American society as a whole.

Polling data proves this. In fact, Mr. Obama began his first term behind a growing consensus in America that there was nothing wrong with marriage equality. His views, as he put it, like the nation’s, “evolved.”

As for religious liberties, there were religious liberties then and there are religious liberties now. The federal RFRA – the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 – was written to protect religious minorities.

The Republican-backed RFRA’s of today are written to legalize the persecution of the LGBT community. Rather than protect religious minorities, these Republican RFRA’s protect bigots acting under the dubious sanctity of religious belief.

They are apples and oranges. And, in fact, the federal RFRA had broad bipartisan support at the time it was written into law. Just a few years later, it wasn’t good enough. Rather than minority religious belief, Republicans wanted their “beliefs” protected.

One of Wehner’s problems is that his op-ed is nothing but assertions. He backs none of it up with hard facts. As Chain pointed out yesterday, “Wehner does not explain his disagreements with the quantitative measures, or mention their existence.”

Of course not. They would disprove his claims immediately. And here is why:


So rather than deal with actual evidence (and when was a Bush official ever willing to look at the actual evidence?) Wehner presses ahead with his assertions.

He outdoes himself when he says that Obama “is the first president to essentially nationalize health care.”

Of course, President Clinton tried to reform healthcare as well, and if he had succeeded, he would have been the first president to do so – back in the Gingrich era. As it happens, Mr. Clinton campaigned on healthcare reform in 1992 with a goal of universal healthcare for all Americans.

Democrats weren’t against the Clinton healthcare initiative. Newt Gingrich was.

What is interesting is that Obamacare is based on “Romneycare.” Under attack in 2012 for having done something conservative approved of in 2006 (yes, a difference of only six years), Mitt Romney said, “we got the idea of an individual mandate…from [Newt Gingrich], and [Newt] got it from the Heritage Foundation.”

For that reason, the Affordable Care Act serves as a curative to Wehner’s thesis: the Obamacare individual mandate was a conservative idea to begin with. Liberals would have preferred single-payer. They still do.

In fact, you may be suspecting by now that Wehner bases his comparison of Democratic and Republican parties entirely on a flawed comparison of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

This is a dubious methodology at best.

Wehner asserts that “One can also plausibly argue that the Republican Party is the governing party in America” on the basis of midterm victories in 2010 and 2014 and a preponderance of state governors (31-18) and state legislatures (“68 of 98 state legislative chambers”).

He concludes from this that “The Obama years have been politically good for Mr. Obama; they have been disastrous for his party.”

Right. Which is why Republicans have already done and will continue to do anything short of murder to keep Hillary Clinton away from the Democratic primaries. Democrats are so unpopular right now that there are more of us than ever before, and Hillary is outpolling the top Republican candidates in their own states. Bernie Sanders can even promote Scandinavian-style socialism without being booed off the planet.

That is how much Mr. Obama has damaged the Democratic brand.

In fact, Republicans have such a difficult time understanding how Mr. Obama could have won not just once, but twice, Megyn Kelly had to remind Karl Rove in 2012, like a metaphorical slap to the face, “You keep saying that, but he won, Karl, he won.”

And having built his case on the shifting sands of things Republicans say, in Megyn Kelly’s words, “to make yourself feel better,” Wehner concludes that,

For demographic reasons, many Democrats believe that they are riding a tide of presidential inevitability. They may want to rethink that. They are placing a very risky bet that there are virtually no limits to how far left they can go.

Wehner may wish to rethink the list of Republican hopefuls for 2016.

But potential candidates aside, there is no basis for a statement like this. None. It has been proven that the country as a whole has moved left on social issues. More people self-identify today as liberal than ever before.

Wehner can laugh off demographics, but Republican numbers will not long sustain Wehner’s fantasies, and that, again, is a fact.

In the final analysis, Wehner’s op-ed is the dying gasp of an outmoded political ideology that is nothing more than the reaction of a privileged few to their loss of privilege.

Megyn Kelly’s rebuttal of Karl Rove on Election Night 2012, asking, “Is this the math you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better?” is applicable here.

Don’t come to a debate without facts, Peter, because this isn’t Fox News, and wishful thinking won’t get the job done in the real world. In 2016, you’ll see why that’s true. You’ll just deny it.

24 Replies to “Former Bush Adviser Claims Democrats Moved Further Left than Republicans Moved Right”

  1. Like the bush administration said during the Iraq war, “We make our own reality” seems to apply here. Great Article

  2. more meaningless drivel from another bushie….empty wagon wagon,makes noises

    wehner’s drivel is north, east, west, and south of nowhere

  3. I saw that, they agreed, iirc 93% of the time. I don’t know enough about those votes but I do know when she was picking unpopular sides to arguements she had reasons for her constituents. She always said New Yorkers are her only concern and their interest made her vote on their behalf.

  4. Times Writer Is Stupid, Says Democrats Have Gone Too Far Left
    Oh, listen, dear, sweet American children. Come and gather close to the Rude Pundit while he explains a little recent history that, like so much of our history, is being revised by conservatives like mad Stalinists scrubbing Soviet classroom lessons of any mention of Trotsky. The latest, but certainly not the last, salvo is an op-ed in the New York Times by Peter Wehner, whose bio may as well read, “Republican ballsack washer.” He was in the Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II administrations, becoming one of W’s speechwriters. He also advised Mitt Romney’s doomed 2012 presidential campaign. So he has tasted the testes of many a powerful Republican who wanted to dip their nutbuckets in Wehner’s well. – See more at:

  5. Since so many Republicans feel that the Sun rises and sets upon their asses,thus from their frame of reference, it is the Sun that moves.
    And like the Sun, the Democrats who try to enlighten them, just end up burning the nimrods.

  6. Well, the RWNJs have called Hill a socialist alinskyite and left wing liberal for decades. The left wing fringe has called her republican light. Her husband was more centrist, by all credible accounts than she is. She was actually the 11th most liberal senator in history.

    As Obama said, they called him a socialist and here we are, a real honest to god socialist for them to chew on now and they do not attack at all.

    What’s up with that? LOL> They can’t attack the real socialist, they want the real socialist to attack the frontrunner.

    So she gets attacked from the left and right. And the dems want to win.

    You know what she is – beyond a label.

    Beyond a slogan.

    She isn’t a cartoon candidate. She is a lifelong public servant who has the stats.

  7. Of course what Wehner wrote was pure GOP drivel. What irks me is that the New York Times printed it. I’m sure that the editors can reject columns and to print one that is so patently untrue runs counter to everything a journalist learns in school. Isn’t the truth worth anything anymore? Does anyone at the New York Times think that the current Klown Kar occupants and the fools running the GOP-controlled Congress represent progress or, heaven forbid, liberalism at any level? All of their employees should be ashamed to name their employer in public.

  8. Seems to me NY Times has sold out. There is very little reporting any more. This paper has become the landing site for whacked out conservative liars.

  9. Follow the money, Beaglemom! The Gray Lady cannot just depend on the left to pay her bills — she has to kowtow to the reichwing once in a while to keep those few reichwing subscribers happy.

    Of course that article was drivel, but it acts as a wee (and somewhat dessicated) carrot, and keeps Wehner in the Bushes’ good books, just in case Jebbie might need to put him on the payroll.

  10. The Democratic Party really doesn’t exist anymore.
    The old, Progressive Party from the late
    1890’s has taken over. Many so-called Democrats admit they’re socialist, too.

  11. Bingo. Who do you think pays for and buys the stuff in those full page hoity-toity advertisements that pay their bills.

  12. Even a dimwit like Wehner is entitled to his opinion. Of course the Republican problem is in the last 8 or 10 years the Republican’s have moved so far right to placate their looney T-Party nimrods plus the fact that their base of old angry intolerant white guys are dying off by the 10’s of thousands. Republican’s won’t win a national elect for a couple of decades, if then.

  13. Equally mind-boggling is the blatant ignoring of the facts. The GOP just doesn’t care anymore, their lies being easier to live with. For them.

  14. Bruce Bartlett, former adviser to Reagan, was asked how would Reagan have been treated in the modern Republican Party.

    “I think he probably would be booed out of the crowd. If only because he gave amnesty to illegal aliens back in 1986. Nativists like Representative Steve King routinely denounce Reagan for that. They would have denounced him for raising taxes eleven times. They would have denounced him for raising the debt limit. They would have denounced him for running budget deficits. They would have denounced him for supporting labor unions. … And we are not even getting into all the liberal things that he did as governor such as signing the most liberal abortion law in the United States. I think this guy (Reagan) definitely would not be a favorite of this crowd.”

  15. Every time I hear these arguments, it seems a reconfiguration of the true structures behind power, and their trimmings. Had it been a representation of the golden mean, then conservative’s opposite are radicals. That a more hardened “right” shown by Republicans, would be countered with a more loosed “left” demonstrated by Democrats.

    To be Liberal IS the golden mean. It’s misrepresented as the “left” forcing the most educated and enlightened to be reviled by the closed minded and staunch traditionalists. You can be extreme as conservative or radical, but there’s a grace to being liberal that’s lost sight of in this argument.

  16. Do you think that Theodore Roosevelt or Dwight W. Eisenhower or even Barry Goldwater would recognize today’s Republicans? The Democratic Party lost its southern wing, thank God, and the GOP picked it up and became the poorer for it.

  17. What a joke, the Dems have moved so far to the right, they look like the Republicans in the 80’s. I just WISH they were as left as the Republicans think they were..we have MUCH work to do.

  18. God article, but please – ACA is based on innovative approaches to health care NOT on Romney’s plan. They are night and day. The ONLY similarity is the mandate, period. I have studied each in depth and damned well know the differences are huge. It just gets easier to tweak GOP noses by saying it’s ‘Romneycare’ – but it’s not because it benefits the patient who buys insurance and NOT the insurance carrier. Romney gave a $235 subsidy no matter what it cost you. Older people faced huge increases with few limits. ACA uses a sliding scale based on YOUR income at any stage of your life. Romneycare had a $15,000 deductible per person per year with only two things – mammograms and childhood immunizations – not needing to use that $15K. ACA has a vastly lower deductible plus dozens of high cost items such as colonoscopies free of extra charges. Patient-centered cost supports are a HUGE difference. HUGE.

    The GOP could barely move further right. Good on Dems for their move Left!

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