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.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.