The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

John B. Judis: Just Makin’ Stuff Up

Posted on | January 18, 2011 | 3 Comments

Anyone familiar with the schisms and divisions among Republicans would be well advised not to read this article by The New Republic‘s senior editor while drinking coffee:

In short, for the first time since the Civil War, the United States has a political party that is ideologically cohesive, disciplined, and determined to take power, even at the cost of disrupting the political system. What accounts for this remarkable transformation? And how likely it is that the Republican Party will continue to act this way during the next two years?

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? The Democrats of 2005-2008 weren’t “determined to take power”? Democrats bear no responsibility for “disrupting the political system”?

Judis begins by citing a 1960 political science textbook describing U.S. political parties as “creatures of compromise, coalitions of interest in which principle is muted and often even silenced,” an alleged tradition from which he says the Republicans have departed — a departure he suggests is both unique and unprecedented.

If this is not an altogether false history, it is certainly tendentious and overlooks important context. The book cited by Judis, Clinton Rossiter’s Politics and Parties in America, was published in the final year of the Eisenhower presidency. In the previous 30 years, after the Hoover debacle, the nation had been convulsed by the Great Depression, the New Deal and World War II. During the unprecedented 13-year presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, the GOP had fallen into a state of desperate political decrepitude. Republicans gained a congressional majority in 1946 and elected the war-hero Ike as president in 1952, but lost the House in 1954 and lost the Senate two years later.

The Age of Eisenhower was an era when the GOP drifted into a meaningless me-too moderation, the so-called “Modern Republican” movement that was denounced as ridiculous and unprincipled by William F. Buckley Jr. in his 1959 classic, Up From Liberalism.

In such an era, it was possible for Rossiter to see Americna political parties as “creatures of compromise,” but that tradition — if, indeed, it is historically accurate to describe it as a tradition — was ended by the revolutionary upheavals of the 1960s. And it is interesting that of all historians Judis could have cited, he sided Clinton Rossiter who, according to Wikipedia, committed suicide at age 52 in 1970:

His beloved Cornell was convulsed with racial conflict, including the famous armed occupation of the student union building in April 1969. Rossiter became prominent as a moderate voice among the faculty, urging some understanding of the African-American students’ frustrations. For this he was branded a traitor by hard-line faculty, some of whom (such as Allan Bloom) refused to speak to him again.

Ten years after he published the paean to moderation cited by Judis, then, Rossiter’s idealistic “moderation” was destroyed by an insurent radicalism with which it was incapable of coping.

John B. Judis? He came of age as a 1960s radical at Berkeley, and is busy re-writing history to reflect his own ideology. Those who can’t tell the truth about the past are not to be trusted as analysts of the present, and are poor guides for the future.

UPDATE: Like a rampaging elephant, Ed Driscoll never forgets: “In January of 2009, TNR urged the incoming president to “screw civility;” good to see they’re not changing course now.”


Comments are closed.