The Other McCain

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

A Democrat, Re-Assessed

Posted on | July 17, 2011 | 45 Comments

One of my pet peeves during the Bush years were those conservative spokesmen — among them, Sean Hannity — who loved nothing better than to contrast today’s treacherous and unpatriotic Democrats with the allegedly good Democrats of The Good Old Days.

“FDR, Harry Truman and JFK!” goes this roll call of revered Democrats of yore, and certainly these men compare favorably to Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, but there are three basic problems with conservative celebrations of Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy:

  1. It no longer has political value. During the 1980s, especially, it was necessary for GOP spokesmen to tread lightly around the names of revered Democratic icons because they sought to appeal to so-called “Reagan Democrats.” Those voters were, generally, older working-class voters born in the 1920s and ’30s, who had voted straight-ticket Democrat all their lives until the McGovern debacle of 1972 created the “Democrats for Nixon” surge. Loyal Democrats had then returned to the fold to support Carter in 1976, but his administration was an utter disaster. And so Ronald Reagan (himself an ex-Democrat) was able to win over “Reagan Democrats” with rhetoric that included occasional praise for the Good Ol’ Democrats of Days Gone By. But most of those “Reagan Democrats” of who gave the Gipper such an overwhelming landslide in 1984 are now dead, or else they are complete converts to the GOP, deeply loyal Republicans who wouldn’t vote for a Democrat under any circumstance.
  2. It undermines partisan loyalty. Republicans never seem to understand this: The object of the game of politics is to persuade voters to support your party, period. All issues of policy or ideological principle aside, nothing is more important to winning elections than building party loyalty. Democrats are good at this, which is why their politicians are so fanatically partisan, without apology or embarrassment, because they have built solid party loyalty among their electoral constituencies, who hear the word “Republican” as a synonym for “scoundrel.” Many Republicans, on the other hand, seem to feel guilty about being Republicans, which is why at election time the GOP is always tucking its tail between its legs and pandering for support from undecided “swing” voters. Republicans lack the self-confidence to appeal to voters on the basis of outright partisanship, by pointing to the opposition and asking, “What honest person could ever vote for such a corrupt gang of lying jackals?” You cannot defeat your opponent by praising him, and praise for the Good Ol’ Democrats of Days Gone By is therefore counterproductive.
  3. It is not true. Contrary to what anyone may tell you, the Democratic Party was never really good, although perhaps it once was not nearly as bad as it is now. This is something you could learn by reading Donkey Cons: Sex, Crime, and Corruption in the Democratic Party. From the days of its co-founding by Aaron Burr, the dangerous man who made Tammany Hall into a legendary engine of political corruption, the Democratic Party has practiced vote fraud, pork-barreling, patronage and worse. To praise FDR is to praise a man whose nomination as president in 1932 was secured with the assistance of notorious gangsters like Frank Costello, Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky. To praise Harry Truman is to praise a tool of the vicious Pendergast machine that made Kansas City “a seething cauldron of crime, licensed and protected.” And to praise JFK . . .

Like Lincoln before him, John F. Kennedy was a controversial figure in life who underwent a magical transformation to secular sainthood when he fell victim to an assassin. In the decades since JFK’s death, we have learned much of Kennedy’s reckless sexual promiscuity, but his stewardship of the national interest is still shrouded in myth and obscured by a patina of “Camelot” glory. So it is with a smile that I read this by veteran foreign-affairs writer Thomas Ricks:

As I studied the Vietnam war over the last 14 months, I began to think that John F. Kennedy probably was the worst American president of the previous century.
In retrospect, he spent his 35 months in the White House stumbling from crisis to fiasco. He came into office and okayed the Bay of Pigs invasion. Then he went to a Vienna summit conference and got his clock cleaned by Khrushchev. That led to, among other things, the Cuban missile crisis and a whiff of nuclear apocalypse. . . .

Exactly so, and you should read the whole thing. Liberals have spent years praising JFK for his allegedly skillful handling of crises, but the fact is that nearly all the crises of the Kennedy administration were due to Kennedy’s own bungling. And it is high time that conservatives dare to tell the truth: JFK was just another bad Democrat, as are they all.


45 Responses to “A Democrat, Re-Assessed”

  1. Finrod Felagund
    July 18th, 2011 @ 12:40 am

    JFK did get tax cuts passed, which is something we haven’t seen the Democratic Party push for pretty much since then.