Joe Klein on the State of the Republican Party

Joe Klein calls the Republicans a Party of Nihilists, making the same points I have made in multiple previous posts. This includes their dishonesty in claiming that provisions for end of life counseling which do not differ from bills they have endorsed would create “death panels,” and the claims that health care reform represents government take over of health care when it has been the Republicans, not Democrats, who have been using government to intervene in the doctor-patient relationship. Klein wrote:

To be sure, there are honorable conservatives, trying to do the right thing. There is a legitimate, if wildly improbable, fear that Obama’s plan will start a process that will end with a health-care system entirely controlled by the government. There are conservatives — Senator Lamar Alexander, Representative Mike Pence, among many others — who make their arguments based on facts. But they have been overwhelmed by nihilists and hypocrites more interested in destroying the opposition and gaining power than in the public weal. The philosophically supple party that existed as recently as George H.W. Bush’s presidency has been obliterated. The party’s putative intellectuals — people like the Weekly Standard‘s William Kristol — are prosaic tacticians who make precious few substantive arguments but oppose health-care reform mostly because passage would help Barack Obama’s political prospects. In 1993, when the Clintons tried health-care reform, the Republican John Chafee offered a creative (in fact, superior) alternative — which Kristol quashed with his famous “Don’t Help Clinton” fax to the troops. There is no Republican health-care alternative in 2009. The same people who rail against a government takeover of health care tried to enforce a government takeover of Terri Schiavo’s end-of-life decisions. And when Palin floated the “death panel” canard, the number of prominent Republicans who rose up to call her out could be counted on one hand.

A striking example of the prevailing cravenness was Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia, who has authored end-of-life counseling provisions and told the Washington Post that comparing such counseling to euthanasia was nuts — but then quickly retreated when he realized that he had sided with the reality-based community against his Rush Limbaugh-led party. Mitt Romney, the Republican front-runner for President according to most polls, actually created a universal-health-care plan in Massachusetts that looks very much like the proposed Obamacare, but he spends much of his time trying to fudge the similarities and was AWOL on the “death panels.” Why are these men so reluctant to be rational in public?

An argument can be made that this is nothing new. Dwight Eisenhower tiptoed around Joe McCarthy. Obama reminded an audience in Colorado that opponents of Social Security in the 1930s “said that everybody was going to have to wear dog tags and that this was a plot for the government to keep track of everybody … These struggles have always boiled down to a contest between hope and fear.” True enough. There was McCarthyism in the 1950s, the John Birch Society in the 1960s. But there was a difference in those times: the crazies were a faction — often a powerful faction — of the Republican Party, but they didn’t run it. The neofascist Father Coughlin had a huge radio audience in the 1930s, but he didn’t have the power to control and silence the elected leaders of the party that Limbaugh — who, if not the party’s leader, is certainly the most powerful Republican extant — does now. Until recently, the Republican Party contained a strong moderate wing. It was a Republican, the lawyer Joseph Welch, who delivered the coup de grâce to Senator McCarthy when he said, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?” Where is the Republican who would dare say that to Rush Limbaugh, who has compared the President of the United States to Adolf Hitler?


  1. 1
    Eclectic Radical says:

    Klein’s article is actually pretty bad, even if I agree with many of his points. His facts are sloppy. Coughlin was a conservative Democrat, as were the majority of his listeners. They swung a fairly big bat with the Catholic and Southern wings of the Democratic Party during the Depression and WWII and FDR frequently had to call upon the support of the ‘Roosevelt Republicans’ to pass his programs.
    While Eisenhower was the president, based primarily on unmatchable popularity as ‘the man who won WWII in Europe’, he was not ‘the leader’ of his party. That space was occupied by Robert A. Taft until Taft’s death, and by Goldwater and Nixon after Taft’s death. Eisenhower’s presidency was spent governing from the center-left while trying to keep the conservative wing that really controlled the party happy.
    Goldwater and Nixon were raving leftists by the standards of today’s Republican Party, but their support was built on McCarthyism and Birchers and ‘Southern strategies.’ Though Richard Nixon could go down and history, if judged purely on his domestic policy, as one of the most liberal presidents ever, his political strategy has left him with the reputation as the great right wing villain of history.
    I find the argument that Chaffee’s health care bill was  superior to Hillarycare somewhat questionable as well, though that is much more subjective.
    What isn’t subjective is that there are two Republican alternatives to Obamacare: Judd Gregg’s CPR (which is truly horrifying, but is certainly a GOP alternative) and the Tom Coburn co-sponsored bill.
    I hate it when leftist writers use Ann Coulter standards of research and representation, even when the points they are making are correct.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    He wasn’t saying that Coughlin is a Republican.  With the changes in the party over the years it was valid to use Coughlin in comparison to Limbaugh. Coughlin and his supporters would be far right Republicans today.

    Klein is also correct in writing that the Republicans have had a moderate wing. While Goldwater and Nixon were far more moderate than today’s Republicans, these are not who he is likely to be referring to when mentioning the Republican moderate wing of the past.

    I don’t recall Chaffee’s health care proposal but it wouldn’t have been difficult to offer something better than Hillary’s plan. There are some measures being pushed by some Republican, but there really isn’t an overall Republican alternative being offered to counter the Democratic plans. The current Republican position is essentially do nothing.

    I certainly wouldn’t consider Klein to be a leftist writer and, while I’ve disagreed with many of his past columns, he is hardly anything like Ann Coulter.

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