April 24, 2004


THE PARTY OF THE PEOPLE: "Love guns and hate gays? Bush is your kind of populist. Low taxes? Bush has relieved the tax burden on working Americans; Clinton promised to, but failed to deliver." The Republicans, unlike the Democrats, have delivered what their constituency wants. (Jack Beatty, 4/22/04, The Atlantic)

The Shanksvilles of America have been tricked by the Republicans, Thomas Frank writes in the April issue of Harpers.

The trick never ages, the illusion never wears off. Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital-gains taxes. Vote to make our country strong again; receive deindustrialization. Vote to screw those politically correct college professors; receive electricity deregulation. Vote to get government off our backs; receive conglomeration and monopoly everywhere from media to meatpacking.

But these trends and measures are not Republican swindles on credulity. They are the priorities of the funders of both parties, and Bill Clinton advanced and presided over them. Clinton promised "people who work hard and play by the rules" greater economic security; they got de-industrialization with NAFTA, the WTO, and the normalization of trade with China—and greater economic insecurity. Senator Ernest Hollings (D, S.C.) called the anti-trust division of the Clinton justice department "the anti-anti-trust division" for its benign attitude toward conglomeration. Clinton promised a tax cut for the middle class but delivered a cut in capital gains.

And the Republicans "values" agenda is not a con. Bush signed a ban on late-term abortions vetoed by Clinton. He curtailed stem-cell research. He ended abortion counseling in U.S.-funded clinics in the Third World. And Bush has made the White House God's temple. The first words the speechwriter David Frum heard upon entering the Bush White House were, "Missed you at Bible study.

Love guns and hate gays? Bush is your kind of populist. Low taxes? Bush has relieved the tax burden on working Americans; Clinton promised to, but failed to deliver. Has Bush made America stronger? Almost certainly weaker, as Richard Clarke argues, by subordinating the war on terror to the obsession with Iraq. But he talks strength, and believes in force. He has, after all, liberated thousands of Iraqis and Afghans from life under tyranny to death under American bombs—i.e. "freedom." Bush thinks the whole world deserves "freedom," and if he has to fill graveyards "changing the world," as he declared at his recent press conference, well, at least people will know that when America says it will do something, it will follow through no matter how counter-productive the effort or how many Red (and Blue) State kids die along the way. The GOP "strong on defense" mantra is no con. Bush's foreign policy is war.

The Red State electorate is not fooled. They may not know the details of Bush's crony-capitalist raid on the treasury but would they reject the GOP if they did? They vote for values, strength, guns, and righteous ferocity abroad—and the GOP delivers. The rest comes under the heading of keeping government off our backs.

What have the Democrats delivered?

It's a sad day when Jack Beatty has to defend the American people from the charge that they're being duped. Over the next 6 months, as John Kerry's candidacy descends from farce into tragedy, expect to see more essays like Mr. Frank's than like Mr. Beatty's.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 24, 2004 9:19 AM

Was that a defense, or an indictment?

Posted by: Twn at April 24, 2004 10:16 AM