Memo To: Bob Herbert, NYTimes columnist
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: The Democratic Party is the Mean Party
Your Memorial Day column yesterday --“The Mean Strategy Backfires; Jeffords’s exit reveals the true G.O.P.” -- will be memorable for its pure meanness. I have to tell you, Bob, because nobody else will, that over the last year your column has become meaner and meaner, to the point where I picture you pulling the wings off flies on your days off. I still take a look at it because you sometimes raise a mean point I had not thought about, usually some new angle on how Republicans are getting uglier to widows and orphans in general and to African-American widows and orphans in particular. You have got it all wrong.
It is the Democratic Party that is the Mean Party. The Republican Party is the Stupid Party. No matter what they do to get along with the Democrats, it is never enough, but because they are stupid, they keep trying. Senator James Jeffords did not leave the G.O.P. because it was mean to him but because it had become too conservative for him. That’s all. When Jeffords was elected to Congress from Vermont 27 years ago, Richard Nixon was President. Nixon was arguably the most compassionate conservative ever to serve as President. He was a Quaker, so he thought he should go out of his way to be kind and generous to widows and orphans and the lame and the halt and to black folks. His Democratic predecessor, Lyndon Johnson, had cooked up the Great Society, but Nixon went cuckoo expanding it, with the help of his pal Bob Dole, who became known as the Tax Collector for the Welfare State.
It was Nixon who started the Food Stamp program because Democrats thought it was demeaning for poor people to simply get free food packages. It was Nixon who started black capitalism with Leon Sullivan of Philly, who I see just died. Remember the Philadelphia Plan? That’s when the Nixon Labor Department ordered lily-white labor unions to open their apprenticeship programs to black kids. It was Nixon who thunk up the Family Assistance Plan, a negative income-tax that we now call the earned-income tax credit. Free money just for voting Democrat, Bob. This was all expensive stuff, so the Party of Fiscal Responsibility raised taxes. In 1969, his first year, Nixon raised the capital-gains tax, for goodness sakes. How Stupid can you get. He announced: “We are all Keynesians now,” and followed the script of Ivy League Democratic economists in every regard. They wanted a cheap currency so their pals in the AFL-CIO could get more work by exporting stuff. Nixon gave it to them. Inflation happened, so Nixon imposed wage and price controls, just like the Socialists do.
What good did it do him? He got himself impeached and had to resign the presidency and get out of town. When all was said and done, the Mean Party, to which I belonged at the time, had to get rid of him because he was stealing their platform. As far left as the Democratic Party went, there was Nixon, triangulating at their heels. Jim Jeffords loved it. This was his kind of Republican Party. So you see the kind of compassionate conservatism that George W. Bush has been offering just is not enough for him. Or for you. Let’s face it, you guys will not be satisfied unless every American gets an equal share of everything. You are do-gooders. And some of you get vicious and mean when some of your fellow Americans do not want to be as good as you are. Jim Jeffords thus far has not been as mean and vicious as Sen. Tom Daschle, who will be the new Senate Majority Leader, probably the most soft-spoken, mean-spirited politician I have ever come across. Daschle is even more soft-spoken and mean-spirited than George Mitchell, who was Senate Majority Leader the last time the Democrats controlled the Senate. The rule is, OPPOSE EVERYTHING THE REPUBLICANS PROPOSE and when you do, TAKE OUT POLITICAL ADS SHOWING LITTLE GIRLS DRINKING ARSENIC AND BLACK MEN IN CHAINS BEING DRAGGED BEHIND PICK-UP TRUCKS IN TEXAS BY SOMEONE WHO LOOKS LIKE GEORGE BUSH.
See what I mean, Robert? When I was still a Democrat, I remembered my party doing that kind of thing all the time. Little girls pulling the petals off daisies and then going up in smoke from a Republican nuke. Every now and then we notice a Republican political ad that seems meaner than usual, but we usually find a Democrat who has written the ad, Dickie Morris, for example, when he did some work for Jesse Helms. As a general rule, though, Republicans are sweetie pies (except for those from Texas). They tend to be pushovers in leadership roles, as Sen. Trent Lott has been since 1996 and as Bob Dole was before him, always looking for ways to accommodate and compromise. At times I am tempted to bolt the GOP because it is stupid, but it would have to be a third party, because the party of my youth is just too mean for me.
It is not necessary for the two major political parties to be either mean or stupid. I’ve been writing about the G.O.P. as the “Daddy Party,” concerned mostly about economic growth, bringing home the bacon, fighting wars, etc., and the Democrats and their “Mommy Party,” which would like the government to leave no child behind, etc. Once Senator Jeffords crosses the aisle, we may find him becoming meaner and nastier. With the White House in Republican hands, the Mommy Party has more and more come to resemble a nagging wife. So have you.