The ever-estimable John Judis has written a must-read piece for The New Republic that casts a great deal of light on the antecedants of the contemporary Republican Party, showing its roots in the anti-New Deal “conservative coalition” of the 1930s. Here’s a key nugget:
If the conservative coalition’s aims and tactics sound awfully familiar to us now, that’s because the conservative coalition of the 1930s was the Republican Party of today. Like the contemporary GOP, it described the threat from liberalism in alien terms–as the product of communism or fascism that had been imported from Europe; it was obsessed with strict fealty to an anachronistic reading of the Constitution; it wielded Congress’s investigatory power in order to frustrate the administration; it simultaneously advocated balanced budgets and tax cuts (then, as now, a maddeningly illogical position); and it used an economic downturn to argue against government spending, even though that downturn was caused by Roosevelt’s decision to cut spending, not his New Deal programs.
But there was one crucial difference between the conservative coalition and contemporary Republicans: The former was not a political party, and this imposed limits on what it could do.
It’s now part of the CW that the two parties became vastly more ideological from the 1960s on, and that the GOP is the more ideological of the two parties. But what becomes apparent from Judis’ piece is how literally the conservative GOP is aping the policies and attitudes of the bipartisan conservatives of a bygone era–with the added dynamic of the ability to use party discipline to impose ideological conformity and block progressive legislation.
Democrats have often accused Republicans of wanting to repeal the New Deal. In many cases, this has represented little more than partisan hyperbole. Not any more. The most powerful voices in the conservative movement today are taking up the battle against FDR that their forebears fought and ultimately lost–at least for three-quarters of a century. And thanks to party unity, their media tribunes, and enhanced tools of obstruction, they are stronger than ever.