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The Republican Party Was Not Always This Way

Whenever someone says Trump is uniquely, historically bad on Twitter, “no, this is just a logical continuation of what has been going on in the Republican Party since the 60s” is sure to follow. As someone who supported Republicans through about 2005 or so, I’ve been curious. Was I simply bamboozled before by the Republican Party and ignorant of their ills?

I don’t think I was.

Check out the New York Times in 1995:

The White House today welcomed a Federal advisory panel’s recommendation to cut legal immigration by one-third. But the proposals met fierce opposition from Hispanic, Asian-American, Roman Catholic and Jewish groups, as well as from the National Association of Manufacturers.

Barbara Jordan, chairwoman of the panel, the Commission on Immigration Reform, delivered the plan to President Clinton, and he congratulated the panel. “Consistent with my own views, the commission’s recommendations are pro-family, pro-work, pro-naturalization,” he said.

Mr. Clinton said the panel had “laid out a road map for Congress to consider.” His press secretary, Michael D. McCurry, said that “the President indicated to Barbara Jordan today that he will support such reductions,” which would represent the biggest change in immigration policy in more than 40 years.

In addition, Mr. Clinton said the proposal “appears to reflect a balanced immigration policy that makes the most of our diversity while protecting the American work force so that we can better compete in the emerging global economy.”

Who’s economically anxious now? (OK, not now, but in 1995 Democrats were.)

Among the changes proposed were to impose substantial fees on employers who employ foreign workers within the United States. Additionally, they were required to speak English and have at least a baccalaureate degree.

They also sought to cut the number of refugees admitted by more than half.

The panel also recommended reducing the number of refugees to 50,000 a year, down from the more than 100,000 admitted in each of the past five years.

This is a staggering cut. This was an administration that suffered fainting spells when Republicans suggested reducing the increase of costs of some programs somewhat less than they had increased previously.

Where were the Republicans? Here:

Representative Dick Armey, the Texas Republican who is the House majority leader, said: “The commission fails to tell us why we should so dramatically reduce legal immigration. It is long on recommendations, but short on analysis.” He said the proposals were “a misguided attempt to make legal immigrants the scapegoats for America’s problems.” [emphasis added]

Republicans in 1995 were woke AF. Democrats were the party that sought to dramatically reduce, if not eliminate, legal immigration. Republicans were the party that wanted to increase it or at least maintain it.

In 2018, these positions have completely reversed. Dick Armey’s quote would have make for a good tweet from a prospective Democratic presidential nominee today. Bill Clinton, meanwhile, sounds like his friend Donald Trump does now:

Bill Clinton Receives Standing O In 1995 State Of The Union For Tough Stance On Illegal Immigration

Barbara Jordan, who led the commission whose report Clinton so loved, delivered the keynote address at the 1975 Democratic National Convention (the first woman to do so). She was a border security hawk:

It is far better to deter illegal immigration than to play the cat and mouse game that results from apprehensions followed by return followed by re-entry. To accomplish a true deterrence strategy will require additional personnel as well as a strategic use of technology and equipment. We will also require new measures of effectiveness because apprehensions alone cannot measure success in preventing illegal entries. Our goal should be zero apprehensions-not because aliens get past the Border Patrol but because they are prevented entry in the first place.

She was pro-deportation, even for long-time immigrants to whom she rejected amnesty:

There are people who argue that some illegal aliens contribute to our community because they may work, pay taxes, send their children to our schools, and in all respects except one, obey the law. Let me be clear: that is not enough.

The needs of refugees made her less inclined to allow them to settle in the United States rather than more:

Certain legal immigrant populations may impose other costs: refugees often have special needs for health and other services, making resettlement significantly more costly than overseas solutions to refugee problems; elderly new immigrants are more likely to draw upon public services than elderly native-born Americans or immigrants who came to the United States at a younger age.

Nevertheless, she rejected the label of “anti-immigrant” on the most Trumpian of grounds:

We decry hostility and discrimination towards immigrants as antithetical to the traditions and interests of the country. At the same time, we disagree with those who would label efforts to control immigration as being inherently anti-immigrant. Rather, it is both a right and a responsibility of a democratic society to manage immigration so that it serves the national interest.

This did not make her unique within the Democratic Party; it made her fit right in the Democratic Party. She gave the opening statement at the House Judiciary Committee hearings when the House took up the impeachment of Richard Nixon. She was an early rumored running mate to Jimmy Carter. She was a noted and worthy Civil Rights leader. Her legacy of service to her party is secure.

My main takeaway, however, is not about the Democratic Party. It’s that the Republican Party was not always the way it is now.

The words “a misguided attempt to make legal immigrants the scapegoats for America’s problems” could not escape an elected Republican’s lips now, but it was run-of-the-mill at the time, just an echo of Reagan’s many positive comments about immigration.

Has the Republican Party always been vile and racist ever since the glorious realignment caused by the Civil Rights Acts? Perhaps, but if you cite the disparate impact of immigration controls on people of color as evidence of present-day racism among Republicans, where is the reckoning among Democrats who held seemingly identical views to those Trump holds now? Clinton has had numerous opportunities to speak of his regrets, and he’s often taken those opportunities, disowning many of his signature achievements of the time. But he does not mention his opposition to legal immigration.

Not that we see Republicans grappling either. No one is incentivized to grapple with it. I’ve searched and found some Daily Caller articles scolding Democrats for their twenty-three year flip-flop, but I don’t see them confront the Republican Party on the same grounds. Similarly, I see many Democrats citing Reagan on immigration so as to scold Trump, but they seem to be conveniently unaware of Clinton’s views on the same topic. The flip-flop remains mutual, and this mutuality is unexamined.

The Republican Party certain harbors racists among its elected officials right now. Perhaps it always has. But I’m not convinced the Democratic Party has long been better.


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Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1. ...more →

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99 thoughts on “The Republican Party Was Not Always This Way

  1. Has the Republican Party always been vile and racist ever since the glorious realignment caused by the Civil Rights Acts?

    The realignment wasn’t a one-time thing, though; it was an ongoing process. Both Carter and Bill Clinton had a foot in that world. And it’s not like Clinton hasn’t come for a lot of criticism for policies that critics believe were racist based on their disparate impact: there was more than a bit of a dustup in 2016 over Hillary Clinton’s use of the term “super-predator” in the ’90s.

    And the thing was, that wasn’t that long ago, unless you consider that there’s a age gap between the parties and the median age in the US is something like 38. A ton of Democrats don’t remember this stuff. There are Democrats in Congress who are barely old enough to remember it.

    There’s also the thing where an undeniably racist asshole became the leader of the GOP in large part because he was willing to frame his opposition to immigration in such starkly racist terms. And that the shift happened in parallel with the party becoming much more openly racist in other ways.

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  2. The GOP tried to keep a lid on it in the hopes that Hispanic voters would be their cheap labor and pro-life saviors. There were always Tom Tancredo cranks on the fringes, but the mainstream face of the party wasn’t anti-immigrant until a very late date.

    The massive push-back from the GOP grassroots when GWB tried immigration reform in his second term may be seen in the future as an early warning sign that the consensus wouldn’t hold and the business/demographic interests of the GOP leadership couldn’t suppress or distract the angry nativists that put them in office.

    Think of it as a What’s The Matter With Kansas disconnect reconsiled in the people’s favor, in which the economic threat was the (false claims of) drain on the welfare state and downward wage pressure.

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  3. Has the Republican Party always been vile and racist ever since the glorious realignment caused by the Civil Rights Acts?

    If by “vile and racist” you mean the party of immigration reductionist, then the Republican Party has always been “vile and racist.”

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    • There are pro-immigrant Republicans but it was the Republican Party that introduced the National Quotas Act in 1924. The movement to limit immigration in the early 20th century was mainly Republican. Most of the opposition to the INA that replaced the National Quotas Act came from Republicans and southern Democrats. The base always had anti-immigrant leanings.

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      • The Republican Party was founded with a strong backbone of former Whigs, from which they inherited ideological strains and political leadership of nativist leanings. Democrats were calling them know-nothings into the late 19th century.

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        • The Know-Nothings were an independent anti-immigrant party that existed briefly during the 1850s but ended up getting absorbed into the Whigs. There was an immigration skeptical thought in American politics and society since the late 18th century. The Founders didn’t to be pro-Immigrant to an extent because they realized that they had a lot of territory and not a lot of people. Even though Americans had a very high birthrates with many kids surviving into adulthood, that wasn’t enough to put facts on the ground to control and develop American territory. Many average Americans were not so fond of immigrants because they thought they would go against Anglo-Protestant values. Republicans inherited a lot of this thought as you point out.

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          • You got that reversed, the Anerican Party was an offshoot of the Whigs as that party was falling apart. And was a response to the wave of German and esp Irish immigration over the recent decades.

            After the know nothing flash in the pan, that sentiment would be rolled into the Republican party in the North (and West) and the Democrats in the South, but since post civil war immigrants were mostly in the big Northeastern cities, it really didn’t have national implications – except of course, Chinese immigrants in the West. The west being heavily Republican, it’s unsurpising (even putting aside simple racism) that immigration restrictionists found their first success in US history in restricting Chinese inmigration (and naturalization).

            The next big wave of general anti immigrant sentiment wouldn’t find political viability until the 1910’s & 20’s, where changing industrial conditions, reaction to revolutions in Europe, and the 2nd iteration of the KKK would all reinforce each other to bring it about (under Republican rule).

            But tldr anti immigrant sentiment has always been part of American political discourse, and has usually been the defining feature of what could be considered the ‘social conservatives’ of any given era and geographic location.

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            • Re the last paragraph, I agree anti-immigration sentiment has long been an element of American political discourse. The Alien Friends Act of 1798 allowed the President to deport any alien without hearing or reason he deems dangerous to the peace and safety of the U.S. These are our founding fathers.

              But I don’t know whether “social conservatives” has a consistent enough meaning across time. The Republican coalition needed nativist support to win elections, albeit without alienating German-born voters.

              I think the main overarching source of nativism has been the perception that a political opponent is importing voters. The Federalist were more pro-immigrant than the Jeffersonians until they found that the large number of Scots-Irish coming into the country weren’t supporting the right policies and their irrational hatred of the English meant they would support the French in the coming conflict. Adams was given authority to deport them all. So, if you support Federalism, Clay’s American System, or stopping the expansion of slavery, one can find immigrants to be a significant hurdle.

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      • I think it is fair to say that for most of American history, both parties were effectively racist, simply because most of America was.

        But per my point about choices, the Democrats made a choice to embrace civil rights, even at the risk of losing their racist members.

        It didn’t have to be this way; Truman could have chosen to refuse to integrate the Army, Kennedy and Johnson could have chosen to stiff the civil rights activists, and the party itself could have chosen other leaders.

        Eisenhower could have refused to send in the National Guard, Nixon could have rejected the Southern Strategy, and the GOP base could have elevated Lowell Wiecker instead of Goldwater.

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  4. Yes, the GOP was different back then.
    Although some people like the LGM crowd and Corey Robin argue it was never substantially different, they compress a lot of differences and see the current strain as inevitable, when it could have been very different.

    It’s true that the seeds of Trump were always there, starting in 1964. But like the bright young man who ends up a broken drunk, the fall didn’t happen in one act, but a series of decisions that bit by bit led to this point.

    A few of milestones along the way:
    The Southern Strategy; The reaction against the 60’s cultural shifts, exemplified by the slogan “Acid, Amnesty and Abortion”; Going all in on the magical thinking of the Laffer Curve; The toxic embrace of the right wing media, Limbaugh and Fox in particular; The fevered paranoia after 9-11;

    At each one of these, someone could have stood up and objected, and some people did. But the base, the muscle of the party rejected the calls for moderation and kept feeding and rewarding the nativists like Pat Buchanan, kept elevating the plutocrats hiding behind the economic voodoo.
    Someone could have stood up and rejected the Unitary Executive theory, and could have demanded an end to the demonization of Muslims after 9-11 but no one did.

    It didn’t have to turn out this way. But the party belongs to the people who most fervently wanted it to be this way.

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      • The seeds were always there and are part of our heritage as a country, and perhaps as a species. And the evolution involved was complicated.

        The Southern Strategy was evolving at pretty much the same time the Birchers were being marginalized within the GOP, and a lot of the time it was the same people doing both.

        Also, there was a thing where some neoconservatish firebrands in the early ’00s really didn’t like W’s more moderate rhetoric and explicitly wanted the War on Terror to be a War on Islam, and pretty quickly ended up rubbing shoulders with all sorts of white supremacist and openly fascist creeps.

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    • Chip Daniels: Going all in on the magical thinking of the Laffer Curve; T

      Trump isn’t particularly doctrinaire on taxes, other than he himself doesn’t want to pay them. Signing onto corporate tax cuts keeps some (many) GOP Trump skeptics in the tent, but it’s not clear if Trump has stumbled onto that dynamic through dumb luck or deliberate calculation.

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  5. In 1994-1995, you still had the vestiges of the old system where both parties had liberal and conservative members. There was still such a thing as a liberal Republican in 1994. The liberal Republican was probably from the North or Northwest and an old-school WASP. You still had Southern Democrats who were quite conservative.

    Clinton and the Democrats also got shellacked in the 1994 Congressional elections and Clinton was doing his whole third-way thing. This is the time frame when a lot of my leftier friends decided that they could never, ever forgive the Clintons.

    Armey’s quote does not negate the assertion that this is a continuation of things that have been happening since the 1960s because in any process there is a time line. There are steps forward and backward. The GOP decided that they could take advantage of the Democratic Party’s embrace of civil rights to stoke white resentment and gain votes. Trump is more explicit about it than others. Rick Perlstein has written three very good books about how far-right whackos with paranoid fantasies have worked to take over the Republican Party since the 1950s.

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    • The GOP decided that they could take advantage of the Democratic Party’s embrace of civil rights to stoke white resentment and gain votes.

      That’s were it started. The GOP purposely (a decision of the leadership) became the anti-African American party, for GOTV purposes, while still supporting immigration for the sake of big business (also, pro immigration parallels anti-union)

      The base, however, saw no reason to differentiate between the black and the brown “others”. And that’s where we are now.

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  6. You said

    Bill Clinton, meanwhile, sounds like his friend Donald Trump does now:

    To me, what Donald Trump sounds like is “Mexicans are murders and rapists” who “Infest” our land. And you think Bill Clinton sounds like that?

    Yes, the policy positions do seem similar. We could be having a sane discussion of this. Border security is a legitimate policy area. And Trump has poisoned this. To Trump, he has to make sure that the other side feels like losers. There is no “win-win” for him.

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  7. made the point on the other thread about how only a small number of Republicans actually oppose contraception.

    And that is correct, I was exaggerating.

    But that only highlights the disparity between the profile of a Republican that emerges from opinion polls, and the one that actually makes policy.

    Only a slim majority of Republicans actually want abortion to be banned, and most of them for contraception to be freely available. We see this in poll after poll, including just this morning.

    Except…that isn’t borne out by Republican Party policy.
    Its safe to say that within the year, a flat ban on all abortions will be introduced somewhere like Mississippi or Texas,setting up a SCOTUS challenge. Will those pro-choice republicans rise up and object, and threaten to vote Democrat?

    No.
    This has not been happening, and won’t.

    So what’s going on? Are these Republicans lying to pollsters? Maybe, or maybe not, but the point is, the pro-choice and pro-contraception Republican voters will go along with whatever abortion bans and contraception restriction are enacted, effectively giving control of the issue to the most rabid and activist members.

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    • Will those pro-choice republicans rise up and object, and threaten to vote Democrat?

      Maybe. It’s complicated.

      But sitting here in a flippable-but-Red district in a Blue state, abortion is already a major liability for GOP candidates here, and their electoral coalition really suffers when the issue becomes more salient.

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      • Yeah, the future is unwritten.

        And I have seen analyses postulating that a lot of Republicans are privately pro-choice but vote for anti-abortion candidates on the assumption that it won’t really happen, and they can enjoy their tax cuts/ antibrown hatred or whatever.

        So maybe when it gets real, and a Republican woman realizes she may actually have to ask her husband for permission to buy the pill, or travel to Canada for an abortion, she will vote Democrat.

        Maybe.

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          • This. Liberals, Dems, Moderates, Classical Liberals, traditional conservatives (whatever the fuck that means…) etc etc need to readjust to this new Trumpist reality. The conservative base and the (currently) dominant party in American politics *support* revanchist policies instituted by Trump with the GOP’s blessing. It’s not an aberration, more a cornerstone of American conservatism expressing itself. These folks – Trump, Kelly, Stephen Miller, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan – aren’t fucking around. They’re not “playing politics” as that term is conventionally understood. They’re playing for keeps.

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    • “Only a slim majority of Republicans actually want abortion to be banned, and most of them for contraception to be freely available. We see this in poll after poll, including just this morning.”

      This goes to the squeaky wheel getting the grease.

      Pro-Choice/Pro-Life, condoms and whatnot. These are minor issues to me and are not things I will complain one way or the other on. For that minority, this is a BIG deal. They make a loud fuss and it is noticed by the pols. Just like that loud, complaining person at work seems to be appeased by the boss more often.

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      • Pro-choicers are rarely single issue voters. Or rather, not single issue voters in general. Quite a few of them, deep down, cannot comprehend the thought of Roe V. Wade being repealed, and so it requires something of an overt, very visible threat to rouse them to vote (or to vote with that as the primary issue).

        Which is why the pro-life movement has switched to things like excessive regulatory requirements, waiting periods, vaginal ultrasounds, etc — throwing up less visible, but effective, roadblocks, slowly squelching down on access without poking the sleeping bear.

        The defenders of the status quo often are complacent, especially with a solid majority behind them and decades of a settled situation. This has generally worked out in the GOP’s favor, for as long as they don’t actually outlaw abortion enough to poke the bear, they can get out some very intense, reliable voters to the polls year after year.

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  8. I’m too young to remember, myself, but my understanding is that Bush Sr was a pretty level headed sort of Republican. On paper he obviously was willing to walk the walk on fiscal discipline instead of the endless sophistries at best and flat out lies at worst that the modern GOP peddles in. He did actually cut a deal with the Democratic Congress to cut spending and increase taxes which significantly reduced the deficit and laid the groundwork for the Clinton surpluses that’d later follow.

    I’ve been told by a lot of people that the right and the GOP kind of lost their minds when Clinton won. He wasn’t supposed to win. Reagan had ushered in a new era and suddenly here was Clinton completely sidelining the program.

    I’ve, myself, observed that there is this gap between what the GOP’s actual voting mass desires and what the GOP leadership and money men want. You don’t see quite the same distance on the left. The Dems are muddled for sure but their constituent groups have more disparate desires and usually on at least a couple major ones you won’t find a ton of space between the modern Democratic Party and its base. Maybe for the far left which views the Dems as excessively corporate and too fiscally stringent but I don’t think the far left commands that large of a vote share. On the right, meanwhile, the base wants safety nets (but only for themselves), protectionism, restrictions on immigration and less foreign adventurism while the GOP, until recently, provided none of that. The culture war seemed to bridge the gap but when the gay issue turned into a route the base seemed to basically dismiss the matter and turn to full on rage.

    I feel like that gap between the GOP leadership and the GOP base is the big space that Trump rode into victory for the nomination. He was the only candidate to call Bush W’s screwups screwups. He was the only candidate to promise to preserve the safety net. He was the only candidate who promised to replace the ACA with “something better” rather than just get rid of it. He basically took all the libertarian nostrums that the GOP leadership peddles and threw them out the window; and then he won! I mean the libertarian and republican flavors of libertarian ideology was easily the biggest loser of 2016. They basically got turfed out of their own party wholesale and discovered that all those people that they thought supported them didn’t give a damn about size of government issues.

    So it’s a weird place we’re in now. Trump knows what he doesn’t care about but he has neither the policy chops or the principles to enact something new so the GOP is just twitching around like Cleeks Law passing a tax cut (barely) but otherwise really not accomplishing anything.

    I am pretty confident that in four or eight years the Dems and the left are going to look pretty much like they do now but I have no idea at all what exactly the GOP and the right are going to become.

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    • My only beef with Bush 41 was Clarence Thomas. Otherwise, I thought he was pretty solid.

      To my mind, the present course of the Republican Party was established by Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich in the early 90s.

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      • The party really turned on him over Souter, tax increases, and the like, and prior to signing on with Reagan and running for Reagan’s third term [1] he was very much a representative of the moderate-to-liberalish wing of the GOP that has almost entirely vanished.

        [1] Which, in ’88, no matter what you think of Reagan, was a very good political decision.

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        • I think it’s far too easy to state how ‘moderate’ Bush Sr. was. Most of that is based on there always being friction between him and the then ascendant Christian Right. Bush also had to deal with a Democratic Congress, but as already said in the thread, that Congress wasn’t exactly a rose twitter fantasy league.

          There’s of course all the military stuff – made easier because he was operating when force structure was still at Cold War levels, & Desert Storm would be a last hurrah, plus 1st & only real world test before drawning down. But a key and lasting part of Bush Sr legacy was doubling down on the Drug War.

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          • I’m ambivalent about this. Bush definitely doubled down on the Drug War, for instance, but that was well in line with the priorities of the more moderate wing of the GOP and it’s not like Clinton was great shakes on CJ issues either, in part because the politics were radically different across the board back then. (This overlaps a lot with the superpredator stuff from elsethread.)

            But the friction with the Christian Right does confound a lot of things. Goldwater was pretty antagonistic towards them towards the end of his career and he sure as hell wasn’t a moderate.

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            • As I noted elsewhere, Bush (and Clinton as well) need to be judged in the context of the times. Things like the drug war, or three strikes laws, and such need to be placed into the context of the peaking of a massive crime wave.

              The long-term effects are, as we’re clearly noticing now, both pretty bad and work out to have a real disparate racial impact, but that’s also in the context of much less need. Crime is nothing like it was in the 90s, and we’ve had decades to see what does and doesn’t work.

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    • …and suddenly here was Clinton completely sidelining the program.

      The election in 1992 was peculiar in that Ross Perot siphoned off nearly 19% of the popular vote nationwide. Clinton beat Bush by 5.6 percentage points in the popular vote, so no telling exactly how things might have turned out if Perot hadn’t run.

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      • As I argue in my somewhat lengthy comment below, I think this CW overstates Perot’s electoral impact and minimizes Clinton’s basic appeal, his charisma. Call me a revisionist if you must, but I say that if Perot had never come on the scene, Clinton would still have won, and Perot only perceived an opportunity to come on the scene because Bush was in such a weak position in the first place.

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    • I largely agree with this. 1992 is the critical year, Clinton catalyzed that change. My quibble is one of degree, as opposed to being one of facet: the culture war stuff was more important than you intimate.

      Part of that 1992 election when things started to turn squirrelly was the primary challenge of Pat Buchanan. Buchanan accused Bush of being “squishy” on social issues and morality. Buchanan capped off that unsuccessful challenge with a prime-time floor speech at the RNC, which launched the phrase “culture war.” Here’s how he started out after making his mandatory nod to party unity:

      Like many of you last month, I watched that giant masquerade ball at Madison Square Garden–where 20,000 radicals and liberals came dressed up as moderates and centrists–in the greatest single exhibition of cross-dressing in American political history.

      It went downhill from there:

      “Elect me, and you get two for the price of one,” Mr. Clinton says of his lawyer-spouse. And what does Hillary believe? Well, Hillary believes that 12-year-olds should have a right to sue their parents, and she has compared marriage as an institution to slavery–and life on an Indian reservation.

      Well, speak for yourself, Hillary.

      Friends, this is radical feminism. The agenda Clinton and Clinton would impose on America–abortion on demand, a litmus test for the Supreme Court, homosexual rights, discrimination against religious schools, women in combat–that’s change, all right. But it is not the kind of change America wants. It is not the kind of change America needs. And it is not the kind of change we can tolerate in a nation that we still call God’s country.

      He was immediately challenged for offering “too much red meat” to the Republican delegates, and refused to apologize. It was on the strength of this sort of rhetoric, Buchanan noisily got 23% of the Republican vote. I recall dismissing it as “only 23%” at the time, consoling myself that the grownups, the ones who would keep the economy prosperous and keep the military strong and set good examples for the country were firmly in charge, because, after all, President Bush won the primaries. But I think in retrospect that it was the “noisily” part of how he got an appreciable number of votes at all that counted more.

      A second wild card came in to the 1992 race: Ross Perot. Perot ran on a platform focused heavily on populism, distrust of other nations and trade, and relatively vapid “get the experts in a room and come up with a solution” hand-waving for everything else. The core of his pitch came in a three-way debate on CSPAN:

      To those of you in the audience who are business people: pretty simple. If you’re paying $12, $13, $14 an hour for a factory worker, and you can move your factory south of the border, pay $1 an hour for labor, hire a young — let’s assume you’ve been in business for a long time. You’ve got a mature workforce. Pay $1 an hour for your labor, have no health care — that’s the most expensive single element in making the car. Have no environmental controls, no pollution controls and no retirement. And you don’t care about anything but making money. There will be a job-sucking sound going south. If the people send me to Washington the first thing I’ll do is study that 2000-page agreement and make sure it’s a 2-way street. One last point here. I decided I was dumb and didn’t understand it so I called a “Who’s Who” of the folks that have been around it, and I said why won’t everybody go south; they said it will be disruptive; I said for how long. I finally got ’em for 12 to 15 years. And I said, well, how does it stop being disruptive? And that is when their jobs come up from a dollar an hour to $6 an hour, and ours go down to $6 an hour; then it’s leveled again, but in the meantime you’ve wrecked the country with these kind of deals. We got to cut it out.

      He got 19% of the vote despite an amazingly flaky withdrawal-and-re-entry towards the end of the campaign, largely on the strength of that message. And if you can’t hear an antecedent of Trump’s self-interrupting fear-the-other rhetoric in Perot’s speech, you aren’t paying attention.

      Now, you say Clinton wasn’t supposed to win. That’s true and it wasn’t. GOP honchos were fairly certain that had Perot not entered the race, Bush would have won re-election. I think that was not accurate. Clinton has poll numbers at or about 50% for most of the race. And the arguments that were thrown at him to try to bring those numbers down were all arguments that he was a bad man: he was venal and personally corrupt, he was a womanizer who’d repeatedly cheated on his wife, he’d smoked marijuana and told the cheeky lie that he didn’t inhale, he was an unserious man who talked about his underwear on MTV.

      Hell, I remember thinking with disgust even then as a law student in my early 20’s that Saturday Night Live was making better attacks on Clinton’s record as Governor of Arkansas than the Republican Party seemed capable of doing. During a time that the economy was slipping and precarious, enough of electorate, made up of people who had inhaled once or twice themselves and didn’t think they were particularly bad or untrustworthy people for it, weren’t of a mind to demand a Church Lady President (n.b., Dana Carvey played both the Church Lady and George Bush on SNL; SNL was a much bigger cultural force then than it is now, in my estimation, but then again I was younger then so my peers and I were capable of staying up that late to watch it).

      So consider that between Buchanan’s culture war, Perot’s xenophobia, and the GOP’s decision to go full-bore-personal on Clinton is where the real roots of contemporary Trumpism lie.

      We talk today about “Trump Derangement Syndrome” as a follow-on to “Obama Derangement Syndrome,” but the original Derangement Syndrome was aimed at Bill Clinton. GOP think tanks worked nonstop to stoke up outrage at this bad man who had become President. And they were right, as we know now (and basically knew then, although not in all the tawdry details we have now), he was a bad man. But he was a competent President and times were good, so he kept on withstanding all of the attacks and it made the New Gingriches of the world so frustrated. This became the fertilized soil in which the roots of angry xenophobic populism germinated. And no one weeded this garden, so now the these thistles have taken over.

      It need not have been thus.

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      • Wow, thank you for the insight Burt! I was in my early teens in ’92 and was in Canada so I, of course, had no idea what it was like. When Clinton won the recriminations on Buchanan and Perot must have been incredible. Like Nader on steroids. If there’s been our kind of internet back then the twitter wars would have been incredible*!

        *Though if our internet had existed in ’92 I imagine ol’ Buchanan would have burst into flames on stage over the porn availability.

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      • I don’t’ remember the Bill cheating on his wife stuff from 92. Of course it was a long time ago so maybe……ummm…what was i saying. The culture war stuff i remember more was the pot smoking and not serving in Viet Nam. Bill was everything the Right hated about young people from the 60’s. And he was going up against, and beating, a WW2 vet. It was much more of a generational shift towards “those damn kids” as i remember. If there was talk of him being a womanizer i think that was less than the other more salient stuff or came later.

        Bill, of course, had barrels of charisma but his life story also inspired people and revolted a lot of “the elite.” He was a poor kid from a broken family who made good.

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      • Clinton had the same advantage that Kennedy did in 1960. He was very youthful compared to the Presidents before him. Reagan was the oldest person elected to the Presidency. George Bush was a grandfather by the time he was elected. Kennedy replaced Eisenhower, the previous oldest person elected to the Presidency. Clinton and Kennedy were in their middle years but they had energy and young families.

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        • Same with Obama, who was much younger than McCain.

          He was also younger than Mitt Romney but Romney was preposterously young looking for a guy in his sixties. That clean LDS living clearly has some upsides.

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          • Bush II wasn’t terribly old as Presidents go. He was the same age as my parents. His daughters when their twenties for his Presidency. Obama had growing daughters though. They played video games, etc. It made Obama seem somebody a lot of people could relate to.

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      • I think Lee and Greg bring up good points in that Clinton was the first Boomer President. HRC was the first Presidential Spouse who had her own career and identity and this caused the right-wing extreme concerns. I still think it is a big deal for them at the Presidential level. Laura Bush was a librarian but still a housewife for most her life. Ann Romney never really had a professional career. Neither have any of Trump’s wives.

        There are Republican women with careers of their own. There are male Republican politicians whose wives are high-powered people. Yet when it comes to many top-contenders, I don’t see the GOP putting forward a candidate whose wife had a good career on her own like Michelle Obama and HRC. Even more shocking, Michelle Obama was the big bread winner in the family for much of the time.

        That 23 percent seems to be a constant number but growing strong in the GOP base. Combine it with Perot’s 19 and you get Trump.

        After all, we still have conservatives who want to overturn Griswold.*

        *I don’t know how they will pull off this one. I can see a wingnut legislature going against Roe. I can’t see one trying to go against Griswold and the idea that married couples have a right to birth control despite the fever dreams of LGM and the left.

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    • The Republicans seemed to be really shocked to loose the 1992 Presidential elections. They assumed the Presidency was theirs by this point and they were going to dominate it forever. To a large extent Republicans have seen themselves as the national governing party since the Civil War. When the South started voting Republican, they gained certain strains of southern political thought that exasperated this. Losing 1992 seem to drive them out of their minds. Many of the tactics used against Obama originated in attempts to render Clinton ineffective.

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    • “I’ve been told by a lot of people that the right and the GOP kind of lost their minds when Clinton won. He wasn’t supposed to win. Reagan had ushered in a new era and suddenly here was Clinton completely sidelining the program.”

      And now we are seeing the other side coin with the Democrats losing their minds when Trump won and sidelining President Obama’s program.

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  9. Porn on the internet was a new thing in 1992

    FIFY

    I remember an article or something that said that porn being massively available gave a huge boot to the development of the internet

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  10. I’m in the same boat. I was a Republican up until 2004 when they decided gay-bashing was the way to keep power (and were also spending out the wazoo). While there were certainly racist elements in the GOP from time to time — hello, Pat Buchanan — they were kept in check by the GOP establishment. There is a tendency to focus on certain elements — Southern Strategy, welfare queens, Willie Horton — as proof that the GOP was always racist. And that stuff was lamentable but it wasn’t why the GOP succeeded or why most people voted for them. And why do the Democrats get a free pass on opposing immigration, touting “superpredators” and having a literal segregation wing in their party?

    But it’s changed. Trump has made the GOP everything the Democrats always claimed it was. It’s a sad time to be a libertarian/conservative.

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  11. Ah, superpredators. I always found that an interesting little topic, especially as an attack line, because it only works if you divorce it entirely from historical context.

    The laws in question, however they may have turned out once in place, enjoyed high support in the 90s — most especially among the black and urban communities.

    After all, that was when the crime wave was peaking, and it was a particularly bad problem in black, poor, and urban communities.

    It might have ended up with racially disparate impact, but it wasn’t formulated with such a goal in mind, which is again pretty clearly shown by high levels of black support at the time. Unless we decide black voters of the 90s were racist against themselves, or easily fooled by Machiavellian gaming, it’s kind of hard to take the occasional claim of racist impulses behind it seriously.

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    • Ah, superpredators. I always found that an interesting little topic, especially as an attack line, because it only works if you divorce it entirely from historical context.

      For the most part it was divorced from historical context.[1] And a lot of the people discussing (at least where I saw) were in their 20s and 30s and, really, it’s a wildly different would from the ’90s in terms of how much violent crime there was.

      On the other hand, there absolutely was more than a bit of racism in a lot of the anti-crime and law-and-order rhetoric of the time, and Clinton’s crime bill and drew support from that, too. This was just messy coalition politics, though: nobody was getting fooled or indulging in self-hatred.

      I think it became the proxy issue for the reckoning Vikram asked about because so much of the energy among social justice activists in late 2015 and early 2016 was focused on law enforcement (mostly because of Black Lives Matter, but The New Jim Crow had a big impact as well).

      The most damning stuff from the era really revolved around welfare and welfare reform, IMO, but for whatever reason wasn’t (and really still hasn’t) picked up in the same way.

      [1] Another fun bit of context: John Diliulio, who actually coined the term “superpredator”, worked briefly at the Bush White House before resigning because it was too right-wing for him.

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      • Oh yeah, and I pointed that out to some of the angry 20 and 30 year olds. And I saw a lot of people (40s and up) pointing out that calling Clinton racist over it was calling them racist, because they’d supposed it as well.

        Part of the problem is nothing in our basic education really covers anything modern. Back in the 90s, we got a lot more historical context about the CRA than we did about, say, Nixon or Reagan. We also covered stuff going on (like the first Gulf War) at the time, but there was at least a 20 year gap of stuff that was covered only lightly.

        Perhaps because recent politics is more touchy, perhaps because school texts (at least in K-12) are generally not exactly super timely.

        It really doesn’t surprise me that people born in the late 80s or early 90s have only the fuzziest memories of Bush I, the first Gulf War, the Clinton Presidency, and such. They were old enough to notice and recall Dubya, but that other stuff would fall into the gap between lived experience and what their Social Studies and History classes covered in K-12.

        Which, as someone who has a lot of that gap for Carter and Reagan (much as I’ve tried to fill it in), I can understand. On the other hand, as someone who was awake and paying attention during the 90s, it’s pretty vexing. It’s not ancient history. I remember it, and it’s annoying to have people clearly clueless and cheerfully ignorant talking about it without so much as cracking Wikipedia on it.

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    • I remember the whole thing. We were in the midst of a very bad crime wave — 2000 murders a year in NYC. It was very bad and the harsh laws did enjoy popular support.

      But … neither party was willing to stand up to the moral panic. No one was willing to say, “Hey, maybe we should think about this for a second”. It was a stampede to see who could be the toughest. More to the point, they were more than happy to whip the public up into a frenzy with things like … superpredators. They weren’t just responding to a problem; they were profiting off it.

      And they haven’t learned. Today they’re using the same tactics with “sex trafficking” (which is mostly consensual sex work re-labeled as sex trafficking). The more things change …

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      • Unpopular opinion, politicians can’t stand to moral panic generally because they will be voted out of office if they do so. A lot of the non-harsh responses to the crime wave would involve holding power despite going against what people want.

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    • Note that Bush’s general pitch was to decency, a call to identify with the immigrants and welcome them into American society. Reagan’s general pitch was to use immigration as a way of enhancing both America’s wealth and America’s security by helping our neighbors in Mexico prosper. Both of them outright rejected the idea of a border wall or restricting the number of those immigrants; both of them wanted some kind of what we would today call a “guest worker” program.

      Note even more that the young Republican voter from Houston baked into his question the concept that the immigrant child should go to a public school. Of course the child should go to a public school. His question was whether the family should have to pay a surtax to help fund the school.

      All three of those squishy amnesty-pushing culture-diluting open-borders guys would have been roundly hooted and booed off of the stage in Cleveland two years ago.

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    • To be blunt, Latino’s weren’t the Scary Other in 1980 – black thugs and welfare queens were. Plus, immigration was still a relatively niche issue outside of border states. Somebody in a mid-sized city in Iowa wasn’t dealing with a tripling or quintupling growth in the Hispanic population in the past decade, and as a result, were scared of their America slipping away.

      Also, the current anti-immigration ‘ethnic whites’ likely had a Grandma or Grandpa still arrived who had went through Ellis Island in 1980, and outside of maybe Vietnamese refugees, that was still the picture of immigration to your average voter.

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      • I think you meant 1890 rather than 1980.

        People really don’t like chaos or perceived chaos in their lives. For the most part, they like security and routine. Tuesday should be more or less the same type of day as Monday. Occasional good or bad thrilling events are inevitable but people can take them in strive. Great and rapid changes that occur within your life time is ungraspable to a lot of people. Pure Free Marketism was never popular because most people do not want market anarchy. They hate market anarchy. Liberals understand this.

        At the same time, the demographic and cultural changes caused by large scale immigration might be too much for many people handle. By this I mean that they literally can’t process it. There is a tendency to prefer the in-group over the out-group in most human societies. Liberals generally have no way of dealing with this tendency but attack those that can’t keep up with the change as racist. It might be true but it isn’t a working strategy.

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  12. Speaking of Republicans and immigration, Sessions is re-writing the asylum system to make it nearly impossible for anybody to receive asylum.

    The proposed re-writes to the regulations are going to do to things to do this. One, any alien charged with illegally entering the United States is barred from seeking asylum. This is using Trump’s Zero Tolerance policy against aliens seeking asylum even more than it does already. Even if this gets struck down by the Federal Courts, the new regulations require Immigration Judges to consider how an asylum seeker entered the United States in determining whether to grant asylum or not. The current law from the BIA’s Matter of O-D- (BIA 1998) and numerous Circuit Court cases basically holds how asylum seekers enter into the United States is irrelevant because of the nature of what they are fleeing. Asylum seekers often have to do things like use smugglers or lie at consulates to get visas for entry because that is the only way they could leave their countries and come to apply for asylum. The Courts have generally held that IJs should overlook this in the name of justice. Sessions is telling IJs not to overlook this.

    The damage done by Trump is going to last generations. That a good plurality of Americans finds this acceptable is sickening. These people have no compassion and no justice. They are malicious and violent people that contradict the best in American values.

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    • That article is a pretty good example of some of the media’s terrible reporting around anything involving the Trump administration. There’s almost no context for the facts being reported or any sign that the person writing that article understands how the federal government works. For instance:

      The internal administration documents show suggested edits Veprek apparently made, marked by his electronic State Department identifier on notes in the margins…

      I’m pretty sure that’s a description of track changes in a word document.

      Or this:

      It’s unclear if Veprek has the authority within the State Department to make changes to the documents.

      Anyone on the distribution list of a document going through the clearance process has the “authority” to suggest edits. Ultimately, it’s up to whoever “has the pen” as to whether to incorporate those edits into the final cleared document.

      This one is good as well:

      The appointment of Veprek, a career foreign service officer, to the deputy assistant position in April raised eyebrows because of his relatively low rank. Senate Democrats wrote Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on May 1 to say the appointment was “the equivalent of placing a lieutenant colonel into a one-star general position.”

      This tells me what Senate Democrats think, but gives me almost no information to evaluate he claim. A Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS) position is a relatively senior position often held by political appointees, but plenty of DAS positions are held by civil servants. The article said that this guy joined the State Department in 2002, which puts him sixteen years into his career.

      By way of comparison, Tim Geithner joined the Treasury Department as a civil servant three years out of grad school in 1988 and was made a DAS seven years later in 1995. In 1998, he became Undersecretary for International Affairs, which is the U.S. government’s top economic diplomat.

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  13. My theory about all of this is very simple. From the 60s through the 80s, the conservative movement was animated largely by what was, at the time, heterodox economic thinking and winning the Cold War. From Reagan through Bill Clinton, those same ideas became mainstream economics, even on the left (there’s a reason that they’re called New Keynesians), and the Soviet Bloc imploded. The conservative movement won and with nothing left to fight for, began to digest itself in culture war.

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  14. Republicans in 1995 were woke AF. Democrats were the party that sought to dramatically reduce, if not eliminate, legal immigration. Republicans were the party that wanted to increase it or at least maintain it.

    I don’t think this is right. Between the two, the GOP in the nineties were the restrictionist party, though both parties were much more heterodox on the issue than they are now. There’s a much bigger, much clearer difference between the Republicans of the 80s and the Republicans of the 90s though.

    By the early 90s it was clear that the Simpson-Mazzoli bill did little or nothing to resolve the underlying issue (whatever virtues or vices there were regarding regularizing the previously illegal Mexicans living in America). And, it was also clear from the scholarship of Brimelow, Borjas and others, that post-1965 immigration was of a fundamentally different nature than the 19th century/Ellis Island experience.

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  15. Heh, never saw that movie. But, the book is still important. In fact, one way to crystallize our current immigration issue is that there has never really been a lib counterpart to it.

    Libs tend not to think about the nuts and bolts of immigration, yet have very strong emotional reactions against President Trump, immigration restrictions and immigration restrictionists generally. IIRC you in particular were representing to Jaybird that libs in fact are not generally in favor of open borders (btw I agree w you on that point). So if not that, then what? As a consequence it makes it very difficult to take libs seriously.

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    • Yes, if we thought about the nuts and bolts I’m sure we would want to inflict cruelty and misery on families, too.

      Our idea, wacky as it may be, is that nations can regulate the flow of immigration while at the same time treating immigrants with dignity.

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          • Yeah that’s not an answer (you and Chip both), that’s the point. We’re not the ones demagogue-ing the issue.

            There’s a few obvious components about immigration: how we deal with the current population of illegal aliens, how we deal with future illegal aliens or attempts to illegally enter America, what should our legal immigration policy look like, both in terms of numbers and the basis for entry? Etc, etc.

            It’s substantially difficult for libs to engage on the substance of these things, especially with the intent that there’s going to be some kind of legal or political accountability for the answers (note that you and Chip both declined to do it), even in the vaguest possible terms.

            As it stands for libs right now, immigration is primarily a vector by which they can ventilate their hostility toward Donald Trump. But in the real world that’s not the answer for anything.

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            • OK, that’s enough. Between the unselfconscious Brimelow enthusiasm and the blanket hostility to “libs” – clearly and by name including commenters on this board – you’re showing throughout this discussion, I’m suspending you.

              Just for a week. At least this time.

              When you come back, be more careful about whose thoughts you elevate (white nationalists, for example) and whose you mischaracterize and sneer at (anyone on this board, regardless of their political persuasion).

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