Do­ing what GOP can’t do: Unit­ing the party

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Pat Buchanan

It was the win­ter of con­ser­va­tive dis­con­tent. Barry Gold­wa­ter had got­ten only 38 per­cent of the vote, and his party had suf­fered its worst thrash­ing since Alf Lan­don fell to FDR in 1936.

Democrats held 295 House seats, Repub­li­cans 140. They held 68 Se­nate seats to Repub­li­cans’ 32, and 33 gov­er­nors to the GOP’s 17.

Demo­cratic regis­tra­tion was twice that of the GOP. The lib­eral press was glee­fully writ­ing the obituary of “The Party That Lost Its Head.”

Decades might pass, it was said, be­fore the GOP re­cov­ered from its fa­tal em­brace of rightwing rad­i­cal­ism and fool­ish re­jec­tion of the lead­er­ship of Govs. Nel­son Rock­e­feller and William Scran­ton.

Wrote Robert Dono­van in the open­ing lines of his book, “The Fu­ture of the Repub­li­can Party”:

“The dev­as­tat­ing de­feat of Barry Gold­wa­ter at the hands of vot­ers in all sec­tions of the coun­try but the Deep South has dam­aged, weak­ened and tar­nished the party. For years to come [. . .] the two-party sys­tem will be crip­pled.”

Mr. Dono­van and all the rest were wrong. The GOP came roar­ing back in 1966 to cap­ture 47 House seats and eight new gov­er­nor­ships. In 1968, Richard Nixon led the party out of the wilder­ness and into a White House it would hold for 20 of the next 24 years.

Full of hubris in 1965, Lyn­don John­son had seized his mo­ment. He had launched a Great So­ci­ety that would outdo his beloved pa­tron FDR. He would dis­patch 500,000 troops to Viet­nam to “bring the coon­skin home on the wall” and cre­ate a “Great So­ci­ety on the Mekong.” Those were heady days of “guns-and-but­ter.”

By 1968, LBJ’s coali­tion was shred­ded. Gov. Ge­orge Wal­lace had torn away the pop­ulist right. Sens. Gene McCarthy, Ge­orge McGovern and Robert Kennedy had ral­lied the an­ti­war left against him. LBJ and Hu­bert Humphrey were left to pre­side over a shrink­ing cen­ter.

Why did LBJ fail? He over­loaded the cir­cuits. He tried to do it all. He mis­read a na­tional de­sire for con­ti­nu­ity af­ter Pres­i­dent Kennedy’s death as a man­date for a lunge to the left and a great leap for­ward with the largest ex­pan­sion of gov­ern­ment since the New Deal.

By 1968, racial ri­ots had torn apart al­most ev­ery great city. The most pres­ti­gious cam­puses had been rocked by stu­dent vi­o­lence. Thou­sands of an­ti­war demon­stra­tors had taken to the streets. And 100 to 200 body bags were com­ing home from Viet­nam ev­ery week.

By the win­ter of 1968, Lyn­don John­son was a bro­ken pres­i­dent.

His­tory never re­peats it­self ex­actly. But Barack Obama is mak­ing the same mis­takes to­day that LBJ made in 1965.

He has or­dered 17,000 more U.S. troops into Afghanistan, as the sit­u­a­tion de­te­ri­o­rates and the NATO al­lies pull out. He has no exit strat­egy. He has read a re­pu­di­a­tion of Ge­orge Bush as a man­date for a gov­ern­ment seizure of wealth and power that ex­ceeds any­thing at­tempted in the Great So­ci­ety.

Fully half of the $3.55 tril­lion in spending Mr. Obama will pre­side over this year will not be cov­ered by tax rev­enue but by red ink. The money will have to be bor­rowed from abroad or printed by the Fed.

Not only is Mr. Obama run­ning a deficit four times as large as Mr. Bush’s largest, he has called for $1 tril­lion in new taxes on Amer­ica’s most suc­cess­ful, who have al­ready seen their sav­ings and pen­sions rav­aged.

He wants a cap-and-trade sys­tem to deal with a glob­al­warm­ing or cli­mate-change cri­sis many sci­en­tists be­lieve is a hoax. He is go­ing to pro­vide health care for all, in­clud­ing im­mi­grants, mil­lions of whom ar­rive unin­sured ev­ery year. He is go­ing to plunge scores of bil­lions more into ed­u­ca­tion, though ed­u­ca­tion has eaten up the wealth of an em­pire, as SAT scores sink fur­ther and fur­ther be­low the apogee of 1964, be­fore LBJ and the feds barged in. He is go­ing to ask Congress for au­thor­ity to spend an­other $750 bil­lion res­cu­ing the banks.

He is go­ing to find the cure for can­cer. He is go­ing to en­sure ev­ery kid gets a col­lege ed­u­ca­tion. He is go­ing to drop half of all wage-earn­ers off the tax rolls, while the top 2 per­cent, who al­ready pay 40 per­cent of all in­come taxes, are forced to cough up more.

Mr. Obama is mis­read­ing the elec­tion re­turns. When Amer­ica voted to can­cel the White House lease of Mr. Bush, it did not vote Barack Obama a blank check.

By mis­in­ter­pret­ing his man­date, Mr. Obama has ac­com­plished some­thing John McCain could not — unite the Repub­li­can Party and in­still in it a new es­prit de corps. For the Obama bud­get is an in­sult to the core be­lief of the party — that free peo­ple, not co­er­cive gov­ern­ment, should shape the char­ac­ter of so­ci­ety.

By dar­ing Repub­li­cans to fight on the is­sue of a $1.75 tril­lion deficit, Mr. Obama has lib­er­ated the GOP from any obli­ga­tion to him. He has come out of the closet as a rad­i­cal lib­eral spoil­ing for a fight over an agenda of rad­i­cal change.

Sooner than any might have thought, we have clar­ity.

Pat Buchanan is a na­tion­ally syndicated colum­nist.

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