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The Democratic and Republican parties have completely switched sides in the past 50 years

Writing in the June issue of Vanity Fair, Todd S. Purdom ARGUES that “over the past half-century, the two parties completely switched roles, with the G.O.P. turning into rebels and the Democrats defending the status quo.”

Conservatives are no longer, as William F. Buckley Jr. famously put it in the founding credo of National Review, simply standing “athwart history, yelling Stop.” They are, instead, eager to roll history back, and are prepared to destroy the national village in order to save it…

The radical element is now so firmly in control that the Republican Party of 2012 not only has been deeply reluctant to nominate Mitt Romney, a more conservative nominee by some measures than George W. Bush, but would not have nominated Reagan, Nixon, Eisenhower, or, in all probability, Abraham Lincoln himself…

Democrats, for their part, have traveled in virtually the opposite direction. From the New Deal through World War II to the Great Society, the Democrats were the party of steady forward movement, of Big Ideas and Big Shoulders, the party that licked the Depression, won World War II, took the lead in creating the postwar international security establishment that would fight the Cold War, and aspired to fix the most daunting economic and social problems here at home. Liberal Democrats (in the North, not the South) were at the forefront of the civil-rights struggle (in crucial partnership with Republicans who remembered their party’s founding), which reached a legislative high-water mark in the mid-1960s with passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.

That very achievement split Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ruling coalition and, very quickly, delivered the Solid South to the Republicans for the first time since Reconstruction…

The Big Flip is a central political fact of our era. Another is that the connecting tissue between the parties has disappeared. For much of the 20th century, ideological affinities between southern Democrats and conservative Republicans, on the one hand, and between urban and northern Democrats and moderate and liberal Republicans, on the other, not only allowed but effectively required cross-party cooperation to get anything important done.

Today there are no such cross-party incentives for cooperation.

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3 Comments

  1. jeffstanfill@bellsouth.net

    Cunningham is obviously not a historian.

  2. jeffstanfill: Why don’t you share with us your version of this political history? I’m sure we would all find it quite interesting.

  3. expdoc

    “Democrats, for their part, have traveled in virtually the opposite direction. From the New Deal through World War II to the Great Society, the Democrats were the party of steady forward movement, of Big Ideas and Big Shoulders,…”

    Add to that the party of big spending, exploding deficits and unsustainable debt.

    I think Mr. Buckley would still be right today, it is indeed the Republicans who are yelling STOP, our spending is not sustainable we must fix our entitlement programs now, while we still can. If we do not or cannot, it will be an incredibly painful future for our children and for those people the Democrats have led to become reliable on government for their happiness.

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