ADDRESSING THE New York State Democratic convention last week, Joe Biden endorsed Governor Andrew Cuomo for reelection and delivered some blistering criticism of the party that controls Congress and the White House.
“This is not your father’s Republican Party,” declared the former vice president. With its “phony populism” and “fake nationalism,” he said, the GOP is “sending a vision of America around the world that is distorted, that’s damaging.”
Biden is reportedly considering another run for president in 2020, so attacks on Republicans and their leader are to be expected. But he’s not wrong: The GOP under Donald Trump manifestly isn’t the Republican Party of a generation ago. The turn against free trade, the harshness on immigration, the rising admiration for Russia’s ruler, the tolerance of debauchery and bad character in political leaders — today’s Republicanism is indeed a far cry from that of Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan.
But it isn’t only the GOP that has changed so profoundly. So has the Democratic Party.
“We have to take a long look in the mirror and face the hard truth,” Cuomo told the Democratic delegates in his convention speech. That truth, he said, is that Democrats lost the last presidential election “because we lost the connection with who we are and why the middle class and working families made the Democratic Party their home in the first place.”
Cuomo’s concern for middle- and working-class values may be genuine, or it may reflect the fact that he’s facing a primary challenge from actress Cynthia Nixon, whose politics are skewed even more to the left than his. Either way, there’s no denying that the Democratic Party today has far less sympathy for Main Street attitudes it used to embrace.
There was a time, for example, when self-described “pro-life liberals” were welcome in the Democrats’ big tent. Democratic governors like Ella Grasso of Connecticut and Robert Casey of Pennsylvania firmly opposed abortion; as recently as 2009, dozens of House Democrats initially opposed the Affordable Care Act because it lacked restrictions on abortion funding. But no longer is there room in party councils for more than one position on the issue. Democratic Party chairman Tom Perez decreed last year that Democratic candidates must support a woman’s right to choose. “That,” he said, “is not negotiable.”
Dissent is not permitted on other topics as well.
Moderate liberal Joe Lieberman of Connecticut was a rising star in Democratic circles in the 1980s; by 2000 he was the party’s candidate for vice president. But Lieberman strongly supported the Iraq war, a position that by 2006 made him persona non grata in Democrats’ eyes. Lieberman’s ostracism confirmed that the once-robust national-security wing of the Democratic Party — the home of Cold War hawks like Harry Truman, Jack Kennedy, and Scoop Jackson — was defunct. Democrats, the original party of peace through strength, are now the party of disengagement and retreat.
Liberal Democrats in the 1960s believed in color-blindness — they agreed with Thurgood Marshall that “racial criteria are irrational, irrelevant, odious to our way of life.” Liberal Democrats today insist on racial criteria, demanding rigid “diversity” in everything from workplace hiring to college admissions to the Academy Awards.
Your father’s Democratic Party was an ardent defender of Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East. No more: Liberal Democrats today, reports the Pew Research Center, are much less likely to support Israel than to support its Palestinian enemies.
Two decades ago, a popular president fought hard for a North American Free Trade Agreement, signed the Iraq Liberation Act, and kept his promise to “end welfare as we know it.” He not only enacted a Balanced Budget Act, but produced four consecutive federal budget surpluses. He cut the top capital-gains tax rate from 28 percent to 20 percent. He led NATO in liberating Kosovo. He resisted same-sex marriage. He codified economic sanctions against Cuba.
Bill Clinton is still popular with Democrats. But in a party that has shifted sharply leftward, there’s little room for the centrist positions he upheld as president.
Biden is right about the Trump GOP: It is decidedly not your father’s Republican Party. And your father’s Democratic Party? It too, alas, is a thing of the past.
Jeff Jacoby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jeff_jacoby.