Last month, Peter Wehner argued in the New York Times that in the past two decades the Democratic party has pulled much further to the left than the Republican party has pulled to the right. This seems clearly right to me. Republicans have moved a bit to the right on economic issues, especially spending. But if anything, they’ve moved left on social issues. And on foreign policy, the GOP is less uniformly hawkish than it was 20, or even 10 years ago.
Meanwhile, the Democrats have moved from the center-left governance of Bill Clinton to the solidly left-wing regime of Barack Obama.
Pete provided example after example: criminal sentencing (as to which Republicans have also moved left), welfare, income redistribution, taxes (Clinton lowered the capital gains tax rate; Obama wants to raise it); spending, gay rights, religious liberties, abortion rights, drug legalization and climate change.
Jonathan Chait, writing in New York magazine, attempted to rebut Pete’s argument. He pointed out that underlying social trends have moved both parties to the left on some social issues, which is true and probably a fair point to make by way of downplaying the significance of this portion of Pete’s case.
The remainder of Chait’s argument cannot withstand scrutiny; nor did it. Pete exploded Chait’s case point by point in a reply on Commentary’s website.
Towards the end of his Commentary piece, Pete explains why Chait and other like-minded critics of his Times article insist on denying the Democratic party lunge to the left — a movement so obvious that even the Washington Post has acknowledged it, noting that “Hillary Rodham Clinton is running as the most liberal Democratic presidential front-runner in decades, with positions on issues. . .that would, in past elections, have put her at her party’s precarious left edge.” Pete writes:
The reaction on the left to my Times column revealed how deeply and emotionally invested many progressives are in a particular self-conception and self-delusion. They have constructed a world in which they see themselves as hyper-rational, moderate, reasonable, and empirical. When those assumptions are challenged, and when their own extremism is revealed, they more or less freak out.
In two of the last three elections, voters have freaked out too, which may be what freaks out Chait and his lefty colleagues the most.