How times change

HOW TIMES CHANGE… The Weekly Standard‘s Michael Goldfarb had an item yesterday, emphasizing the fact that when FDR and LBJ proposed landmark legislation, they “got Republican votes.”

President Obama might not be aware of this but FDR passed Social Security with massive Republican support — 81 Republicans voted in favor of the measure in the House and only 15 against while 16 Republicans voted in favor in the Senate and just 5 against. Johnson’s Medicare package was only marginally more contentious. Just 13 Republicans voted in favor of Medicare in the Senate to 17 against, but in the House, more Republicans (70) voted for Johnson’s Medicare plan than against (68).

Maybe President Obama should stop wee-weeing and start trying to get some Republican support for his bill — as both Johnson and FDR successfully did. Getting a bill like this is not, in fact, always messy. Rather, there is clearly something particular about Obama’s approach that has created this mess.

What total nonsense. “Obama’s approach” has been to compromise, negotiate, and concede, repeatedly, in the hopes of improving the bill’s chances. It’s an “approach” that would work if the Republican Party hadn’t shifted so far to the right.

Michael Goldfarb might not be aware of this but FDR and LBJ led during a time when moderate and center-left Republicans were still fairly common. Neither Democratic president had trouble finding sensible GOP lawmakers who were anxious to work on progressive policy goals. Obama, however, is stuck trying to find common ground with a right-wing reactionary party.

Harold Meyerson recently explained the history and the larger dynamic very well.

[B]ipartisanship ain’t what it used to be, and for one fundamental reason: Republicans ain’t what they used to be. It’s true that there was considerable Republican congressional support, back in the day, for Social Security and Medicare. But in the ’30s, there were progressive Republicans who stood to the left of the Democrats…. Today, no such Republicans exist. […]

Nationally, the party is dominated by Southern neo-Dixiecrats. In their book “Off Center,” political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson compared congressional Republicans of different eras and concluded that a Republican House member in 2003 with a voting record that placed him at the median of his party was 73 percent more conservative than the median GOP member of the early ’70s.

Max Baucus, then, isn’t negotiating universal coverage with the party of Everett Dirksen, in which many members supported Medicare. He’s negotiating it with the party of Barry Goldwater, who was dead set against Medicare. It’s a fool’s errand that is creating a plan that’s a marvel of ineffectuality and self-negation — a latter-day Missouri Compromise that reconciles opposites at the cost of good policy.

That Goldfarb doesn’t understand this is predictable, but nevertheless sad. Nicholas Beaudrot explained, “[I]t’s simply not meaningful to compare the preset circumstances to those faced by Lyndon Johnson or Franklin Roosevelt when it comes to bipartisanship…. Barack Obama faces partisan polarization not seen since Woodrow Wilson was President.”

Goldfarb makes it sound as if President Obama deserves the blame for the Republican Party excising moderates from their ranks. Like it or not, it’s not the Democrats’ fault Republicans have become too conservative.