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When the Old Party Was Still Grand

Nov 4, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 08 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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It would be a rare week in political journalism when there wasn’t a story somewhere about a lifelong Republican who doesn’t recognize his party nowadays.

Mr. Republican, right, with Sen. McCarthy

Mr. Republican, right, with Sen. McCarthy

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These fascinating essays, textbook specimens of lazy reporting since the 1950s or so, always related more in sorrow than in anger, explain that the modern Republican party bears no resemblance whatsoever to the GOP of happy memory, and always feature characters direct from central casting: the grizzled New England farmer whose grandpa was a town select-man, the retired Midwest veteran whose first ballot was cast for Willkie, the great-nephew of some Republican president.

The latest example appeared on the op-ed page of the New York Times last week, entitled “The Cry of the True Republican,” and was written by John G. Taft, a grandson of Sen. Robert A. Taft (1889-1953). After establishing his “genetic” Republican credentials, Taft explained that his late grandfather, known as “Mr. Republican” in his day, “wouldn’t even recognize the modern Republican Party, which has repeatedly brought the United States of America to the edge of a fiscal cliff—seemingly with every intention of pushing us off the edge.”

Mr. Taft, of course, is welcome to interpret events in Washington as he sees fit; and if the truth be told, The Scrapbook shares some of his reservations about the Tea Party wing of the GOP. But in comparing Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas to the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin—a favorite, if slightly deranged, Democratic tactic of the moment—he makes an odd assertion. Taft laments that McCarthy’s “anti-Communist crusade was allowed by Republican elders to expand unchecked,” but that the excesses of McCarthyism “caused it to burn out. And eventually party elders in the mold of my grandfather were able to realign the party.” 

Sounds nice. The problem, of course, is that one of the “Republican elders” who encouraged Joseph McCarthy in his “anti-Communist crusade” was none other than Taft’s grandfather, the aforementioned Senator Taft, who famously declared that “the pro-Communist policies of the State Department fully justified Joe McCarthy in his demand for an investigation,” and that if one case didn’t pan out, McCarthy should try another.

It is possible, of course, that Taft family mythology has prudently bowdlerized this episode in the career of Mr. Republican, and that young John G. Taft is unaware of the facts. On the other hand, he might be altogether too aware of the facts, which would explain his carefully worded assertion that “party elders in the mold of my grandfather”—translation: not including Robert Taft himself—restored the GOP to health after Joseph McCarthy’s fall.

Either way, Taft’s essay is a painful reminder that the deep personnel cuts at the troubled New York Times—and other newspapers of comparable stature—have eliminated editors on the news and editorial pages with basic knowledge of modern history. This probably explains as well why stories about the Republican party’s right-wing drift are never accompanied by tales of the Democratic party’s left-wing captivity, featuring grizzled New England farmers who abhorred the Soviet Union, or pro-life Midwest veterans who voted for Adlai Stevenson.

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