At Slate on Friday, Dave Weigel published an interesting interview with Joe Scarborough, “Eisenhower is Looking Pretty Damn Good”: A Conversation With Joe Scarborough. What fascinates me is that someone like Scarborough can be considered a reasonable or mainstream Republican. The man is as extreme as they come. The only reason he comes off as something other than a full tilt ideologue is that he isn’t in office. As New York Magazine reported, “He supported impeaching Clinton, abolishing the Department of Education, and cutting off AIDS funding for the so-called Ryan White Act.” Yes, that whole liberal conspiracy known as “public education” has to go! And now, like all Republicans, Scarborough just loves Clinton! (He seems as anti-gay as ever, but isn’t willing to come right out and say that gays ought to die for the “sin.”)
What comes through loud and clear in the interview is the disingenuousness of Scarborough. His whole political strategy is to lie in wait. The Republicans should just wait for their chance. When they finally control all branches of the government, they can destroy the New Deal once and for all! Ha ha ha! That’s what he says—he just doesn’t end it with an evil laugh. But Scarborough thinks the time will come. Weigel asks him, “So when do you use the power you have to roll back the New Deal?” And his response is blunt:
So Scarborough’s “reasonableness” comes from the fact that he understands you can’t roll back decades of settled legislation while the Democrats are in power. His problem with Bush is not that he was a fool and a bad president, but that when he had the chance, he didn’t destroy our liberal state.
There are two problems here. First, Bush tried to do that. He tried to privatize Social Security. And our older citizens were having none of it. So Scarborough seems to be calling for the Republicans to take control of the government, pass really unpopular laws, and then never again win an election for a couple of generations. He’s pitching fantasy here. The Republicans can’t “roll back” Social Security and Medicare because these programs are hugely popular among the most reliably conservative demographic groups: the elderly. So the Republicans can roll back programs for the poor all they want, but it would be suicide to do so to programs for their base.
Scarborough talks about how Bush was a “big government Republican.” But Reagan, who Scarborough so loves, was also a big government Republican. Scarborough is pushing an old lie that is just untenable today—namely, that the Republican Party is in favor of small government. As Dean Baker put it, “In other words, the most obvious story here is not that conservatives are opposed to public goods. Rather they are opposed to public goods that could have the effect of less income being redistributed upward.” So I bristle whenever I hear such nonsense.
If he were being honest, Scarborough would admit what he means: he likes popular Republicans of the past. The rest is just apologetics. When Eisenhower was in power, it wasn’t the time to roll back Social Security. When Reagan was in power, it wasn’t time to roll back Social Security and Medicare. In fact, Reagan helped to make Social Security stronger! But when Bush was in power, it was the right time. And when President Christie has a Republican controlled Congress, it will be time. Scarborough’s world view seems to be divided into nostalgia (“Weren’t old Republicans grand!”) and fantasy (“Soon seniors can go back to eating cat food like they’re supposed to!”).
With all this in mind, I have a new definition of a “reasonable” Republican:
With that understanding, go ahead an call Joe Scarborough a reasonable Republican.