Former MSNBC Host and liberal firebrand Chris Matthews started his career in politics, working for then-Speaker of the House and Reagan pal, Tip O’Neill. Having worked as O’Neill’s Chief of Staff for 6 years, Matthews was a regular in welcoming other members of Congress and the President into meetings with the Speaker. On the night of the 1982 State of the Union speech, Reagan was escorted by Matthews into a room before he was to enter the House Chamber to deliver the address. As Reagan entered that room, Matthews lightheartedly said to Reagan, “Mr. President, welcome to the room where we plot against you.” Reagan, who was never short on quick, amusing retorts replied, “Oh no, not after six. The Speaker says we’re all friends after six.”
It was a different era. Despite the vehement disagreements that O’Neill and Reagan had, they still were great friends. O’Neill was the first non-family member at Reagan’s side after the attempted assassination landed him in the hospital with a gunshot wound. Many have since tried to re-write history to say that O’Neill and Reagan hated each other, but the record of many people who were “in the room” suggests otherwise.
Even as recently as the Bush Administration, Republicans and Democrats were able to work together on legislation, usually to grow the size of government or strip Americans of their Constitutional Rights, however, the relationships seemed deeper than the public sparring we saw on the Sunday morning shows. The White House Press Correspondents’ dinners were always filled with light insults and gentle punches, usually laughed hardest at by the target of the line, or occasionally delivered by someone engaging in a bit of self-deprecation. While they would duke it out in public, often in private, they were great friends.
Those days are gone and we find ourselves in a world of such division that we seem unable to advance any agenda. It seems to be an era long forgotten, though I can remember a time when, despite those political differences, which at times were extremely heated, political leaders could still come together if even just to enjoy a meal with one another. Since then, politicians stopped seeing their opponents as people and began seeing them as evil. Instead of their differences being grounded in an ideological battle, they felt that their battle was a moral one.
Yet when you ask the average conservative where they have moved over the course of the last 30 years, the answer is not much further to the right. To true conservatives, government has always been the problem, increasing spending has never been the solution, and a strong national defense was better than any foreign offensive action. We have always believed that the border needs to be secured (it was actually part of Reagan’s demands with the Immigration and Control Act in 1986), that the budget needs to be balanced (which it was in the late 90s thanks to a Republican Congress that actually controlled spending), and that the best way forward in the United States was not through the assistance of government, but in the elimination of it. Disagree as we did with Obama, many Conservatives would still have broken bread with him if invited. As deep as the efforts for Republicans to compromise ran, equally deep were the efforts to hijack the party of blue-dog Democrats.
Which raises a very important question: Can we say the same thing of the Democrats? Without question, we cannot. When the fight for marriage equality (with which I agreed) began, many Democrats approached it from a liberty standpoint as opposed to one of social justice. It was, at the time, an argument for the expansion of rights of two consenting adults. As Democrats have marched into Progressivism, so have those arguments from the left. Gone are the ideological disagreements. What has taken its place is some supposed moral war, which seeks to fundamentally change the United States from the respect of divinely-appointed individual rights to the government-sponsored collective good. Democrats feel that they should take from those who do and have and give to those who won’t and take. No good Republican suggests we should ignore those truly in need of help. They would like to see our social welfare programs as a safety net, not a hammock. To Dems, it doesn’t matter the motive of the person or whether or not they are milking the system. The expansion of government and its role in our lives is essential to equality, though no government has ever proven that to be true. While Republicans could name a list of moderates on their side, with whom they disagree sometimes, Democrats would struggle to do the same. For every Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Ben Sasse, there does not seem to be anyone on the left with whom we could have a cordial relationship, while ideologically disagreeing. In fact, when Dems have begun to act in moderation, as has been seen with Tulsi Gabbard and Joe Manchin, the Progressives label them as enemies of the cause and promise to replace those leaders with progressive cultists on who they can place trust to forward their agenda. When progressives, in their quest for ideological purity, act in ways with which Moderates disagree, those same Moderates fail to demand that those Progressives stop, for fear of drawing a Progressive primary challenger.
This isn’t to say the Right doesn’t have its problems. It certainly does, but the Trump era proved one thing: This country is more center-right than it is center-left. When firebrand alt-right Republicans who masquerade as conservatives issue insane demands, Conservatives are quick to criticize and distance themselves from those actions. Democrats however are becoming increasingly tolerant of some of the worst and most immature behavior we have seen from Congressional Representatives (see: AOC). It seems that there’s no one left to stop Democrats from forwarding outright Communist policies.
So I ask my friends on the left: Where have all the good Dems gone?