It’s a common cliche that Republicans are the Daddy-party whereas Democrats are the Mommy-party. That means that Republicans are believed to be tough towards America’s foreign enemies and good at keeping the United States safe, whereas the Democrats are regarded as compassionate because of their support for social programs for the vulnerable. A belief that the Republicans are the Daddy-party especially helped the G.O.P. soon after 9/11.
How did Republicans come to be known as the Daddy-party, even as Republicans characterized the Democrats as wimpy and soft in their foreign policy? In my latest reading of The Conscience of a Liberal, Paul Krugman tackles that question, but I’ll also bring into the discussion things that Krugman said earlier in the book. According to Krugman, we can see in Ronald Reagan’s 1964 speech a conservative view that the U.S. needs to be tough on Communism and that the Democratic foreign policy is weak. Moreover, Richard Nixon in 1972 defeated George McGovern, and there are many who hold that the “national security advantage” for Republicans goes back to that (page 184).
But Krugman does not buy that, for he argues that Nixon’s defeat of McGovern did not radically shape the electorate’s view of Democrats as a whole. Although McGovern lost in 1972, Democrats gained seats in the Senate and “suffered only modest losses in the House” (page 184). Krugman cites a 1979 poll by the Republican National Committee in which 29 percent of respondents said that Republicans would do better at “maintaining military security” (the poll’s words), 28 percent said that the Democrats would, and 21 percent said both. Moreover, whereas the U.S. military today is regarded as an institution that consists largely of Republicans, that was not always the case, for, in 1976, “a plurality of military leaders identified themselves as independents, while a third identified themselves as Republicans” (page 186).
So what happened? According to Krugman, there were a variety of factors. First of all, in the 1980’s, when the memories of the horrors of the Vietnam War were not as fresh they were in the 1970’s, the sentiment that the U.S. lost the war because of weak civilian leadership gained popularity, as did the image of liberals “disrespecting the troops” (page 185)—-an image that Krugman says lacks the support of evidence. Krugman cites the first Rambo movie in 1982, and the subsequent Rambo movies, as indicators of this trend. My impression from what Krugman says is that the U.S. in the 1980’s was trying to get back its self-esteem after losing the Vietnam War (and yet enough time had passed that Americans had foggy memories about what actually occurred during the War), and so the tough-on-communism stance of conservatives resonated with a number of Americans at that time.
Second, regarding why the military became more Republican, there were different reasons, according to Krugman: military leaders were particularly susceptible to the notion that the U.S. lost Vietnam due to weak civilian leadership, Jimmy Carter was presiding over the “post-Vietnam shrinkage of the military” whereas Ronald Reagan increased government military spending (page 186), and a number of ROTC programs were closing in the northeast even as their number increased in the South, which had become a Republican stronghold. And Krugman speculates that the military was alienated from the sexual revolution, since the military frowned on permissiveness.
There may be something to Krugman’s analysis. In any case, I do enjoy this book because of this sort of analysis. Even though a lot of his book contains your typical liberal narratives, there are times when Krugman is quite three-dimensional in his evaluation of history and politics.