Judge Judy Republicans

Andrew Sullivan, who successfully coined the term “South Park Republicans,” is trying out a new one: “Judge Judy Republicans.”  He does so in a persuasive response to a new book by his Atlantic colleagues Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam.

I think that moniker is a little more fitting – if a little less marketable – for Ross’ and Reihan’s hoped-for constituency than “Sam’s Club” Republicans. After all, the problem with the working poor, as [their book, Grand New Party] GNP has it, is not that they’re capable of finding shopping bargains and living within their means. It’s that they’re sinking in a welter of family dysfunction and economic distress – and end up like the plaintiffs on Judge Judy. Why are they sinking? GNP blames the elites for getting jiggy with it in the 1960s and 1970s and setting a bad example for those without the resources to cope adequately with extra- and pre-marital sex, contracepted intercourse, divorce, re-marriage, and so on.

A good point.  “Sam’s Club Republicans,” though, is better branding than “Judy Judy Republicans” and therefore more likely to catch on.  While both are enormously successful enterprises, there’s no stigma in Sam’s Club.  Judge Judy, let’s face it, has a certain lowbrow association.

Further, as I understand it based on their November 2005 Weekly Standard rollout article “The Party of Sam’s Club,” Douthan and Salam are simply talking about people with blue collar jobs struggling to get by.

This is the Republican party of today–an increasingly working-class party, dependent for its power on supermajorities of the white working class vote, and a party whose constituents are surprisingly comfortable with bad-but-popular liberal ideas like raising the minimum wage, expanding clumsy environmental regulations, or hiking taxes on the wealthy to fund a health care entitlement. To borrow a phrase from Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, Republicans are now “the party of Sam’s Club, not just the country club.”

Therein lies a great political danger for Republicans, because on domestic policy, the party isn’t just out of touch with the country as a whole, it’s out of touch with its own base.

These people aren’t necessarily Judge Judy defendants.  Most of them likely graduated high school, show up for work on a regular basis, and refrain from siring children out of wedlock and stealing the automobiles of the woman they left pregnant while owing three months’ back rent and the $5300 she loaned him to go to bounty hunter school from which he never graduated because he kept showing up to class drunk.  After all, you have to have money (or at least good credit) to shop at Sam’s Club.

I do, however, fully agree with Andrew’s implied conclusion:  Sam’s Club Republicans sound a hell of a lot like plain old Democrats.   A “conservatism” where the government takes money from the successful to redistribute it to the working poor in hopes that they’ll somehow become more productive is not “conservatism” at all.

That the GOP was ever the country club party is an absurd myth.  One simply doesn’t win elective office appealing only to the top half of one percent.  But a populism that allows the many to vote themselves the wealth of the few was one of the principal fears of founders like John Adams.  Certainly, we don’t need both our major parties championing that notion.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. yetanotherjohn says:

    A lot of Sam’s club is aimed at small business owners, which is an important part of the GOP for a long time.

  2. Maybe we should be upset with The Atlantic for giving us mixed signals. I distinctly remember an article from 2005 liking the GOP to Paris Hilton’s Party. You’re right, the GOP was never the country club party, but in some aspects it benefited from the myth. If you believe, as I do, that many Americans are aspirational voters, than appealing to the country club set isn’t all bad. Aspirational voters vote on what they’d like to become…and how they’d like to be governed (or taxed) once there. Of course, the vast majority of Americans are middle-class, but many aspire or aim to be in the top 10% or 5% or 1%. Thus, they vote based on how they’d like things to be once they’re at the top.

  3. Dodd says:

    Most of them likely graduated high school, show up for work on a regular basis, and refrain from siring children out of wedlock and stealing the automobiles of the woman they left pregnant while owing three months’ back rent and the $5300 she loaned him to go to bounty hunter school from which he never graduated because he kept showing up to class drunk.

    Fortunately, that subset of the population probably doesn’t vote anyway (though they might be more likely to if not for laws against selling spirits while the polls are open).

  4. Bruce Moomaw says:

    So “hiking taxes on the wealthy to fund a health care entitlement” is a bad idea, even if said tax hikes on the wealthy aren’t big enough to significantly reduce the nation’s economic productivity? Maybe because it’s unfair to tax the rich at a higher rate than the rest of us, since the poor dears make 20 times more money per day by working 20 times harder per day than the rest of us?

    As for John Adams’ terrors on this subject, I must confess that he was never my favorite Founder, given the Sedition Act and all that.

  5. James Joyner says:

    So “hiking taxes on the wealthy to fund a health care entitlement” is a bad idea, even if said tax hikes on the wealthy aren’t big enough to significantly reduce the nation’s economic productivity?

    Yes.

    Aside from whether a national health care entitlement is a good idea, it’s a horrible idea to allow the masses to vote themselves a share of someone else’s money.

    I don’t mind a flat rate, whether it’s an income tax or a sales tax, that has the effect of taking more money from the rich. But a tax specifically aimed at the rich demonstrates the chief flaw of democratic governance.

  6. James Destro says:

    “a tax specifically aimed at the rich demonstrates the chief flaw of democratic governance.”

    Why and how? The income tax as first instituted was a tax specifically aimed at the rich.

    Two centuries later it seems obvious that Adams was mistaken about who were the radicals and who were the conservatives. The “rich” have demonstrated time and time again that they are the corrosive and destructive influence on society, not the dreaded “masses”.

  7. brainy435 says:

    Wow. So the small minority of people who employ the rest of us are a “corrosive and destructive influence on society?” How the hell would you even begin to justify that statement?

  8. Sarge6 says:

    I love tormenting my Democratic acquaintances with the hard facts: follow the money, and tell me the GOP is the Party of Wall Street. Go to opensecrets.org and run the screens. The Wall Street investment firms are giving to the Dems notably more than 50%. And it’s not even close with the silk stocking so-called corporate law firms: close to 75% to the Dems.

  9. The Snob says:

    As one of those corrosive and destructive Sam’s Club entrepreneurs, I think the median voter is pretty OK with Conrad Hilton but not so much his granddaughter Paris. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry and Sergey, these guys might all be obscenely rish but at least they paid for their own lottery ticket.

    The traditional difference between American and European aristocracy was that the former was merit-based while the latter was more likely inherited. In the US class system there was not just upward but downward mobility. It feels to me like this sense is fraying–that the gulf between lower- and upper-middle is becoming much harder to cross, while those who make it into the ranks of “upper” have to acquire a very bad coke habit or be truly idiotic in the management of their money before they, or their children, run any risk of having to worry about things like paying for health insurance.

  10. tonto says:

    I don’t mind a flat rate, whether it’s an income tax or a sales tax, that has the effect of taking more money from the rich.

    Exactly, we are all equal before the law, except apparently, when it comes to our money.

  11. Bruce Moomaw says:

    Joyner: “Aside from whether a national health care entitlement is a good idea, it’s a horrible idea to allow the masses to vote themselves a share of someone else’s money.

    “I don’t mind a flat rate, whether it’s an income tax or a sales tax, that has the effect of taking more money from the rich. But a tax specifically aimed at the rich demonstrates the chief flaw of democratic governance.”

    Why? Because it decreases the overall economic productivity of a society? But every time the progressivity of taxes in a nation has approached that point, the electorate has responded by throwing out the leftist party and replacing it with the rightist party, reversing the process (contrary to Adams’ fever dream). Britain is an absolutely classic example of the process, but hardly the only one — it’s politically routine.

    Because it’s “unfair” to tax people at a higher rate merely because they make vastly more money for the same amount of work effort? Morally, of course, that is pure BS (even given the obvious difficulties in precisely measuring “work effort”). And, indeed, if you really did follow that reasoning to its logical conclusion, you’d tax the richest American and the poorest American exactly the same total AMOUNT in taxes each year, not merely the same percentage of their incomes. After all, surely Joe Quadriplegic could make exactly as much money per day as Bill Gates if only he REALLY chose to work as hard…

    (Not — thank God — that even advocates of a “flat-percentage” income tax like yourself really favor that, either. What they actually favor is a progressive income tax with two rates: zero for some people such as Joe Quadriplegic, and some other figure for the rest of us. Obvious next question: why not more than two rates for it?)

  12. Bruce Moomaw says:

    Postscript: if I had to name one really dangerous economic temptation for the people in a democracy, it wouldn’t be a temptation to overtax the rich — it would be their temptation to fund government programs like there was no tomorrow without taxing ANYONE for it.

    We have, of course, been seeing this process in spades in recent decades, pushed in various nations by both leftist and rightist parties — its primary advocates in the US, after all, have been those two notorious leftists Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. (George Will once sourly pointed out that “Reagan’s version of conservatism is wildly popular because it consists of giving the citizen a dollar’s worth of government for 75 cents worth of taxes, with the rest being borrowed.”) Poor Keynes — by honestly pointing out that there are some situations in which it really is desirable to run a deficit — unintentionally opened the gates of Hell by giving politicians the excuse they had dreamed of for centuries to tell the citizens that it’s ALWAYS the right time to run a deficit, with the knowledge that by the time the roof falls in they themselves will be safely out of office.

    Thus my belief that running a deficit is one of those infrequent situations in which a properly revised US Constitution should require a Congressional supermajority, and probably a pretty big one. We will, of course, see this on about the same day that O.J. finds the real killers.