Mitt’s father, George, was once the great hope of moderate Republicans., Art Shay / Polaris
by David Frum
The moderate Republicans of the 1960s were supporters of the free-enterprise system. They distrusted the then-overwhelming power of trade unions. They disliked the bureaucracy of the New Deal spending programs. Yet they did not altogether oppose social insurance. They favored voucher-style programs that delivered benefits without bureaucracy. Many were drawn to Milton Friedman’s concept of a negative income tax: the government would set a number that every American was entitled to. If an American earned less, he or she would receive back from the IRS a check necessary to bring him or her up to the guaranteed minimum. That idea went nowhere, but many other ideas appealing to moderate Republicans were enacted in the 1960s, forming the basis of much of our modern welfare system. We don’t build public housing anymore. We have Section 8 benefits that enable poor people to rent homes in private apartments. We don’t have a Federal Food Administration. We have food stamps.
What happened to George Romney’s moderate supporters inside the GOP? To a great degree, they fell victim to cultural and demographic shifts in the U.S. As evangelical Southern conservatives and white working-class ethnics migrated from the Democratic Party into the GOP, secular Northern professionals and managers migrated out.
George Romney and those who supported him were economic winners: the more affluent, the better-educated. But they were economic winners at a time when there seemed plenty to go around for everybody. Leaving some of the gains on the table to share with the have-nots looked—in the 1950s and ’60s—like a good investment in social cohesion, especially to people who remembered the pain and turmoil of the Great Depression. Today’s economy looks much more pinched, and today’s winners don’t feel they can afford to share. Today’s winners are looking for leaders who will protect their winnings against what looks to them like a voraciously hostile environment. The GOP moderates were the ultimate “good sports” of American politics. There isn’t much room for such people in an era of “winner take all.”