Last night the president of the United States went before Congress and called for the repeal of the New Deal.
Not frontally, of course. Indeed, George W. Bush has taken to invoking Franklin D. Roosevelt as a fellow experimenter-in-arms. That's true as far as it goes, but the goal of Bush's experiment is to negate Roosevelt's.
The roots of Bush's speech go back almost as far as the New Deal itself. Social Security was enacted in 1935, and in 1936 Republican presidential nominee Alf Landon questioned its solvency.
Since Landon (who carried two states against Roosevelt's 46), right-wing attacks on Social Security have proceeded along two lines: those that doubted its solvency and those that disparaged its ideology.
Quick, now: Who chaired the Democratic National Committee (DNC) throughout the 1960s? It was, after all, the last glory decade the Democrats have known. They enacted landmark civil-rights, economic-security, educational-opportunity, anti-poverty, and (eventually) environmental legislation. And for almost the entire duration of the Kennedy and Johnson presidencies, there was just one national chairman.
In those tumultuous days when I was in college, back in the late '60s, Johnny Carson was the establishment. Network television was hopelessly establishment, and The Tonight Show was its apotheosis. We had our own music, our counterculture, and when some of its performers popped up on late-night TV, why, that was just one more instance of Herbert Marcuse's repressive tolerance. Showcase and defang, that's what Carson was up to.
Well, Michael Gerson certainly went out in a blaze of glory. The president's speechwriter, now bound for other duties within the administration, left with a Lincolnesque, Wilsonian, Kennedyite sound of the trumpets, and George W. Bush delivered it as well as any text he's ever been handed. The gap between the scripted Bush and the unscripted Bush must be measured in light years.