Who Killed the Responsible Republican? Bill Kristol, of course.
Do you remember the Responsible Republicans? In the 1980s, small herds of them still roamed freely around Washington. In 1982, they voted for the largest tax increase in history to mitigate the fiscal harm of Ronald Reagan's 1981 tax cut. In 1983, they converged on Capitol Hill to pass a package of tax increases and benefit cuts recommended by the Greenspan Commission to keep Social Security solvent. In 1986, they followed Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson to pass bipartisan immigration reform legislation by a large majority. In 1990, several were spotted with President George H.W. Bush (the Responsible one) at Andrews Air Force Base, conspiring to reduce the deficit.
After the Andrews summit, however, glimpses of them outside captivity became increasingly rare. With their habitats in the Northeast, Midwest, and Pacific Northwest under threat and their natural predators on the rise, the status of the species moved from "threatened" to "endangered." Though occasionally spotted on the rocky shoals of Maine's Penobscot Bay and in beach houses up and down the California coast, they now rarely emerge from the wilderness. During the health care battle, President Obama was unable to find a single Responsible Republican to serve as a mascot. There continue to be rumors of the Double R's return around issues such as immigration, financial reform, and climate change. Yet we have now gone several years without a confirmed sighting.
If Responsible Republicans are in fact nearing extinction, I think we can identify the crucial event that signaled their demise. It was a December 1993 memo by conservative strategist and commentator William Kristol. Kristol's advice about how Republicans should respond to Bill Clinton's 1993 health care effort—and a series of follow-up memos he wrote in 1994—pushed the GOP away from cooperation with Democrats on any social and economic legislation. His message marks the pivotal moment when Republicans shifted from fundamentally responsible partners in governing the country to uncompromising, hyperpartisan antagonists on all issues.
Kristol is also the conservative most responsible for foisting Sarah Palin on John McCain, an act that guaranteed the Obama presidency.