John Leo
Consider the narrative line for Samuel Alito’s life. It’s perfect. He comes from a white ethnic community that valued family, tradition, patriotism and the Democratic party. By the time he arrived at Princeton, an outsider in a high-status student body where Catholics were still rare, the cultural revolution was under way and the most strident of the 60s people were acting like swine (“very privileged people behaving irresponsibly,” as he politely put it). He found their values alien.

As columnist David Brooks wrote last week in the New York Times: “The liberals had ‘Question Authority’ bumper stickers; the ethnics had been taught in school to respect authority…Alito wanted to learn; the richer liberals wanted to strike. He wanted to join R.O.T.C.; the liberal Princetonians expelled it from campus.”

The values gap was opening wide and Alito was on track to leave the Democratic party. Or more accurately, the party was about to leave him and millions of future “Reagan Democrats.” In the summer after Alito graduated, the McGovern revolution transformed the Democratic party. On the theory that the old New Deal coalition was dying, the party made a fateful and conscious decision to come down on the side of the anti-traditionalists, abandoning the white ethnics, union members, southerners, Catholics, and as it later turned out, a huge percentage of married and Protestant voters. To replace the Roosevelt coalition, the party turned to young people, the peace movement, educated suburbanites, feminists and blacks. The deep cultural fissure that resulted did indeed show up at the Alito hearing, still powerful after more than 30 years.

As Brooks noted, Ted Kennedy took the party’s conventional post-60s stance against law enforcement, accusing the government of “Gestapo-like” tactics in counterterrorism programs. Republican Lindsey Graham expressed alarm at the threat of terror. Democrats Patrick Leahy and Russell Feingold sounded alarmed by counterterrorism. We had some racial rhetoric, as well. Since the 60s white ethnics have usually been denounced as crude and racist by the Democratic elites. This showed up in the rumor that Alito had made up a story about his father combating racism. The story was true. The rumor was false. Kennedy sounded the note of racism too, charging (falsely) that Alito had never written a decision on behalf of an African-American. He has written at least seven decisions supporting racial bias claims by blacks.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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