December 14, 2012 By Jack Jodell
When the Republican Party first captured the White House in 1860, with the election of Abraham Lincoln, it was a far different party than the one we see today. For back then, it was a bold and noble party, dedicated to individual freedom and particularly to freedom for the nation’s slaves. It was a progressive party which stood for fairness, both culturally and economically. Lincoln himself acknowledged the importance of Labor by stating, in his first address to Congress in December of 1861, “Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.” Naturally, the ascension of these progressive-minded Republicans to national prominence sparked great anger among conservative southerners, who relied on slavery to support their agriculture-based economy. It therefore led to their secession from the Union, and consequently, to a bitter and costly four year Civil War. After Lincoln’s untimely assassination after the war’s end, Radical Republicans assumed control of the party, pushing conservative southern Democrats into near-oblivion. The GOP forcibly installed its own selected leaders to run the South and established the rights of black citizens to exist as free men. Unfortunately, though, these radical Republicans did next to nothing to train and educate the poor and largely illiterate mass of former plantation slaves. Consequently, these former slaves were left dangling economically, and millions fled northward, crating many inner-city slums populated largely by unskilled black laborers. These unskilled men and women became either servants for wealthier white northerners or exploited poor laborers in northern factories.
As all of this was happening, Republicans began cozying up to rich northern industrialists. They abandoned the Laborers Lincoln had once spoken so glowingly about to cater almost exclusively to the wants and needs of the Carnegies, Du Ponts, Rockefellers, and Morgans of the nation. In their subservience to these merchants of power and greed, the GOP turned a blind eye to economic fairness and equality. Resultantly, sordid business practices like child labor, long hours, low pay, and unsafe working conditions flourished. This was the first ugly revision of the Republican Party, but it wouldn’t be the last.
To its credit, Republicans returned briefly to their progressive roots during the all-too-brief Progressive Era stretching from roughly 1901 – 1020. Theodore Roosevelt became President and immediately established the supremacy of the federal government over the previously unchallenged robber barons of the 1890s. Roosevelt enacted a series of much -needed reforms and regulations which were put in place to curb the power of big business and shield American consumers and citizens from its harmful excesses. Republican successors William Howard Taft and Democrat Woodrow Wilson continued these reforms and added to them in various ways. Then came the 1920s, and with it, the unfortunate second Republican revision.
During this era, the party was again captured by pro-business, anti-regulation and anti-federal government conservatives. Horribly mediocre Presidents like Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge came to power and embraced the concept of no-holds-barred capitalism. Coolidge even declared “the chief business of the American people is business.” They and their successor, Herbert Hoover, practiced a hands-off approach for the federal government toward business, and soon brought on the devastating Great Depression. Republicans were justifiably blamed and discredited for this, and were forced by voters to once again cede control of the government and economy to the Democrats.
Franklin D. Roosevelt then launched a badly-needed batch of beneficial, far-reaching political and economic reforms, many of which remain in varying degrees of effect to this very day. Badly-needed social safety net programs like Social Security, Welfare, Unemployment Compensation, and, later on, Medicare, Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act all became vital American institutions, despite weak Republican opposition. Labor unions were permitted to form and wages escalated for workers which resulted in the creation of a huge and sustained middle class. The entire nation had shifted its politics and values leftward in that golden era between 1930-1981. The country prospered like never before and flourished in a new age of tolerance and expanded opportunity for all. Then came the third unfortunate Republican revision, and the gold began to tarnish.
Ronald Reagan and conservative Republicans roared back into power beginning with the election of 1980. They began immediately to push back against labor unions and drastically revised the tax code into one which greatly aided the wealthy at the exprnse of the poor and middle class. They slashed taxes so badly, in fact, that Reagan was forced numerous times during his two terms to raise them again to avert fiscal crises. These raises were primarily directed at the poor and middle class. In spite of this, the supposedly fiscally-responsible Republicans under Reagan nearly tripled the federal budget deficit! This was achieved courtesy of a massive increase in defense spending. With unions weakened and losing membership due to decertification efforts encouraged by conservative Republicans, worker wages began to stagnate. Reagan, ever the advocate of free trade, allowed the Japanese to decimate our automobile industry. He stood by and refused to stop a virtual flood of cheaper-priced Japanese and other foreign-owned car companies from taking a permanent foothold in this country. His successor, George Herbert Walker Bush, continued Reagan’s military buildup while simultaneously refusing to raise taxes. But by 1990, he, too, was forced to raise taxes. The resultant conservative uproar cost Bush a second term, and he was defeated by Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992, in what became a three-way race. This marked the end of the third revision of the GOP. The utterly disastrous fourth revision would begin in but two short years.
Conservatives were disenchanted with Clinton’s election, especially after he had successfully raised taxes in 1993, and immediately began to find a way to thwart his further success. They began to portray him as a tax and spend liberal, when, in actuality, Clinton was a fairly middle of the road Democrat who, like them, favored greater deregulation of industry. Republican operative Lee Atwater, together with Congressman Newt Gingrich, devised an ingenious (albeit deceitful) campaign to limit Clinton’s effectiveness. They launched the heavily advertised Contract With America (I’ve always referred to it as the Contract ON America) in an attempt to regain complete control of Congress. Their efforts paid off, and what was termed The Republican Revolution of 1994 came into being. It didn’t matter that few of the Contract On America’s planks were actually put into law: the lying Republicans had managed to grab Congress back and were now able to dog Clinton nearly non-stop. They were unsuccessful in defeating him in the election of 1996, but they united in opposition to him on nearly everything. They were successful, though, in getting him to sign a repeal of the Glass-Steaagall Act of 1933, an act of deregulation which would ultimately lead to economic collapse during the subsequent George W. Bush administration.
Once Bush’s 2000 election was assured by the machinations of his brother Jeb, family lawyer friend James Baker, and a very activist and committed conservative Supreme Court majority, the conservative neocon Republicans really began going hog-wild! They used the 9/11 attacks to successfully lie us into an unnecessary and costly war in Iraq and began circulating the myth that the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld team of war hawks were the best ones suited for the defense of the country. The American public, whipped up into a fearful frenzy over the unexpected attacks, were unaware of the fact that Bush had blown off repeated warnings about the impending attack, the latest warning having been given him less than one month before 0/11. It didm’t matter to the Republicans though. They simply rode this fear into two massive tax breaks for the wealthy, eventual war with Iraq, the illegal torture of enemy combatants, and a successful reelection campaign in 2004. Along the way, they also rolled up a record federal deficit we are still struggling to pay off, as their tax cuts and wars were all unfunded. Their gross mismanagement of the economy led directly to the horrible Great Recession of 2008 which we are still struggling to emerge from. Just as Bush had blown off terrorist warnings in 2001, throughout his two terms he had also blown off the responsible management of our economy. Yet the Republicans in Congress acted as his rubber stamp of approval the entire time. Just as in the late 1920s, their brand of laissez-faire economics was simply not working and had once more plunged the nation into economic chaos. Yet they still proceeded to believe in their ridiculous supply-side nonsense.
In view of this. only diehard conservatives were surprised that Congress returned to Democratic hands in 2006 and that Barack Obama, the first African-American President ever, was elected by a wide margin two years later. They were aghast at the prospect of a black man being in the White House, so on the very night of his inauguration, a number of them met secretly to plot his failure and ensure he would serve only one term. These treacherous conservatives embarked on a deliberate course of obstruction and delay for anything the new President wanted to implement. His revolutionary Affordable Health Care Act barely passed, and immediately far-right, well-funded reactionary groups sprang up in hatred and opposition. They created a very far-right Tea Party group which ousted many mainstream Republicans in primaries and managed to take control of both the GOP and the House of Representatives in the off-year election of 2010. These vicious Tea Partiers used a campaign based totally on fear and lies to achieve their aims, but in the end, it was all for naught. Obama deservedly trounced the Republican candidate and won reelection this fall, in spite of having a very sluggish economy and large unemployment figures plaguing him.
Because they have grown so ignorant, so intolerant, so rigid and narrow-minded, and so blatantly self-centered and greedy, this new far-right Tea Party-infested group of Republicans was astounded that Obama had defeated their pro-wealthy candidate so badly in 2012. They had allowed themselves to become immersed in racism and hatred, and had adopted deceit and fear-mongering as tactical tools in their mad obsession with attaining power solely for power’s sake. They have become the very antithesis of the bold and noble party they had first been in the election of 1860. They have devolved into an anti-science, anti-knowledge, anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-reality party that is hell-bent on destruction. That is why they have today become a party of embittered haters and grumpy old white men. They have lost touch with the majority of America and have been proven incapable of governance. They are now furiously fighting among themselves in a death throe agony. They have obtained their just reward in the process.
R.I.P. Republican Party - you will NOT be missed!