“Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes that you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.” -Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1952, in a letter to his brother Milton
Whoa! That “tiny splinter group” of yore has grown into a freaking redwood tree. When Eisenhower was president the wealthiest Americans were in a ninety-percent tax bracket. How do you think we paid for our marvelous interstate highway system? It is doubtful that old Ike, were he to run as a Republican in 2011, could get nominated to run as sewer inspector of Abilene, Kansas. He’d be condemned as a radical Communist. Things have gotten that weird.
I think what we are now witnessing are the dying gasps of what used to be known as “the party of Lincoln”. They may survive for a few years in the statehouses and small-town municipalities, but I just can’t foresee, given their present condition – overtaken by half-wits and extremists – their ever occupying the White House again. The first piece I ever posted on this site on June 2, 2006 was called, “George W. Bush: The Last Republican President”. At the time I thought it was merely wishful thinking on my part. Now I’m not too sure.
From the vantage point of one-hundred and fifty-five years, it’s next-to-impossible to remember that it started out with the best of intentions. Today the Republican party thrives on a single issue: “GOVERNMENT IS BAAAAAD!!!” In 1856 they were also a one-issue party. But what an issue!
It should never be forgotten by history that it was, at its inception, the party of freedom and that their platform was vehemently anti-slavery. It’s kind of hard to find fault with so noble a stand, huh? Its first national ticket, John C. Fremont of California and running mate, William L. Dayton of New Jersey, went down in flames in the general election, losing handily to Democrat James Buchanan of Pennsylvania, generally regarded by historians to be the worst president in American history. Four years later in 1860, the people would send Abraham Lincoln, an obscure lawyer from Springfield, Illinois to the White House. His name would rightfully be retained down through the ages as their finest president – Republican or Democratic.
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best, if he wins, knows the thrills of high achievement, and, if he fails, at least fails daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat. -Theodore Roosevelt
Yes, boys and girls, there used to be such a thing as a “progressive Republican” That very term today sounds so oxy moronic, it’s almost hard to pronounce. The vision of a “Square Deal” and a living wage “for every man and every woman in the United States” was represented by Theodore Roosevelt, our 26th president. January 6, 2009 marked the 90th anniversary of his passing at the age of sixty. I think the time has come (in fact, it’s long overdue) that people who describe themselves as “registered Republicans”, most of whom are reasonable people (unlike their counterparts on the RNC), take a good, long look at this man, his incredible life, and his legacy to the American people.
His was an administration dedicated to the environment, almost a century before such a stand would be politically popular. As president, he set aside millions of acres of forest as national parkland, to keep them from being ravaged by the timber industry. He would negotiate an end to the Japanese/Russian war which would earn him the Nobel Peace Prize – the first for a US president. He would initiate the building of the Panama Canal. He would seriously impair the stranglehold that Big Business in general – and J.P. Morgan in particular – held on the American economy. In May 1902, coal miners struck for a wage increase, an eight hour day and recognition of their union. In October of that year, President Roosevelt forced the mine owners to meet with the striking miners. For the first time in history, government influence was able to oversee impartial arbitration.
The death of the progressive wing of the Republican party can be traced to their convention of 1912. Almost four years after his administration came to an end, Roosevelt was bitterly disappointed in the performance of his friend and hand-picked successor William Howard Taft. It angered him that the jovial but easily-led Taft had undone much of what he believed to be his greatest accomplishments. Challenging the incumbent president in the Republican primaries of 1912, Roosevelt arrived at the convention that summer with all of the delegates needed (and then some) to seize the mantle of standard bearer and claim the nomination. The GOP power brokers, though, had other ideas. They had had enough of the progressive enlightenment of Theodore Roosevelt and were determined that the Plutocracy – not the people – would dictate America’s future. Taft was re-nominated to run for a second term.
Roosevelt bolted the Republican Party at that moment and formed the Progressive or – as it was popularly known – The Bull Moose Party. His third-party candidacy wound up splitting the Republican vote, thereby – for good and ill – making the presidency of Woodrow Wilson possible. It was during that campaign, on his way to make a speech in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that a would-be assassin shot him, point blank in the chest. “I will make this speech or die!” he told his terrified entourage. He strode to the podium, speech in hand, his shirt soaked with blood, and told his audience that it took more than a bullet to stop a Bull Moose. The guy was incredible.
Ironically, Roosevelt’s insurgent campaign of 1912 had a lasting effect on the political make up of the Grand Old Party. Many of the progressives who walked out of the convention with him never returned to the Republicans. The liberal wing of that party, to this very day – almost a century later – has never re-emerged.
I think it is quite telling that all these decades later, in their campaign literature and propaganda, the Republican Party – his party – never even mentions the name of Theodore Roosevelt – one of the three or four greatest presidents in American history. One needs not a degree in history to figure out the reason for that: Teddy Roosevelt believed, in every fiber his being, that corporate America served at the pleasure of the people – not the other way around. That sort of thinking is anathema to the modern day GOP.
They just don’t make Republicans like that anymore. Come to think about it they don’t make Democrats like that anymore either. How the hell did we get from there to here? The other day I had a bit of an epiphany:
The problem with the Republicans is that they have forgotten that they are the party of Roosevelt – Theodore.
The problem with the Democrats is that they have forgotten that they are the party of Roosevelt – Franklin D.
Well now! That sums things up rather neatly, doesn’t it? But while the Dems are inflicted by timidity and scattered pockets of corruption, there are still a few members of that comical party whose hearts are in the right place and who want to do right by the American people. That’s not the case with the GOP. They’re beyond redemption.
“….that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government – of the people, by the people, for the people – shall not perish from the earth.” –Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863
It’s interesting to speculate what Lincoln and Roosevelt would make of their party today. It’s not much of a stretch to say that the both of them would be just a tad dismayed to see that it has been overtaken by half-wits and crazy people. I think that Eisenhower might have been onto something when he predicted that a political party that attempted to do away with vital social programs would disappear from the pages of history. We shall see.
Copyright 2011 LA Progressive