In my last post I observed that the Republican Party has changed their platform fairly significantly over the past generation or so, and that Reagan would be unlikely to recognize the party today, let along Barry Goldwater, Dwight Eisenhower or even conservative icon William F. Buckley.
Let’s take a look at some of the views that conservatives like Goldwater and Buckley embraced. I deliberately exclude Ronald Reagan from this this discussion in spite of the fact that he’s the yardstick by which most conservatives measure themselves today; I leave him out because I’m not convinced he was a great thinker in the mold of Buckley, nor an ideologue like Goldwater. He was a spokesperson, and a very effective one at that, but I don’t think anyone would accuse him of a deep intellect.
While I don’t agree with everything either Buckley or Goldwater wrote (or said), there is much of the Republican Party of the fifties and sixties to be admired, and in contrast with some of what is seen today. For example, it seems that Republicans (or at least Trump and his ardent followers) have little problem with racism. When David Duke (head of the KKK) endorsed Trump, he pretended to know nothing about Duke and refused to disavow any endorsement. The whole “kneeling by football players is an act of disrespect to our beloved national anthem” has been a dogwhistle to racists. The players (virtually all of them African-Americans) made it clear that they were protesting police brutality directed disproportionately against African-Americans, and Trump turned it into an act of disrespect for the anthem, even going so far as to try to get them fired for this exercise in Constitutionally-protected First Amendment rights. And when neo-Nazis marched in Charlotte, one of them ultimately running down and killing a young woman, Trump’s response was “There are good people on both sides.” In contrast, when the ultra-right wing John Birch Society was cozying up to the Republican Party, Buckley explicitly and specifically disavowed them and made sure they would not gain a foothold and made it clear that racism was most definitely NOT a conservative ideology.
Ayn Rand is the intellectual godparent of many in the current Republican Party; I’ve read that Paul Ryan counts her as his major economic and political influence, and makes The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged required reading for his staff. And while it’s true that Barry Goldwater also found her writings influential, William Buckley did not. He found her strident, rigid and off-putting, and went so far as to write negative reviews of her books, and encourage others to write as well.
Eisenhower coined the term “military-industrial complex” and warned against the unchecked expansion of the military. I’ve cited in an earlier post a speech he made decrying the cost of an aircraft carrier or fighter jet when that money could be better spent building schools or inexpensive housing for the poor. The most recent news indicates that, to pay for the trillion-dollar tax break (which goes predominately to the wealthiest), Paul Ryan is advocating reducing Medicare and Social Security benefits, which the poorest so desperately need. Ike must be turning over in his grave.
And the list goes on. A recent meme I saw in Facebook compares the plank of the 1956 Republican Party in electing Eisenhower, and it reads more like a liberal’s dream. Here are the seven planks:
- Provide federal assistance to low-income communities
- Protect Social Security
- Provide asylum for refugees
- Extend minimum wage
- Improve unemployment benefit system so it covers more people
- Strengthen labor laws so workers can more easily join a union
- Assure equal pay for equal work regardless of sex
I did a bit of checking, and while there might be a bit of a misleading spin on a couple of the planks, in essence it’s pretty accurate. (Here’s an article evaluating the accuracy of the 7 points, and here’s a link to the actual platform for 1956).
Contrast that with the Republican Party today. Yeah, things change and change is often good. But the changes in the Republican Party from the late 50’s to today is not something to be proud of. It’s gone from an inclusive and supportive party of small government and fiscal responsibility to a mean-spirited and often bigoted party of the uber-rich where hatred of the federal government is so deep that Grover Norquist could say he wanted to “shrink government to the size that you could drown it in the bathtub.”