The Republican Party is in deep trouble, and pretty much everybody knows it. The litany of abuses of public trust is hard to quantify after they've spent 6 years devoted almost entirely to blocking Obamacare, gutting welfare, busting unions, denying women's rights, suppressing votes, and outright lying about... well... just about everything. The fact is, their platform is just not palatable to Americans, and without spin that borders on criminal misrepresentation, they aren't selling much that anyone is willing to buy.
This is bad for government, and it's bad for the American people. Our country needs conservative voices, and it needs liberal voices, because both have important things to say. Sadly, we are not arguing between these two positions. We are instead confronting ideology which, at its best, is rife with science denial, religious extremism, and Neoliberal platitudes.
One way to approach this problem is to look at successful presidents of the past for policy guidance. Today's Republicans are fond of referring back to Ronald Reagan, which in itself is somewhat disingenuous, since Reagan would be hard pressed to win a nomination today. But even looking to Reagan is probably not the best idea, since he was the first Republican president to firmly embrace the extreme wing of the Religious Right, and his policies of deregulation and "trickle down economics" were the foundation for the rise of corporate plutocracy which has created the worst economic inequality in a century. We can do better if we want to find a successful and popular Republican president.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was very popular. Over his presidency, he twice dropped under 50% approval for one month, but otherwise, he was consistently viewed favorably by 60-70% of Americans, and almost hit 80% approval at one point. As approval goes, he was much more consistent than GOP Golden Boy Ronald Reagan.
Why did everybody like Ike so much? Well, to begin with, he was a conquering war hero, returning from squashing the Axis as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe. After the war, he quickly attained a number of distinguished positions, including the president of prestigious Columbia University, advisor to the U.S. Secretary of Defense, and informal Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. On top of this, he was vocal and insistent on the importance of promoting democracy through education, which made him almost too good to be true. He was a noble warrior who seemed perfect for the presidency.
This initial appeal was enough to win him a landslide victory in the 1952 election, but his popularity sustained for virtually all 8 years of his presidency. Clearly, he was doing a number of things right, because his appeal crossed partisan borders, and gave Americans a sense of well-being and prosperity in the decade after the Second War to End All Wars had laid so heavy a burden on the country. During his presidency, unemployment was low, economic growth was steady, the military was strong, inflation was low, and infrastructure made a huge leap with the construction of the interstate highway system.
What were the Eisenhower Republican Party's guiding political principles? Thankfully, we don't have to speculate. The 1956 Party Platform tells us exactly what led to this era of successful "dynamic conservatism." Here are ten traditional Republican ideas which illustrate just how far the party has drifted from its values:
1. Social Liberalism
Yes. That's right. Good conservatism involves social liberalism. Here it is, straight from the elephant's mouth: "Our great President Dwight D. Eisenhower has counseled us further: 'In all those things which deal with people, be liberal, be human. In all those things which deal with people's money, or their economy, or their form of government, be conservative.'"
So much for all that stuff about gay marriage, contraception, and the War on Drugs, right?
2. Transparency and Honesty
"We believe that basic to governmental integrity are unimpeachable ethical standards and irreproachable personal conduct by all people in government. We shall continue our insistence on honesty as an indispensable requirement of public service. We shall continue to root out corruption whenever and wherever it appears."
So much for Chris Christie, right? But while we're at it, let's take Rand Paul off the list, as well. He's an unrepentant plagiarizer, and has lied so much it's the expected norm. While we're at it, let's just point a deserving finger at the entire National Republican Congressional Committee, which tweeted a blatant lie about the CBO report on the Affordable Care Act. Let's look at Pete Sessions, who also lied about a CBO report on unemployment benefits. The GOP is a party of liars, and this is just not the way Ike would have had it. Spin is a part of politics, to be sure, but today's GOP has moved from spin to 180 degree opposition to the truth.
3. Welfare Expansion.
"We are proud of and shall continue our far-reaching and sound advances in matters of basic human needs—expansion of social security—broadened coverage in unemployment insurance —improved housing—and better health protection for all our people. We are determined that our government remain warmly responsive to the urgent social and economic problems of our people."
There isn't much to say about this, is there? Ike's conservatism stood in stark opposition to today's GOP, and their insistence on cutting everything that isn't welfare for the rich.
4. Ending Military Conflict.
"Nearly four years ago when the people of this Nation entrusted their Government to President Eisenhower and the Republican Party, we were locked in a costly and stalemated war. Now we have an honorable peace, which has stopped the bitter toll in casualties and resources, ended depressing wartime restraints, curbed the runaway inflation and unleashed the boundless energy of our people to forge forward on the road to progress."
5. Income Equality
"Good times in America have reached a breadth and depth never before known by any nation. Moreover, it is a prosperity of a nation at peace, not at war. We shall continue to encourage the good business and sound employee relationships which have made possible for the first time in our history a productive capacity of more than $400 billion a year. Nearly 67 million people have full-time jobs, with real wages and personal income at record highs."
It doesn't get much clearer than that, does it? Real wages and personal income at record high. Today, with corporate profits at record highs, the average worker's real earnings are dropping. A lot.
Here's one more bit from farther down the platform: "America does not prosper unless all Americans prosper." Indeed, that would be a lovely thing for the GOP to embrace.
6. Balanced Budget
"We have balanced the budget. We believe and will continue to prove that thrift, prudence and a sensible respect for living within income applies as surely to the management of our Government's budget as it does to the family budget."
This one's a bit tricky because any Republican worth his salt will tell you that balancing the budget is a huge deal. The problem is that they're straight up lying. Balancing the budget is only a big deal when a Democrat is in office, and it's in the GOP's election interests to wail and moan about cutting welfare (which, if we recall, is contrary to the Ike Plan). In fact, as spending goes, the GOP is undeniably the party of running up debt. The deficit has fallen at the fastest rate in 60 years under Obama, while George W Bush used subterfuge to run up record deficits. (Remember the "honesty" bit?) And let's not forget that it was Bill Clinton who operated at a surplus for the first time in most of our living memory. And of course, Reagan's deficit spending is the stuff of legend.
"Furthermore, the process of free collective bargaining has been strengthened by the insistence of this Administration that labor and management settle their differences at the bargaining table without the intervention of the Government. This policy has brought to our country an unprecedented period of labor-management peace and understanding.
We applaud the effective, unhindered, collective bargaining which brought an early end to the 1956 steel strike, in contrast to the six months' upheaval, Presidential seizure of the steel industry and ultimate Supreme Court intervention under the last Democrat Administration."
Obviously, this is at odds with current GOP strategy, which is to weaken and even eliminate collective bargaining and union involvement with large corporations.
8. Equal Pay for Equal Work
"Assure equal pay for equal work regardless of Sex"
Lilly Ledbetter, anyone?
9. Funding Science and Healthcare
"We have asked the largest increase in research funds ever sought in one year to intensify attacks on cancer, mental illness, heart disease and other dread diseases.
We demand once again, despite the reluctance of the Democrat 84th Congress, Federal assistance to help build facilities to train more physicians and scientists."
This is another one of those areas where it's easier to look for a single instance of Republicans being pro-science, rather than trying to list all the ways they're cutting funding for critical research.
10. Improving and Expanding the Post Office
"In the last four years, under direction from President Eisenhower to improve the postal service and reduce costs, we have modernized and revitalized the postal establishment from top to bottom, inside and out. We have undertaken and substantially completed the largest reorganization ever to take place in any unit of business or government"
This last one is something of a microcosm of the GOP paradigm shift. The GOP is actively trying to destroy the Post Office. Meanwhile, private shipping companies like FedEx are poised to take up the slack, except they'll be doing it for profit instead of for the benefit of Americans. This is the bottom line for today's Republican Party: Corporate welfare over the good of individual citizens. It is trickle-down plutocracy gone mad.
Nearly a year ago, I chided Republicans for abandoning genuine conservatism in favor of ideology. I concluded that,
"[It's] rather obvious that the Democratic Party is now the standard bearer of "traditional conservatism. " There is nothing radical in their platform. Universal healthcare, taxing the rich, infrastructure improvements, federal monies to stimulate the economy in recession, equality for all citizens... America lags behind most developed countries in implementing these tried and true, scientifically vetted policies. Democrats are urging us to trust the science, to learn from those around us, and to take manageable steps into the future with policies that have been proven to work. That's... conservative."
If we examine the conservatism of Eisenhower, this is an argument worth consideration. Certainly, progressives will object to some of the particulars of the '56 GOP Platform, and that's great. That's the argument I mentioned at the beginning. We need liberals and conservatives to find middle grounds between their positions. It's the beauty of the American system of government. Sadly, we cannot do that when the "left" has been dragged so far right that it is virtually indistinguishable from one of the most successful conservative parties in history.