The Once and Future Republican Party

Once upon a time in America, there was a political party whose icons were Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower. It was called the Republican Party and was born in Ripon, Wisconsin in March 1854 from remnants of the disintegrating Whig Party and other elements.

This Grand Old Party, or G.O.P., was a strong believer in human rights and human dignity. Its leaders freed the slaves in the 19th century and were instrumental in desegregating schools in the mid-20th century. The party also fought for voting rights for African-Americans and played a prominent role in getting the franchise for women.

Republican Theodore Roosevelt was an early advocate for the environment and was instrumental in developing our national park system. Further evidence of Republican concern for the environment was the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during the Nixon administration.

From the Republican Party’s inception, it dominated politics in New England, controlling virtually all offices for long periods of time. These officials, fiscally conservative and socially moderate, often set the agenda for the entire party, and as the heart of the party, kept it in the center of the political spectrum.

Whatever happened to the G.O.P described above? Is it an historical vestige, or a figment of the imagination? New England now is overwhelmingly Democratic, with no Republicans elected to the next Congress and Republican Senatorial candidates defeated across the board.

The icons currently held in esteem by Republicans are Goldwater and Reagan, with leadership coming from Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, Jim DeMint, Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan. And unelected, self-proclaimed authorities like Grover Norquist and Rush Limbaugh, and the Tea Party, help set the agenda for the G.O.P. Each year, it moves further from the center and weighted to the right. With this revamping, moderates retire from elected positions or are driven out, despite years of experience and the ability to reach across the aisle to craft legislation in the House and the Senate. Moderates, centrists, and even moderate conservatives in the party are demonized as RINOs (Republicans in name only) and are defeated in primaries by extreme right-wingers, many of whom then lose in the general elections.

And Republican state legislatures have tried to limit voting rights by various stratagems, making it more difficult for minorities to exercise the franchise. Photo IDs are required by some states and voting hours reduced, with long lines discouraging working people from voting.

Those socially moderate Republicans who championed woman’s interests are nowhere to be seen in the party, supplanted by extremists who perceive the children of rape as the will of God and refusing to allow abortion even to save the life of the mother. They also aim to limit access to contraceptives, particularly for poor women who cannot afford them, and wish to restrict health care for women by ending funding for Planned Parenthood. And some Republicans go out of their way to humiliate women who want abortions, passing state laws requiring them to have vaginally invasive procedures before abortions can be performed.

In addition, Republicans no longer see themselves as custodians of the environment and want to do away with, or severely restrict, the E.P.A. Many of them deny global warming and refuse to take actions that might work to reduce it. Drilling for oil should proceed unfettered, disregarding environmental consequences. Coal should be utilized as well, no matter its effects on the ozone layer or the increase in childhood asthma.

However, today’s Republican Party will become irrelevant in the future if it does not transform itself and march back to the center. The nation’s demographic metamorphosis is not favorable for Republican positions, and drastic change is needed which does not seem likely.

As another possibility, the extreme right wing could maintain its control in a smaller Republican Party, with fewer adherents and fewer elected officials. And from the ashes of the old G.O.P. a new party of the center could arise, just as the Republicans arose from the ashes of the Whigs. This new party of moderates and centrists would be like the old G.O.P; socially moderate and fiscally conservative. Pragmatism would be its hallmark.

Whether agreement is reached regarding the fiscal cliff, Republican conservativism is non-negotiable on almost all issues. And with the Democrats dominated by their liberal wing, a third party of the center is needed to bring rational discourse back to government. Though there are other options for this party’s gestation, the old Republican Party would fill the bill.

Resurrecting Democracy

A VietNam vet and a Columbia history major who became a medical doctor, Bob Levine has watched the evolution of American politics over the past 40 years with increasing alarm. He knows he’s not alone. Partisan grid-lock, massive cash contributions and even more massive expenditures on lobbyists have undermined real democracy, and there is more than just a whiff of corruption emanating from Washington. If the nation is to overcome lockstep partisanship, restore growth to the economy and bring its debt under control, Levine argues that it will require a strong centrist third party to bring about the necessary reforms. Levine’s previous book, Shock Therapy For the American Health Care System took a realist approach to health care from a physician’s informed point of view; Resurrecting Democracy takes a similar pragmatic approach, putting aside ideology and taking a hard look at facts on the ground. In his latest book, Levine shines a light that cuts through the miasma of party propaganda and reactionary thinking, and reveals a new path for American politics. This post is cross posted from his blog.

Auf Stumbleupon zeigen
Auf tumblr zeigen

Author: ROBERT A. LEVINE, TMV Guest Voice Columnist

Political junkie, Vietnam vet, neurologist- two books on aging and dementia. Last book on health care reform- Shock Therapy for the American Health Care System. New book on the need for a centrist third party- Resurrecting Democracy- A Citizen's Call for a Centrist Third Party- will be available early October 2011

  • dduck

    Although a little heavy in spots, as usual RAL, you nailed the current GOP. I hope? No, I don’t hope, that belongs to the other party, I demand, that the GOP mend its ways, cut the talking about reform and actually do the good stuff they are capable of doing. I can hear the sneering and and derisive laughter from the left, but that is OK, because they will soon be worrying when the Reps “march to the center” as RAL says it must do. If it does, watch out cause social moderation combined with fiscal conservatism will be a potent force.
    BTW: check out all the middle fingers being directed at Grover- move over.

  • Rcoutme

    [Snickers and laughs]

    Good one, dduck! [more snickers and laughter] “march to the center”? I love it! [falls on the floor laughing and spends two minutes trying to catch his breath]

    I hope, yes HOPE, that the Republican Party will follow your suggestion. I will quickly and decisively change my party affiliation when it does (hey, the Democrats aren’t solving things their way either). For now, I will wait to see results. So far…tea party activists and Rush Limbaugh have chased me away from the GOP.

  • dduck

    RC, can’t take credit for your laughs, RAL penned: “However, today’s Republican Party will become irrelevant in the future if it does not transform itself and march back to the center.”
    But did you hear about the Rep politician that changed his name from O’Grady to O’Gonzalez.

  • slamfu

    I think many of us will breathe a sigh of relief as the GOP marches back to the center. I was really scared of another GOP reign like Bush’s, but I’m not going to be happy with a democratic party that thinks it can do whatever it wants either. A reasonable, active, and sane GOP is necessary. If the current trends keep up we might have such an entity one or two election cycles sooner than I expected.

  • zephyr

    Yes, it would be great if today’s republicans started getting back in touch with their role models of yore, but given their often institutionalized intransigence and immunity to learning from mistakes I won’t be holding my breath.

  • http://www.robertlevinebooks.com ROBERT A. LEVINE, TMV Guest Voice Columnist

    All the comments are valid. The chances of the Republicans “marching back to the center” are about the same as Rush Limbaugh coming out in favor of gay marriage. That’s why we need a centrist third party.

  • roro80

    Eh, I don’t know, why not? The pendulum swings. I figure the right is always going to get about half the votes, plus or minus a few. I’d much rather that that right weren’t so scary.

    However, I think the gerrymandering process favors extremists, pushing moderates out, and the lines have been drawn primarily by the GOP in the last few decades. That is certainly no good for the hope that the GOP will become more moderate.

  • hyperflow

    Excellent article.

    The role of 3rd parties has always been an important one — a think tank and idea filter — where a new strategy can be experimented safe from disrupting the usual program.

    Green Party, Libertarian party, Tea Party are the fresh ideas and checks-and-balances of the Left/Right establishment.
    Before we deride one party or another, lets remember that all of these 3rd party “checks” would cancel the Patriot Act, deny special privileges to banks, and overturn the NDAA.

    2 questions:
    1. Why do we have the Patriot Act, bank bailouts, and Gitmo despite unanimous agreement from opposing extremes?
    2. as a third party with vanishing demographics, what role could the Tea Party have other than temporary?

    Guesses
    1. The established order really is modeled after Rome verbatim: corruption rampant
    2. There is no possibility of an independent Tea Party, that is why that have latched on to the GOP party host.

    Thoughts?

  • bluebelle

    Even if the GOP moves to the center to survive, it will take a while for me to trust them. House Republicans will continue to be extremists because they run in solid red districts, and even moderate sounding Republicans often have a conservative agenda that works against the common good of the nation.

    Its not just the rape talk that is so scary, its also their tendency to use military solutions before diplomatic ones are exhausted. I WILL say that if they could manage to find their way back, it would be nice to have a rational choice again

  • http://www.americaincontext.com Barky

    1. Why do we have the Patriot Act, bank bailouts, and Gitmo despite unanimous agreement from opposing extremes?

    Fear. Nothing drives a politician like fear. First thing that happens when you’re elected is your spine is replaced by a Nerf-like substance.

  • zephyr

    Nerf-like substance

    Nailed it!