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Posted by on Nov 30, 2013 in Featured, History, Politics | 6 comments

What does it mean to have been a Republican 100 years ago?

Or for that matter, a Democrat?

Teddy Roosevelt from Facebook

Teddy Roosevelt from Facebook

When you see one of these digital posters that frames Republican Teddy Roosevelt’s political views as a counterpoint to today’s Republican party … remember that Teddy did not get the presidential nomination in 1912 when this was his platform:

Roosevelt called for women’s suffrage, a federal minimum wage, an end to child labor and federal insurance that covered “the hazards of sickness, accident, invalidism, involuntary unemployment and old age.” He wanted to create a legal right for workers to unionize “to see [that] manhood is not crushed out of the men who toil by excessive hours of labor, by underpayment, by injustice and oppression.”

Much like today, a hundred years ago big business pulled party strings.

Taft was a big-business Republican who opposed such radical notions as a minimum wage, the legalization of unions and increased regulation of business. His predecessor as president, Theodore Roosevelt, had regarded Taft as his protege and felt profoundly betrayed when Taft failed to live up to his expectations.

Republicans voting in the primaries overwhelmingly supported Roosevelt’s platform. However, despite his very poor showing in the primaries, Taft took the nomination.

Taft’s control of the party machinery secured him the nomination at the GOP convention that summer. Furious, Roosevelt and his supporters bolted and formed their own Progressive Party, with TR as their standard-bearer.

Who won the presidential election in 1912?

Wilson did, with Roosevelt coming in second. Taft, the incumbent, finished a distant third.

Wilson had experienced war as a child, growing up in the post-Confederate south, “the son of a Presbyterian minister who during the Civil War was a pastor in Augusta, Georgia, and during Reconstruction a professor in the charred city of Columbia, South Carolina.”

Yet Democratic President Wilson sounds far more today’s Republicans than Democrats. (He was pushed into politics by conservative Democrats.)

He was nominated for President at the 1912 Democratic Convention and campaigned on a program called the New Freedom, which stressed individualism and states’ rights. In the three-way election he received only 42 percent of the popular vote but an overwhelming electoral vote.

State rights“? That’s the calling card of the Confederate south, which voted Democratic in presidential elections post civil war up right up until Reagan’s victory in 1980.

Wilson Quote

Wilson quote from CBN

History and context

Party platforms have evolved, considerably. For example, Republicans were concentrated in the north during the days of the civil war; now they are concentrated in the states formerly known as the Confederacy.

Lincoln’s [presidential] victory came entirely from the states of the North, Midwest and far West. He failed to win a single slave state, and 10 of the 15 even refused to place him on the ballot. (source, emphasis added)

1860 Presidential Election

Via the New York Times (2010)

Certainly, beliefs and platforms from our history are important. But it is a fruitless exercise to criticize any current party position based on the words of one individual a century ago.

We should take those words to heart as truths, not as beacons from a political party. Words like these transcend parties:

The limitation of governmental power, of governmental action, means the enslavement of the people by the great corporations.

That quote, too, is from Roosevelt (Teddy, not Franklin).

That century-old observation may be more true today than then given that today’s great corporations dwarf yesterday’s in scope (global) and economic impact.

Teddy would be a Democrat today and Wilson a Republican, probably.

So What?

Rather than bludgeon one another with words from the past, why not take these same words and ask: are they still relevant today? If so, what are we as a society doing to honor or dishonor them?

Certainly, a case can be made that the U.S. Supreme Court has dishonored the spirit of Roosevelt’s assertion with Citizen’s United. The amount of corporate money raised by candidates and incumbents for elected office — federal office, in particular — also suggests that Teddy was quite prescient. Eisenhower, too, (also a Republican) worried about corporate power with his famous military-industrialcongressional complex assessment.

I’d argue that today both parties are bound to big business.

How can we move beyond partisanship (party labels) and assess our political philosophy on the basis of our values?

And then, somehow, move candidates and incumbents to a place where they are rewarded for addressing matters of the soul rather than spouting soundbites?

:: Parts of the post originally appeared on Facebook

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Copyright 2013 The Moderate Voice
  • JSpencer

    Thanks Kathy. American history is in many ways more fascinating than current history, in part I think because it’s a little safer from spin and distortion. Funny how the parties have changed and who they represent. A lot of that seems to be related to the Civil War and it’s (continuing) legacy. I sure wish we had a president with the vision, character, and courage of a Teddy Roosevelt today. Needless to say, he wouldln’t be running as a republican. A good program about that here:

    http://onpoint.wbur.org/2013/11/27/teddy-roosevelt-progressives-doris-kerans-goodwin

  • PATRICK EDABURN, Assistant Editor

    An interesting post indeed, though I am not sure we can equate TR’s progressives with today.

    He did establish the FDA and related agencies, which for the era was progressive in nature. But I would contend the vast majority of both parties support the existence of those kinds of agencies.

    On the other hand TR would not have supported moves to regulate what foods we are allowed to eat. He wanted the choices to be clean and safe but for the government to say you cannot eat this or that food because we don’t think it healthy enough for you would not have met with his approval.

  • I don’t think we have to go back a hundred years. Eisenhower would not be a Republican today and I doubt that Nixon would be either. Ike’s living relatives all left the Republican party soon after Bush II was elected and one of the Nixon daughters was actively campaigning for Obama in 2008 and 2012. Several of Barry Goldwater’s descendants have even left the party.

  • StockBoyLA

    I came of voting age in Alabama in the 80’s. I was raised Republican in the Democratic South by parents from the North. As times changed ands as the South “turned” Republican my parents “turned” and identified Democratic simply because the Democratic Party was the party with their values.

    But also during that era (it really was another world just a short time ago) it was common for people to vote for the man, and not the party. My parents voted both R and D. These days it seems that if you vote across party lines you’re a traitor. And of course politicians (more so Republicans than Dems) are held to the party lines. Democratic politicians seem to vote with Republicans more than Republicans vote Democratic.

  • Thanks, JSpencer – that was timely, wasn’t it! 🙂

    Patrick – good point about prohibited foods — except I think Teddy might have taken a different view given the power corporations have over the ingredients in most of the food we eat. >> http://www.theguardian.com/business/2012/jun/11/why-our-food-is-making-us-fat

    Ron & StockBoyLA – yes, a lot of folks have left both parties. But I really really would like us to be able to move beyond “the party” and talk about values.

    StockBoyLA – voting a straight party ticket was easier when the voting machines were lever pulls (the original black box voting).

  • JSpencer

    But I really really would like us to be able to move beyond “the party” and talk about values.

    Amen. (wistfully)

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