this is not the time for Rockefeller Republicanism. We’ve got a country that is sinking. We’ve got a country that is on the verge of a crisis in the debt ceiling issue, and that’s just one symptom of much larger problems.
In the scary days from the time the stock market collapsed in 1929 until a new President told the nation that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” and described that fear as
nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance
the wisest heads around (all men, then) knew the truth of what President Roosevelt ultimately articulated. Looking at Europe’s slide into despotism and dictatorship as their economies crumbled under the weight of unregulated greed, rampant stupidity, and a gross inability to adapt to a rapidly changing world, it was widely understood, if not entirely accepted with resounding endorsement, that something big had to happen if the United States were not to fall into the same black hole.
Hence, the philosophy that “government is best which governs least”, the fantasy that our nation was the product of rugged individualism rather than a rickety, but enduring and brilliant, joining of states into a union, the product of people with divergent interests coming together for the purpose of controlling their own destiny, had to give way to reality.
If I read the temper of our people correctly, we now realize, as we have never realized before, our interdependence on each other; that we can not merely take, but we must give as well; that if we are to go forward, we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline, because without such discipline no progress can be made, no leadership becomes effective.
We are, I know, ready and willing to submit our lives and our property to such discipline, because it makes possible a leadership which aims at the larger good.
Once the immediate crisis abated, though, the old ways tried to make a comeback. Somehow the President was convinced by the late 1930s that some federal budget deficit had to be tackled, because it might be immoral to owe so much money. And when the full economy made possible by war had to again deal with peace, the Republican Party found itself a decided minority in the country—its Hooverism discredited along with its other attempts to blame what ails us on Them (people not born here who drink too much—hence, Prohibition—or who bring their histories in distant lands to our pristine shores—hence, isolationsism.
The old guard accepted a committed New Dealer, New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey, as its first post war presidential candidate but when he lost (after his supporters in the press told the country that was impossible) they put forward the John Boehner of his day—Robert A. Taft—to reclaim their party. That didn’t work when another committed New Dealer, but one who managed to liberate Europe from the Nazis, decided he would run for the presidency and won.
They probably did not know that President Eisenhower wrote this to his brother Edgar early in his first term, but it would not have surprised them. They knew that as “Republican” as he was, under the then understood meaning of that term, he was not one of Them:
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 you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.
To say, therefore, that in some instances the policies of this Administration have not been radically changed from those of the last is perfectly true.
So they (and it sounds as if Edgar was one of them, but held his tongue while his brother was president) seethed and bided their time. Even Nixon was probably not to their liking, but they would bide their time.
And then, finally, in 1964, they won. Barry Goldwater was likely too much of an internationalist for some of them but his nomination, and the repudiation of Gov Dewey’s successor in New York, Nelson Rockefeller, began their long desired return to control of the Republican Party. And what he said, even in gross defeat in the general election to follow, was music to tin ears:
The good Lord raised this mighty Republic to be a home for the brave and to flourish as the land of the free — not to stagnate in the swampland of collectivism, not to cringe before the bullying of communism.
Now, my fellow Americans, the tide has been running against freedom. Our people have followed false prophets. We must, and we shall, return to proven ways — not because they are old, but because they are true. We must, and we shall, set the tides running again in the cause of freedom. And this party, with its every action, every word, every breath, and every heartbeat, has but a single resolve, and that is freedom — freedom made orderly for this Nation by our constitutional government; freedom under a government limited by the laws of nature and of nature’s God; freedom balanced so that order lacking liberty [sic] will not become the slavery of the prison shell [cell]; balanced so that liberty lacking order will not become the license of the mob and of the jungle….
We see this as the result of a fundamentally and absolutely wrong view of man, his nature, and his destiny. Those who seek to live your lives for you, to take your liberties in return for relieving you of yours, those who elevate the state and downgrade the citizen must see ultimately a world in which earthly power can be substituted for Divine Will, and this Nation was founded upon the rejection of that notion and upon the acceptance of God as the author of freedom….
during Republican years, this again will be a nation of men and women, of families proud of their role, jealous of their responsibilities, unlimited in their aspirations — a Nation where all who can will be self-reliant….
We see in private property and in economy based upon and fostering private property, the one way to make government a durable ally of the whole man, rather than his determined enemy. We see in the sanctity of private property the only durable foundation for constitutional government in a free society….
Anyone who joins us in all sincerity, we welcome. Those who do not care for our cause, we don’t expect to enter our ranks in any case. And — And let our Republicanism, so focused and so dedicated, not be made fuzzy and futile by unthinking and stupid labels.
I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.
And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.
A nation where the voters were the immediate survivors of a Great Depression which began only 34 years earlier and their children, and who knew what all that meant, and understood what he was saying—and a nation which had lost its young vibrant president to extremism less than a year earlier—was in no mood to hear any of this, but that did not stop them.
By 1980, with a president nominated by the Democratic Party but who viewed the New Deal as a relic of the past and a not the mission of the party he claimed to lead, the forces finally go their way and elected a genial version of the Taft-Goldwater (Hoover) group. Rather than thunder about, this was a movie actor, running against a president who was attacked by a bunny rabbit and could not leave the Rose Garden of the White House to debate his opponents lest he lose focus on the plight of American diplomats held hostage for over a year and, amazingly, easy pickings.
When the movie actor was inaugurated, and the hostages miraculously freed that very day, his inner Taft-Goldwater-Hoover, or the one he had adopted according to the script he was given, explained that the days of “interdependence” were over, and from now on it was dog eat dog, to the victor go the spoils, he with the gold makes the rules. And, of course,
In the present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.
In place of interdependence we had pure greed, dressed up as an economic philosophy called “supply side economics” or, to others, “trickle down” based on something called a Laffer Curve. Ha. Ha, as Regina or Dickday might say.
David Stockman, once a Laffer acolyte, long ago came to his senses but what he could never understand, and still does not, none of this was about economic theory. It was just politics. Those who have get to keep it instead of “limousine liberals” or “welfare queens driving Cadillacs.” The economic theory might be all bunk, the politics of greed were brilliant, and they stick, and the United States House of Representatives is ruled by it. Today. 2011.
Well more than twenty years later, a guy vacationing among what used to be called the “eastern establishment”—the Republicans of the type who voted for Governors Dewey, Rockefeller, Scranton and Romney (George, not the wayward son)—stood in a line at a bakery where televisions showed the horrible scenes in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and incidentally mentioned the death of Chief Justice Rehnquist. Those pictures of what happened in Louisiana and the president flying over the scene on his way to play guitar at a lavish birthday party held in his honor in California, seemed to horrify these life long Republicans, the offspring of Republicans, who were themselves the offspring of Republicans. The amazement at this gross incompetence of a shrunken and debilitated government, their shock that this fool in the White House was put there by a Supreme Court he can now reshape with younger versions of the injudicial justices who put him there, was itself an incredible statement, and the most one could say was to marvel that it took Katrina for anyone to see how far the Republican Party of Dewey, Rockefeller, Scranton, Javits, Case and even Everett Dirksen had gone into oblivion, to be replaced by the heirs of Hoover and those who, as FDR called them on that day in 1933
only know the rules of a generation of self-seekers
The bakery line must have forgotten those chilling words—“government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem” or they would not have been surprised at Katrina.
Yet, we all indulge in self-delusion. There is likely nobody who sees the wreckage of an accident somewhat caused by their own mistake who does not first try to find a reason for what lies among them which does not implicate oneself.
You can say you don’t like the New Deal, the Great Society, a President who slept with women to whom he was not married, and whose brother was in a horrible car accident with such a woman, that President Johnson brought on Nixon by his conduct of the Vietnam War, that Presidents Carter and Clinton had views of government much closer to President Eisenhower than to FDR, but voting for a Republican as president, as a United States Senator, as a member of the House of Representatives, certainly to do so after 1980, is almost inexcusable.
If the David Brooks “converted” to Republicanism by William F. Buckley, Jr, and Milton Friedman is suddenly amazed to see his party no longer exists he is almost a decade behind the people on the bakery line during Katrina. He can call Sarah Palin a joke, but he cannot have missed this Michelle Bachmann popping up out of nowhere to claim the crazy dumbbell role that speaks to the Republican Party of today far more than any David Brooks or Everett Dirksen could. The Rockefeller Republican Gov Pawlenty was talking about at the top of this essay was, indeed, Brooks and, despite the Times rules against attacking fellow columnists, it was surely Brooks and his deluded companions to whom Paul Krugman was referring when his Bastille Day column suggested that
Anyone surprised by the extremism and irresponsibility now on display either hasn’t been paying attention, or has been deliberately turning a blind eye.
So here we are, on the precipice again, and put there by the wisdom of the always wise American people. We are in the midst of a national crisis—as deep a trough of unemployment as we have seen since the New Deal came to our rescue and rather than stimulate the economy the only way left — the way it has been done by Republicans and Democrats since it was first tried in 1933—we are not only not going to spend the amounts needed, and to do so in a way that will pay dividends in years to come (which national park established by the WPA did you last visit, or put another way, isn’t there a way we could convert our economy into one based on the energy needs of the next generation) it has been decided by one and all that government must spend less money.
Or, in other words, pick the dumbest thing done in the Roosevelt adminsitration (see 1938 above) and replicate that, instead of the massive program designed to pull us out of all of this.
Who could have seen such stupidity coming?