The Long Dumb Legacy of the GOP

Recently, I had a discussion with someone who was convinced that the Republicans were the good guys until 1932 or thereabouts. They were the liberal party.

Well, certainly there has been a lot of swapping of issues between the parties. Free trade was a Democratic issue in the era after the Civil War. But the Republican party has always gone where its financial and industrial captains have taken it. At times, this included noble causes like abolition and union. But no sooner than those causes were vindicated, the party began instituting deflationary tight money policies at the behest of its financial mandarins and protective tariffs at the behest of its industrialists (one that went far beyond the leveling one we should, but don’t have today).

The Civil War was the beginning of American Big Government, and, as such it is an invention of the Republican party. The government in this phase had to be big enough to steal land from Indians and develop communications and infrastructure for industry, but no bigger. And the more political participation increased, the more the Republicans sought to kill the federal government, which had begun to rival the oligarchs for power and began to use that power to other ends, such as in support of trade unionism.

The Democrats from the time of Jefferson wanted to limit federal power. This was their excuse for slavery. It was “states rights.” How many of these principled arguers would have voted to abolish slavery in their own states, I cannot say, but doubt the number was larger than the number of “states rights” anti-abortionists that would vote to legalize it in their states.

But soon enough, the Democratic party as the de facto opposition party of the north became the labor party. In the south, it was still the conservative old Jacksonian plantation party, straight through until the last of these left the party in 2000.

Theodore Roosevelt, the next president of stature after Lincoln, also used the power of the state to rival the oligarchs. The knock on him is that he sought to pursue an imperialist agenda.I think this deserves some revision. All of the underdeveloped world was colonized at this time. Isolationism ended up writing some of the great follies of the 20th century. The refusal of the US to enter into the League of Nations, the refusal to enter World War II before it was already armageddon, and the decision by McCarthyite Republicans to be more concerned with alleged communists in the US than the actual communists abroad (no, you can’t have your army Mr. Truman!)

Today, as our country experiences political decay from a civic state to a praetorian state, the masses having become more conservative, more unlearned, isolationism is limited to a cohort of other nitwits who have a fetish for 19th century ideas, like the gold standard. Yet they share in common with mainstream conservatives the desire to eliminate the state and have it replaced with industry. So, both doctrines are fostered by industry and finance.

Republicans use the military to blow shit up, not to enact policy. They don’t even do it for imperial aims. Oh, if only we had invaded Iraq for the oil. We might not be in a recession. If only we had invaded Iraq as a part of some coherent foreign policy. No, neither. It was a war of rage and revenge on a displaced target.

The effective state, Big Government, has solved all of the epoch making problems of the post Civil War era. Big Government ended slavery. Big Government busted the trusts. Big Government ended the depression, ended World War II, made the atomic bomb, and kept half of the world free from dictatorship. Big Government put men on the moon. Big Government invented the Internet.

It is this very efficacy that the oligarchs despise, because their power and their order is dislodged. Ask a Paultard if their original version of the Constitution would have put a man on the moon before the Soviets.

Now they want the effective state to drink hemlock and die. And the Democrats lack the tools to join the battle because they don’t want to argue in favor of big government, except maybe Social Security and the military—the military, somehow the domain of the Republicans in politics these days. They won’t argue in favor of unions, they won’t argue in favor of a equalizing tariff.

We are heading for the Articles of Confederation and a moribund useless federal government. And while this might sound good in some poorly written art deco novel, when the next large crisis confronts us: peak oil, climate change, perhaps a real war—we won’t be able to deal with it. We will lose. Someone else will win. Because someone thinks the commerce clause or the Tenth Amendment, as they read it, is more important than life, liberty, and prosperity.