In the 1800s, it was Republicans who were fighting against the Confederate flag. Today, it’s the Republicans who are fighting to keep it flying above our state capitals.
In the 1900s, Republicans wanted to break up the conglomerates that were strangling the working man. Today, the conglomerates own them.
In the 1950s, at the influence of Eisenhower, Republicans expanded Social Security. Today, they want to privatize it or even phase it out. Some call for raising the retirement age. It was Republicans, along with Democrats, who supported strong union protections and fair pay laws. Today, Republicans are passing right-to-work legislation and murmuring the idea of abolishing the minimum wage. It was President Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, who said:
“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 that you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”
In the 1980s, Republicans granted amnesty to hardworking undocumented immigrants. Today, they call them rapists, thieves, and dangers to our society and way of life. They somehow manage to invoke subtle (sometimes blatant) racism into the dialogue: “The browning of America,” as Ann Coulter would call it. Today, President Reagan would be branded a traitor, a RINO, or both. As someone who signed gun control measures into law, negotiated with our enemies, signed nuclear limiting treaties, raised taxes (a lot) and voted for FDR four times, he would be considered a liberal in today’s GOP.
To put it in perspective, Richard Lugar, a Republican Senator from Indiana, was once considered further to the right than Senators Bob Dole and Ted Stevens. He served in the Senate from 1977 to 2013, losing in the Republican primary to a Tea Partier. A man who was once considered more conservative than Bob Dole was beaten because he wasn’t conservative enough. The same thing happened to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the first time a House Majority Leader lost (his) position in a primary since the position was established in 1899. Who did he lose to? A Tea Partier. The reason: he wasn’t conservative enough.
The Tea Party has almost single handedly shifted the GOP from center-to-right to far-right. Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana and now a 2016 contender, once embraced Common Core, new set of education standards. Once the Tea Partiers got wind and raised hell, Jindal abandoned his support and called it an overreach of federal power. Marco Rubio, Senator from Florida, was the voice of reason for real comprehensive immigration reform. As a member of a bi-partisan “Gang of Eight,” Rubio succumbed to pressures from Tea Party radicals, and backed off his own immigration plan.
Now what about the Democrats?
Well, in the 1930s, 40s, 50s an 60s, Democrats championed social programs – Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, unemployment insurance, welfare, food stamps – to help low income Americans live a better life. Today, Democrats are still doing that, whether it be through Obamacare, expanded Medicaid, SNAP benefits or tuition free college.
In the 1960s, a tide had turned with the election of President Kennedy, and Democrats became the party of Civil Rights. Today, Democrats are fighting back on attacks to voting rights (perpetrated by Republicans). It’s of no surprise Republicans cheered on the gutting of the Civil Rights Act by the Supreme Court just a few short years ago. Something as simple as voting rights, once a bi-partisan issue (after Lyndon Johnson spearheaded it), has turned into a left v. right issue because the GOP has become more conservative in their approach to domestic policy.
The only thing Democrats have radically changed in is their support for is gay rights, considering no party really touched on the issue until the late 1990s. That’s one of the biggest reasons Democrats have become “more liberal.”
And actually, trends show that Democratic presidents are becoming more moderate, based on their support or opposition to Congressional legislation. Republican presidents? They move further to the right. If anything, Democrats have moved closer to the right than to the left. When it comes to Congressional Republicans and Democrats, Republicans have moved more to the right and at a quicker pace than Democrats have to the left.
In other words: extremism has engulfed the GOP.
As Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson wrote in their article for The American Prospect:
“The GOP’s great right migration is the biggest story in American politics of the last 40 years. And it’s not just limited to Congress: GOP presidents have gotten more steadily conservative too; conservative Republicans increasingly dominate state politics; and the current Republican appointees are among the most conservative in the Court’s modern history. The growing extremism of Republicans is the main cause of gridlock in Washington, the force behind scorched-earth tactics on Capitol Hill….”
Indeed, when conservatives blast Elizabeth Warren’s “break up the banks” rhetoric, they fail to see that that same rhetoric comes right out of the Teddy Roosevelt handbook. Roosevelt was Republican, albeit a progressive Republican.
We as a nation went from Richard Nixon establishing the EPA to Jim Inhofe (R-OK) throwing snowballs on the Senate floor. We went from Goldwater (a conservative-Libertarian icon) supporting environmental protections at the cost of profit to the criminalization of even mentioning climate change (thanks, Rick Scott). In the 1970s, Republicans showed a surprisingly progressive side (along with Democrats) when it came to protecting our environment.
We went from Tip and the Gipper to…well…Obama and Boehner. But Republicans are not fools (when it comes to executing their tactics, that is). Because of their gridlock and scorched-earth approach to almost everything, they make Democratic-sponsored ideas and initiatives look too partisan, something that always leaves a nasty taste in the mouths of the electorate. It’s calculated, and it’s demanded from their fringe voters in the Tea Party. Because of those cold, calculated tactics, America lost its triple A credit rating in 2011 and the government shut down in 2013. In 2015, the Department of Homeland Security was just a couple hours away from shutting down, putting America’s safety at risk.
The party that was once led by the “great communicator” is now the party of temper tantrums led by a man who really needs to stop getting spray-tans.
There is one thing, however, Republicans have continued: their assault on non-Christians. With hysteria hitting all time highs in the 1950s at the hands of Republican Senator Joe McCarthy over the alleged infiltration of communism, America went on a Jesus binge, putting “In God We Trust” on our currency, federal buildings, etc. We even put “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Now fast-forward to 2015. Republicans, influenced by the hysteria surrounding radical Islam, intellectualism and an ever creeping “gay agenda,” have resorted to initiating three major goals: attacks on our schools with abstinence-only sex education and creationism; “religious freedom” laws in private-sector services; and assaults on women’s reproductive health.
Long story short, when someone tells you both parties have moved too far to the left or right, remind them that is simply not true. Only one party has moved too far to any side, and that would be the Republican Party to the right. What was once the party of environmental protection and civil rights has turned into a ghost of it’s formal self. The once respected institution of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Eisenhower has now become the fringe group of Donald Trump, Rush Limbaugh and birthers.
So even as the Democrats become a little more liberal, they really aren’t moving that very far. The Republicans, however, have gone over the cliff into the fever swamps of paranoia, rage, and extremism.