“Remembering the Grand Old Party” August 2011

WAMC Audio for “Remembering The Grand Old Party”

Dr. Steven A. Leibo the professor of International History and Politics at the Sage Colleges

Oh, I know some people think it’s silly to be nostalgic about the past. What’s past is past they like to say. After all, the good old days were never that great anyway. But, frankly I found myself doing so a lot lately. O.K. Maybe it’s a occupational hazard. I am after all mostly a historian. Or perhaps my obsession with the past is just a sign of how long it’s been since my birth. They do say the older you get the more you remember the past long gone than what you had for breakfast.

Regardless of why, I simply find my mind lingering in times gone by a lot lately, especially missing that Grand Old Party that used to give so many Americans, those not inclined to vote Democratic, a real choice. Yes, that Grand Old Party of my youth that seemed to so often to reflect the best of American values. From that quest for national unity, strength and equality that Abraham Lincoln died for to the rugged individualism that people like Teddy Roosevelt epitomized.

Yes, the Grand Old Party that so honorably embraced the heart of America’s capitalist heritage. Yet, as Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft did, recognized as well that corporations too need regulation if their accumulation of private wealth is to complement national needs as well. Or the GOP’s concern for the environment as when Grand Old Party Presidents worked to preserve the environment from Teddy Roosevelt’s embrace of the preservation of the wilderness to Richard Nixon’s creation of the Environmental Protection Agency not forgetting GOP President Nixon’s attempt to work with Ted Kennedy to find a solution to inability to uniformly provide health care for our people.

Yes, that Grand Old Party that worked to support women’s suffrage when the Democrats failed to throw their own influence behind women’s rights. That party that embraced the commitment to scholarship and learning as when GOP President Lincoln founded the National Academy of Sciences, yes, that same National Academy of Sciences that today tries to warn us of the dangers of catastrophic climate change. Indeed, that same GOP party that saw for decades impressive intellectuals from William F. Buckley to William Bennett use the best of America’s educational accomplishments to help deal with those challenges that face us everyday.

O.k. I know that a great many folks are probably confused here. After all that Grand Old Party, still exists doesn’t it? Isn’t the GOP also today’s Republicans? But, I think we have to be realistic here. Today’s conservatives, the party formally known as Republican has almost nothing in common with the Grand Old Party of American history. No, with its fear of the very science Republican presidents from Lincoln to Eisenhower promoted. With its assumption that science is somehow its enemy and scientists their partisan enemies, its fear of scientific findings from evolution to global warming, with its uncritical support of private capital and fear of regulation it has become something quite different.

No, it seems quite obvious that this new group with their fear of the sort of regulation, Republican President Taft imposed with his Interstate Commerce Commission and their absurd assumption that government should have no role in stirring the economy as republican President Eisenhower embraced with his interstate highway system are hardly the heirs of previous generations of conservatives.

O.k I am not completely out of it. I am willing to admit that there is today a party that calls itself “Republican” But with its anti environmental stance, it’s uncritical assumption that corporations can do no wrong. It’s certainly not a party any of the great republicans from Lincoln to Eisenhower could likely find a home. No, it is certainly not a party that has any real claim on the ideas and accomplishments that once made it the Grand Old Party

About Steven Leibo

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