“It is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the President or anyone else.” – Theodore Roosevelt
I used to love the national political conventions, but no longer. Over the next two weeks, politically active Americans will “drink the Kool Aid” and engage in saber-rattling diatribes and unleash the most unpleasant hyperbole concerning their fellow countrymen since Republicans questioned the bravery, honor, and military awards of John Kerry in 2004 (unless you count their 2008 vilification of Obama’s putative “Muslim religion” and their calling into question his citizenship). Democrats don’t get a pass here, with 30-year-old irrelevancies about Ronald Reagan’s senility, the 1988 “wimp” bombs they threw at George H.W. Bush, accusations in 2004 that his son, George W. Bush, was somehow complicit in the September 11 attacks, ad nauseum. More galling to me than that sort of nonstarter is the quasi-tribal, siege mindset that overtakes the most partisan among us, and the accompanying notion that members of the opposing party are the ENEMY (as if Osama bin Laden gave a rat’s toenail what the political party affiliations were of the World Trade Center’s honored dead).
Each year, the Democrats and Republicans host annual fundraising dinner events which bring local, state, and national brass to the trenches (in this case, ones filled with rubber chicken and contribution envelopes) in an effort to rally the—moneyed—troops and preach the Gospel of Talking Points to the chewing choir. The Democrats’ Jefferson- Jackson and the Republicans’ Lincoln- Reagan dinners are ideological red meat for “starved” political operatives and wannabes, and it never ceases to amuse me that most of the party stalwarts have no clue just who— or what—they are honoring.
Thomas Jefferson was a “small government” progressive who envisioned America as an agrarian society, where laws and regulations would be minimal, allowing the “good sense” of the people to reign as well as rule. In this, he was opposed by Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists, who resemble Mitt Romney and the modern GOP in that they favored the moneyed classes and capital, but they also supported a centralized Federal government to facilitate the growth and stability of the new nation.X
Although many Republicans claim that in today’s political climate, Jefferson would be a member of the Grand Old Party, this doesn’t take into account the 18th Century realities: In the 1700s, America WAS an agricultural nation, and didn’t require the degree of government regulation that a modern, industrialized society demands.X
In fact, it was two bona fide Republican Presidents who set into motion the very “Era of Big Government” that a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, proclaimed to be “over” in the 1990s. Abraham Lincoln’s calls for a national military draft during the American Civil War was the first of its kind—and made northerners hate the Great Emancipator as much as did slaveholders in the then-solidly Democratic south.
Legal scholars of the 1860s were as divided as the nation was in their opinions over whether Lincoln had the constitutional power to prevent southern secession and dissolution of the Union. And his suspension of habeas corpus foreshadowed the modern debate over the Patriot Act’s encroachment into civil liberties (a law, incidentally, that was championed by a “small government” conservative President, Bush-43).
Possibly America’s “biggest government” President, Theodore Roosevelt gave nightmares to bosses of his day’s GOP for his support of progressive causes. (When he was chosen as running mate for the incumbent president, Republican William McKinley, an exasperated machine boss, Mark Hanna of New York, shouted, “Don’t any of you realize that there’s only one life between that madman and the Presidency? What…will he do as President if McKinley should die?” As if on cue, McKinley was assassinated 15 months later.)
The Republican Teddy spoke of a “Square Deal,” a progressive outline for equal opportunity for all Americans—with special emphasis on the importance of fair government regulations over corporate “special interests.” (Read about the Triangle Shirt Factory fire and tell me that employees need LESS workplace protections.) Does that mean that he—or Obama—stand for harm to small business? Uh—no.
Roosevelt made America’s natural resources a national issue. He favored using them wisely, and opposed wasteful consumption. He leaves a legacy of five national parks, 18 national monuments, and 150 National Forests, among other works. Does that make the Rough Rider— or Obama—a tree-hugging nature lover? Is this even actually a bad thing?
In his 1908 Annual Message to Congress, T.R. spoke of the need for the federal government to regulate interstate corporations (under the constitution’s Interstate Commerce Clause), and cited big business’ battle against federal regulations, by appealing to the importance of states’ rights (which was as much a canard in 1912 as it is in 2012).
Child labor laws, workplace safety requirements, an eight-hour work day, and the Republic itself—we owe all these to liberal Republicans. Enjoy Tampa, members of the Grand Old Party.