“A Tale of two Parties”
That old adage “History repeats itself” has a bit of fidelity to it. So what does history tell us about the current two party political system in America and those shifting tides throughout the years within them? It tells us there’s been an undertow of liberalism with a wake of conservatism all along.
The Democratic Party, the oldest political party in America, was founded by Andrew Jackson in the 1830s. Back then Democrats opposed elites and aristocrats and the modernizing programs that built industry at the expense of the yeoman, but they also saw the necessity of a modern infrastructure with railroads, canals, telegraphs, turnpikes, and harbors.
However, Franklin Roosevelt altered the Democratic Party with his New Deal that promoted social welfare, labor unions, civil rights, and the regulation of business. Two old words took on new meaning: “Liberal” now meant a supporter of the New Deal; “Conservative” meant you opposed it.
Then came Harry Truman’s Fair Deal proposals such as universal health care; his proposals were defeated by Conservatives in Congress. His seizure of the steel industry was also reversed by the Supreme Court. (Sound familiar?)
Lyndon Johnson, heir to the New Deal ideals, broke the Conservative Coalition in Congress in the 60s and passed a number of liberal laws known as the Great Society.
In 2004, prominent Democrats began to rethink the party’s direction. Some Democrats proposed moving towards the right, others demanded that the party move more to the left and become a stronger opposition party.
The Republican Party, the second oldest political party in America, emerged in 1854 to combat slavery.
With the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, the Republican Party gained success with a Union victory during the Civil War, abolished slavery, and dominated the national scene until 1932. It was pro-business, supported banks, the gold standard, railroads, and tariffs.
Historians claim the foundations of the party were along the lines that ethnic and religious groups set the moral standards for their members and they carried those standards into politics.
The Republican Party had a liberal element in the early 20th century though, typified by Teddy Roosevelt. After 1936, the GOP split into a conservative faction and a liberal one. The GOP had two wings: The left wing supported most of FDR’s New Deal and the right wing opposed it. The New Deal was heavily criticized by Republicans who likened it to “Class Warfare” and “Socialism.” (Does that have a familiar ring?)
The Republican Party’s central leader by 1980 was Ronald Reagan, whose conservative policies called for reduced government spending, regulation, and lower taxes.
In 2009, the Tea Party movement was formed to provide a groundswell of conservative grassroots activism in opposition to Obama administration policies. However, establishment Republicans began to see themselves at odds with the Tea Party, who sought to run conservative candidates in primary elections to defeat the more liberal establishment-based candidates.
For years, many thought the two parties were no different – that’s no longer the case. At a Democratic National Convention, the word “God” was struck from the platform language. Only after a swell of public opposition did they elect to reinstate God back into the platform. However, it took three arduous efforts to vote God back into the platform language by their delegates.
As a middle-aged adult who follows politics and writes about it, I’ve never seen such a vast divide between the parties. They’re as different as night and day. There’s no disputing that the Democratic Party has shifted to the left and the Tea Party is trying to drive the Republican Party farther to the right. Society in America is mostly conservative in nature and will no doubt be standoffish to the socialistic moves made by Washington.
Greg Allen’s column, Thinkin’ Out Loud, has been published bi-monthly since 2009. He’s an author, nationally syndicated columnist and the founder of Builder of the Spirit in Jamestown, Indiana, a non-profit organization aiding the poor. He can be reached at www.builderofthespirit.org or follow him on Twitter @GregAllencolumn.