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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Eric Rauchway: The Party of Stinkin'

What's behind the Republican's "inability to govern"? Do Democrats overreach?:

The Party of Stinkin', by Eric Rauchway, TNR: If the mixed results in the early Republican primaries--a Huckabee here, a McCain or Romney there--portends a split between the GOP's religious, fiscally conservative, and security-state wings, it won't be the first time a national American political coalition has failed. But it will be the third time in a hundred years an apparently strong Republican majority cracked up due to the party's inability to govern. By contrast, Democratic coalitions have failed mostly because the party has overreached after governing successes.   

In the midst of an economic depression, the Republican Party assembled a presidential majority in 1896 for William McKinley and his conservative platform. McKinley won despite the revolt of many traditionally Republican western states, whose citizens believed the party's elite had grown too cozy with industrial and financial leaders, while leaving the stricken farmers of the heartland in the cold. ...

With McKinley, the Republican Party shifted away from its post-Civil War habit of bludgeoning the South, and McKinley ran as a candidate of sectional reconciliation. He wooed the South with symbolic gestures, like declaring that their soldiers had demonstrated "American valor" in battle... He wooed the West with promises of renewed prosperity under his tariff and monetary policies. And Roosevelt's subsequent presidency--he took 56% percent of the popular vote in 1904--appeared to show that the Republicans could campaign and govern as a truly national party.

But the seeming solidity of this coalition concealed real divisions, owing largely to the Republicans' unwillingness to give Westerners what they demanded. Out there in the new states, voters began agitating for and adopting democratic measures--women's suffrage; initiative, referendum, and recall; and ways to popularly elect Senators and presidential candidates. Mere national prosperity, unevenly spread as it was and almost never trickling down to farmers, wasn't going to satisfy them. They actually wanted to take part in the country's government and change it for themselves.

Roosevelt made the right noises in response to this stirring insurgency... But, since he was a Republican beholden to eastern industry, he could do little more than talk... As another student of Rooseveltiana more acutely mentioned, he was "the greatest concocter of 'weasel' paragraphs on record."

Roosevelt's successor, William Howard Taft, couldn't weasel charmingly enough for an electorate increasingly dissatisfied with Republican complacency. In 1910, the Democrats took the Congress.

Roosevelt tried to push his party back in his direction, and when that failed, he led a third-party movement in 1912 that put Woodrow Wilson into the White House, along with a Democratic House and Senate. [...continue reading...]

Update: Underbelly Buce comments.

    Posted by on Wednesday, January 30, 2008 at 12:04 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (13)


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