As one who was born into the Republican Party almost a century ago, I do not even recognize the party as it exists today. My family hated Franklin Roosevelt as rabidly as the Tea Party hates Obama today. Despite the fact that the nation was deep in the depression before he took office, my parents and their neighbors detested every measure that President Roosevelt took to correct the situation, My father was deeply humiliated when he had to accept the first box of government-distributed food so that his children could eat.
You see, the Republican Party had real principles then. It was not considered a shame to be poor so long as you worked hard and were an honorable person. If you needed something that you could not buy, you offered to work for it. If you could not work, the neighbors would come in and do your work so that you would lose neither your work nor the eventual benefit of what you had worked so hard to accomplish.
It was not a shame or an honor if you happened to have the good fortune to enjoy plenty, so long as you had earned it by your own honest efforts and refrained from flaunting your wealth by ostentatious living. The boss and the hired hand were expected to work together at the same job and under the same circumstances. This was not a religion, as such, but it was held as deeply as the people held their Christianity.
In that light, they opposed the idea of going to war to “save Europe”, yet when war was declared, they lined up at enlistment offices to “do their duty.” The same men who refused to allow their sons to sign up for the Civilian Conservation Corps or the Works Progress Agency took them to the bus station and proudly sent them off to serve their country in such numbers that the earlier ones had to help finish the construction of the camps where they were to receive their basic training. They bought War Bonds to help defray the costs and the children saved their pennies to take to school to buy a ten cent “savings stamp” when they had contibuted enough pennies. These stamps were placed in a book and a full book would be exchanged for an $18.75 War Bond that would return them $25 “someday.”
Worn-out implements, old aluminum washing machines, broken bicycles, broken farm equipment, and any other useful metal, found its way to the nearest railyard for shipment to the aircraft plants and shipyards. Even the old cannon that had sat in the courtyard square since a much earlier war went to the the railroad car to be melted down and re-used. Gas, food, and any other essential goods were tightly rationed, prices and wages were frozen with the intent that nobody would become rich by contributing to the war effort and it was accepted by the people as a necessity.
When this century turned, the world was suddenly upside-down. The new president came into office with delusions of inherited grandeur and cronyism ran rampant. The only contribution asked of the people was to provide their sons to the war effort and then to “go shopping.” When our lauded “all-volunteer military” were insufficient, the National Guard were pressed into service. Mercenary soldiers were hired at great expense so that the sons of the rich were not needed, except as officers, of course.
Now that “the cows have come home”, our nation is financially broken, our jobs have been sent to other nations, and another depression is on our shoulders, another president is trying to set us back on the path to recovery. The same resentment is being demonstrated by the Republicans but not in the same way. They travel in droves to locations in order to meet, carry signs that would have put them in jail during the Bush years, they disrupt President Obama with insulting remarks during official addresses, and, in general, behave like a roomful of spoiled brats in kindergarten.
Of course, having lived the life of privileges that were denied to all too many of us, they feel that they are entitled to the same preferential treatment they have always received. They have no knowledge of or desire for the miserable sacrifices that were made by their parents abd grandparents in order to guarantee their very existence. They somehow have the idea that they, and only they, have the right to force those less “worthy” to suffer for the continuation of those privileges.
At one time the Republican Party was one that believed in spending no more than you could afford. However, another tenet of that belief was that one must pay the bills before discretionary spending for things like food and clothing. The watchword was, “Make it do, make it yourself, or do without.” Today’s quazi-Republicans should sit down with their older generation who will describe the differences between then and now and why this ain’t your daddy’s Grand Old Party.
When I turned 21, in 1951, I proudly marched to the polls to help elect “Ike”, our hero of World War II. General Eisenhower could have been elected by running on either party but he declared that he had always been a Republican, having grown up in Kansas and considering it his home. Kansans supported him overwhelmingly, both as a native son and as a representative of their brand of Republicanism. History agreed with us as he became probably the most successful president of the twentieth century and we still feel his presence in our daily lives, whether or not we actually think of it.
The nation was in the usual post-war slump with a war to pay for, mills and factories to convert back to peace-time manufacturing, foreign nations looking to us for help with their reconstruction, the most massive military machine to that time in history to relocate and re-allocate, veterans to educate, house, and heal to get them back to their previous status. Demand for housing soared as new families were added to the population, and we met their demand for home financing, student assistance, and relocation.
President Eisenhower recalled the difficulties encountered in moving materiel across the country during the war and decided that our highway system was antiquated and deteriorated. At the same time we were paying for the just-completed war while still maintaining a military presence all over the world, he determined that we should have a nation-wide network of “super highways.” Being a good Republican, he adhered to the notion of first paying the bills and so tax increases were necessary. Tax rates on the upper brackets of income soared to the ninety per-cent range but people paid it and still prospered. Ike also presided over the extension of Social Security Disability Income coverage to handicapped and disabled people and approved the first steps to establish civil rights for African-Americans.
In recalling the halcyon days of Eisenhower, marked by the first positive actions in furthering our United Nations efforts to keep the peace in Korea, and the rumblings of the Communists in Vietnam, he, and we, continued strong in our determination to build a better world, no matter the cost. In that light, the Republican Party of today becomes an oxymoron. Eisenhower realized that a prosperous America depended on a happy and healthy populace who would be ready and able to mobilize in support of whatever national emergency should arise. Today’s Republicans show absolutely no empathy with the plight of the working man, much less the poor and the aged. They operate on the Golden Rule: He who has the gold rules.
Today’s Republicans appear to have no relationship to that of the past. They are quite willing to allow the poor to die of starvation or medical neglect in order to save the rich man’s dollars. They discount the fact that the Federal government has any obligation to the governed other than “keeping them safe” by waging war on the people’s credit card.
They are unwilling to pay the bills that are necessary to treat our war veterans for their injuries, to repair our Eisenhower-era infrastructure, or to subsidize the research and development for the long-term growth of our economy.
Their reason for this reluctance? Because it would cost money! They protest that our nation is economically broken by “big-government spending” which has put us deeply into debt and the only answer is to spend less. One is tempted to borrow from the comedians and ask, “How broke are we?” Their response might be to let the jobless eat dirt, sick children die in their mothers’ arms, and old people “go up into the mountains and give up the ghost.” You may listen all day to Congressional discussion without hearing words like “compassion,” “charity,” or “duty”.
But nobody dares to suggest that taxes be raised. We have the same problems that we had when Eisenhower took the presidency and they claim to represent the same political party. Why, then, is it heresy for them to face the facts and raise taxes on the wealthy? At a time when faced with the same problems we have now, with a nation that was poverty-stricken but managed to win a tremendous war, a Republican president was able to unite us, guide us through it, and make our nation better than ever. Why can we not do it now when taxation rates are only a third of the Eisenhower level?
History shows us that, over the course of two hundred plus years, whenever out country is in trouble, an honest disclosure of it by our leaders will generate an out pouring of effort that is amazing. The rank-and-file citizens will perform any chore, suffer any hardship, and pay any price to set it right and to get our destiny back on track. Those who would lead us with lies while pretending patriotism will be rewarded with failure and any who are unwilling to make those sacrifices in the interests of their own wealth or power lie when they profess their love for our nation.
When President George W. Bush took office, we had a balanced budget with surplus projected far into the future. Then we began a war “on the cuff” with no increase in taxes, no mobilization efforts, supplementing the efforts of our limited armed forces by the hiring, at great expense, of private mercenaries. Money was expended by the Treasury without accounting and spent without any effort at control. Billiions of dollars in cash were sent overseas and no accounting can be made for its use while a massive tax cut reduced our ability to pay for it. Now, our Congressmen, of the party of Ike, want us to force the poor of our nation to pay the bills on pain of their very lives..
President Eisenhower rests in well-earned peace with the honors that he deserved. Perhaps it is just as well that he never knew what would happen to the precepts of national duty and honor in his own chosen and beloved political party. If he were alive today, he would hang his head in shame. In today’s political climate, he would not even qualify as a good Democrat! Our current “Democratic” president strives to find the “center” of the political spectrum while the Republicans keep moving the goal posts. Now President Obama finds himself fighting to maintain his equilibrium against a party that beggers the John Birch Society or the leadership of Senator McCarthy. Once again, they demonstrate no shame at their lack of humanity in their campaign enslave the working class and to turn the government over to the corporations by any means necessary.
God save America!
This writer is eighty years old and has spent a half century working with handicapped and deprived people and advocating on their behalf while caring for her own working-class family. She spends her “Sunset Years” in writing and struggling with The System.