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Returning to the Roots of the Republican Party?
Jesse Richman, 9/6/2014

Heather Richardson has an insightful piece on the Republican Party in the September 4th New York Times.  The title: "Bring Back the Party of Lincoln."  She emphasizes a longstanding tension within the party between (1) centering the party's platform on the promotion of opportunity for the common man, and (2) centering the party's platform on promoting the interests of the wealthy.  She argues that when the party has centered its platform on the first program it has won, when centered on the second program it has lost eventually as an emiserated populace turns away from the party, only to be won back by a return to the first principle.

This is a vast oversimplification of a complex political history that is surely sketched in more detail in the book on which her op-ed is based.  But it does connect to important fundamental principles, and it offers an effective road forward for the Republican Party -- or some other party.  In our present crisis the lack of opportunity for the common man is the problem.  In some instances the solution is less government, in other instances the solution is more government, and in other instances, the solution is re-directing government.  But our current political parties, fixated as they are on redistribution of the pie, seem quite unable to frame an effective and thoughtful national program that places opportunity at the center. 

Let us turn for a moment to the Republican Platform of 1860. A scan of a broadside printed version is available here. http://cprr.org/Museum/Ephemera/Republican_Platform_1860.html

The Republican strain of fiscal conservatism is there.

"6. That the people justly view with alarm the reckless extravagance which pervades every department of the Federal Government; that a return to rigid economy and accountability is indispensable to arrest the systematic plunder of the public treasury by favored partisans; while the recent startling developments of frauds and corruptions at the federal metropolis, show that an entire change of Administration is imperatively demanded."

But this is combined with robust support for investment in public goods. 

"15. That appropriation by Congress for river and Harbor improvements of a National character, required for the accommodation and security of an existing commerce, are authorized by the constitution and justified by the obligation of Government to protect the lives and property of its citizens."

"16. That a railroad to the Pacific ocean is imperatively demanded by the interests of the whole country; that the Federal Government ought to render immediate and efficient aid in its construction; and that, as preliminary thereto, a daily overland mail should be promptly established."

And in the realm of trade policy, the party is unapologetic in its emphasis on protection as a tool for national advancement. 

"12. That while providing revenue for the support of the general government by duties upon imports, sound policy requires such an adjustment of these imposts as to encourage the development of the industrial interests of the whole country, and we commend that policy of national exchanges which secures to the workingmen liberal wages, to agriculture remunerating prices, to mechanics and manufacturers an adequate reward for their skill, labor and enterprise, and to the nation commercial prosperity and independence."

Richardson concludes:

Twice in its history, the Republican Party regained its direction and popularity after similar disasters by returning to its original defense of widespread individual economic success. The same rebranding is possible today, if Republicans demote Reagan from hero to history and rally to a leader like Lincoln, Roosevelt or Eisenhower — someone who believes that the government should promote economic opportunity rather than protect the rich.

To which I would add only that Reagan was more sensitive to the the need to promote opportunity than some who would wrap themselves and the party in his image and name.  Reagan raised taxes when he thought it necessary or expedient, and Reagan's administration set the US (temporarily and imperfectly) on the road to relatively balanced trade through the Plaza Accords and the 'voluntary' quotas on auto imports that contributed substantially to the development of U.S. auto factories belonging to Japanese manufacturers.   

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