"The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny." — James Madison (Federalist Papers)
Several years ago while working under a contract with the Defense Department’s National Imagining and Mapping Agency (now the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency) in St. Louis I had a lunch with two of my clients. During the lunch our discussion turned to politics. One of the clients, a native of Wisconsin that I’ll call Bob, told me that he was, as was his family, a life-long Democrat, but that in recent years he had become a Republican, not so much because he believed in the tenants of the Republican Party, but more because he felt the Democrat Party had left him.
Bob was a government employee and measured his words very carefully during our conversation. Bob said he had grown up in a family of Democrats and was taught self-reliance, personal responsibility and patriotism. Bob felt that the Democrat Party had veered from those values and left him, and people like him and he did not leave the Democrat Party, the party left him.
I got to know Bob and in my opinion he was a patriotic conservative. He just happened to be raised in a family that was dedicated to the Democrat Party, as I was. This is why I could understand where Bob was coming from.
If we step back a few years we will find that most so called working class families were Democrats. They belonged to unions, mainly in manufacturing construction, and transportation, and they believed the Democrats were the party that was favorable to the private sector union worker. Public sector unions were not only unheard off they were frowned on by both parties as they had civil service protection. Teachers were not unionized and many teachers, due to their college educations, were more aligned with the Republican Party than the Democrats.
Prior to 1965 Democrats were known for their support of the working class and racism. If you wanted a job in a building trades union and were Black, Asian or Hispanic you had zero chance of getting into the union. Democrats dominated the South and most of rural America. Republicans dominated the Northeast, West and many of the big cities. They were the party of the business, the educated and the tolerant. Jackie Robinson, the great Black ball player was a Republican as was the NAACP dominated by Republicans. The GOP was known as the party of civil rights and that’s why many working class voters shied away from them. They did not want Blacks competing for their jobs. I knew many people, including my relatives, who did not vote for John Kennedy in 1960 for fear of his proposed civil rights policies, policies he never enacted. Kennedy won that election by a 303 to 219 margin in the Electoral College, but by a mere 112,754 votes in the total vote count, a 0.1% margin. Even California, Oregon, Ohio, Washington and Wisconsin went for Nikon.
Democrats were ideologically devoted to the policies of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. They loved Roosevelt due to their perception that he had brought us out of the Great Depression and his leadership during WWII. They supported Truman due to his anti-communist policies and steadfast anti-civil rights stands.
Around 1965, after the assassination of John Kennedy and the ascendency of Lyndon Johnson the Democrats began taking over the civil rights issue and the so called war on poverty. They were able to align themselves with the northeastern liberal progressive Republicans to provide government largess and promote the welfare state. With these actions more and more Americans began looking to government for their sustenance and daily bread. As Frederic Bastiat wrote in 1848 we were learning to use the law for plunder of one sector by another and as Friedrich Hayek wrote we were on our way towards serfdom.
There were some Democrats and Republicans like Barry Goldwater, Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms and Sam Urban who saw this growing welfare state as a creep towards socialism and a violation of the Constitution, especially the Ninth and Tenth Amendments. They were the “conservatives” and called reactionaries and racists. It was the progressive Republicans, the so called “Rockefeller” wing of the party and the northern Democrats who were considered the enlightened progressives.
The nation was drifting towards a big government run by the Washington elite. They had most of the press on their side with a few exceptions such as William Buckley’s National Review and some of the western newspapers like the Arizona Republic owned by the Goldwater family. The nation was slowly beginning to define politicians not by their party label, but by their ideology. We were beginning to understand the new meanings of the words “liberal” and “conservative.” If you supported the idea that government could solve your problems and provide for a better life you were an enlighten liberal. If you believed in the principle of the Founders and the Constitution that social experimentation should be left to the States and that individual liberty, with its responsibilities, trumped Washington you were labeled as a conservative. Liberals were for the people and conservatives were reactionaries who were selfish and uncaring. This was the new paradigm of the late 1960s.
As this liberal, progressive and “enlightened” ideology began to grow and take hold within the nation both parties began to look alike. It was just a matter of tactics and personalities that were the difference. As Example when Johnson became so unpopular due to the Vietnam War the Democrats and the American people abandoned him and in 1968 elected Richard Nixon over the progressive Hubert Humphrey by a margin of 301 to 191 electoral votes with the southerner George Wallace taking 46 southern state electoral votes.
Nixon proved to be no conservative. He raised taxes, instituted price controls, increased power of the welfare state and grew government by creating the EPA, which now regulates almost every aspect of our life today. Nikon became so popular with the American people that in 1972 he was re-elected by a whooping margin of 520-17 over his professed liberal Democrat opponent, George McGovern. We now had almost four more years of Nixon’s progressive policies.
But, as the saying goes, “a funny thing happened on the way to the forum”, Nixon was caught up in our first “gate” scandal — Watergate. The subsequent televised congressional hearings and feeding frenzy in the press removed Nixon from favor with the American public and he was eventually impeached by the Congress and forced to resign leaving the presidency to a feckless progressive Republican and “nice guy” Gerald Ford. It was the southern Democrat conservatives led by North Carolina’s Sam Ervin who destroyed Nikon.
Once Ford pardoned Nikon his fate for re-election was doomed and the door was left open for probably the worst president in the history of the Republic, Jimmy Carter, the peanut farmer from Georgia. Carter was a true progressive liberal who believed the federal government could do save everyone and bring prosperity to all. He grew government by increasing the welfare state and creating the Department of Education and the Department of Energy. In 1976 Carter rode in on the coat tails of the Watergate scandal and Ford’s pardon of Nixon. Even so his margin of victory over the hapless Ford was on 47 electoral votes (297-240) and 2.1% in the popular vote. Once again the western states of California, Oregon and Washington went for the progressive Republican, Ford.
Carter was a true progressive and the Democrat party was learning how to win elections by playing the race card and promoting class warfare. Two things finally awoke the American people; Carter’s handling of the economy and the Iran hostage taking. Carter’s popularity waned as the economy tanked and the American hostages held by a rouge Iranian government dragged on an on. Liberal was finally becoming a four letter word.
In 1980, when Carter stood for re-election he was challenged by the former governor of the state of California, Ronald Reagan. The United States presidential election of 1980 featured a contest between incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter and his Republican opponent, Ronald Reagan, as well as Republican Congressman John B. Anderson, who ran as an independent. Reagan, aided by the Iran hostage crisis and a worsening economy at home, won the election in a landslide, receiving the highest number of electoral votes ever won by a nonincumbent presidential candidate, and became the 40th President of the United States. Reagan’s victory margin was 489-49 with 50.7% to 41.0% over Carter. John Anderson, a progressive Republican (who we now refer to as a Republican in name only – RINO) received 6.6% of the popular vote and won no states. America was learning the new meaning of the word “conservative” and another new term was coined, “Reagan Democrats.”
Reagan, with his optimistic style, was able to reach out to many of those Democrat voters that had deep seated conservative values, like my friend and client Bob, and garner their support not because he was a Republican, but because he was a conservative and professed his patriotism and love of America, something those working class Democrats still had. Party affiliation was beginning to matter less and ideology more.
Democrats were becoming the party of the big government elites, academia, race baiting and class warfare. They were more and more depending on the urban voters for their support. They believed, and still do, that by promoting the welfare state, class warfare and garner the support of special interest groups and minorities they could gain and retain power.
The 1984 election was even a greater victory for the conservatives as Reagan was re-elected by a landslide when Reagan beat his hapless progressive Democrat opponent, Walter Mondale by a margin of 525-13. The United States presidential election of 1984 was a contest between the incumbent President Ronald Reagan, the Republican candidate, and former Vice President Walter Mondale, the Democratic candidate. Reagan was helped by a strong economic recovery from the deep recession of 1981–1982. Reagan carried 49 of the 50 states, becoming only the second presidential candidate to do so after Richard Nixon's victory in the 1972 presidential election. Mondale's only electoral votes came from the District of Columbia and his home state of Minnesota—which he won by a mere 3,761 votes, meaning Reagan came within 3,800 votes of winning all fifty states. Reagan's 525 electoral votes (out of 538) is the highest total ever received by a presidential candidate. Mondale's 13 electoral votes is also the 2nd-fewest ever received by a second-place candidate, second only to Alf Landon's 8 in 1936. In the national popular vote, Reagan received 58.8% to Mondale's 40.6%. Reagan would not have won that landslide victory without the support of those conservative Democrats like Bob.
The 1984 election pitted two visions of America against each other. One vision, the Reagan and Jefferson vision, was that government is the best that governs least while the Mondale and Democrat vision was that government is the best that governs the best, i.e. more and better government. The American people rejected the Mondale vision en mass. It was rejected by conservatives, no matter their political affiliation. It was the so called working class voting for a better America without government intrusion. We now had a defined ideology in America — conservatism vs. progressive liberalism. Conservatives believe that the individual is better qualified to make decisions regarding his life and government’s role is to insure his rights and provide for national security. The progressive liberals believe it is government’s role to act in the public good and provide for those who have not, through their choices, been able to advance themselves and achieve the blessings offered under the Constitution and Bill of Rights. They also believe that the United States is a polyglot of special interest groups deserving of plunder taken from another group. A true conservative believes that we are but one group, the American people, with unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and that governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed without the need to plunder another group to achieve that end.
Somewhere along the way the Republican Party lost their vision of conservatism and reverted back to a party more concerned with power than the constitutional principles of our Founders. The epitome of this fact was the administration of George W. Bush. While professing to be a conservative in the vein of Ronald Reagan his administration grew government at a rate only surpassed by FDR. He spent money on federal programs with their coercive powers of the purse and allowed special interest groups to rise in power. His administration, with the support of a Republican Congress, allowed the power of the public sector and teachers unions to increase. All of this led to the election of Barack Obama with his promise of hope and change.
Many of those so called Reagan Democrats, who now referred to themselves as independents flocked to the Obama’s clarion call of transformation. The Republican candidate, John McCain, was just another RINO who offered no conservative vision for America as Reagan did and could not bring those Reagan Democrats to vote for him.
After two years of Obama’s policies of increasing government, reckless stimulus spending and ever increasing government regulations people began to realize the mistake they had made and the Tea Party movement was started. These Tea Party people were vilified by the left-wing press, as was Reagan, but their message caught on with conservatives, no matter their expressed party affiliation. In 2010, the influence of the Tea Party, the American electorate sent a resounding message to Congress and Obama. They wanted more fiscal responsibility, liberty and less government.
So far Congress has done little to reward the support of the Tea Party followers, although some states like Wisconsin, Indiana, New Jersey, Ohio and Florida have moved in that direction. It will be a long and arduous road to return to the conservative vision of Ronald Reagan and to do so will require instilling a passion to do so in the hearts of Democrats and independents. This can only be done by a candidate with a clear vision for this Republic, a vision based in fiscal responsibility, smaller government and personal liberty. If such a person can arise from the current pack of the potential candidates I am sure those rational Democrats will once again support the conservative ideology.