For Lincoln’s 200th birthday I stopped in at Civil War Memory and was distracted by Kevin L’s musings on the supposed transformation of the Republican Party — from the party of liberty and equality to the party of big business, wage slavery, and Indian wars. What happened?
The change was more apparent than real. Since reading William E. Gienapp’s Origins of the Republican Party, 1852-1856 a couple of years ago, I’ve cobbled together a working definition of the core principle within each of the two major parties. It doesn’t flatter either of them.
- The Republicans are the party of large social structures as being more important than individuals, families, and other such unplanned arrangements of human resources. It’s the party of cartels, conglomerates, corporations, commissions — of massive, remote-controlled organizations, whether public or private. (The “small government” mantra only applies when the Republicans are out of power.)
- The Democrats are the party of ethnic difference. Whether acting as the party of white supremacy or of affirmative action, the Democrats’ path to power consistently involves the exploitation of supposedly innate differences between human groups. Even appeals to unity tend to dissolve, in this party’s hands, into us-’n’-them formulations.
I wouldn’t mind being convinced that this is a simplistic and cynical parody of two noble political institutions. So go ahead, convince me.