Not too many years ago, General Motors tried to sell their Oldsmobile brand (nee 1897) to a younger generation. The slogan was “this is not your father’s Oldsmobile.” In other words, Oldsmobile was not designed for elderly suburbanites who drove to the country club and discarded their cars after a couple of years. Eventually, most wound up in the hands of poor people who sometimes souped them up. The “new Oldsmobile” was supposed to be a “hip car” for a “hip generation” and stay fashionable forever. It croaked on April 29, 2004.
One of the good things about the “good old days” of dad’s Oldsmobile was that that their Republican party earned credit for participating in the advancement of civil rights, as well as basic civility in our political process. Young people who wonder what the Republican Party was like before it became the “party of no” may recall learning about Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower.
Actually, the Republican and Democratic parties collaborated quite a bit well into the 20th century. They had to, because both parties were populated by both liberals and conservatives. Republicans and Democrats crossed party lines to advance their causes.
Arthur Vandenberg was a Republican senator from Michigan who opposed most of FDR’s New Deal. On foreign policy he was largely an isolationist up until World War II. Then he saw the need for international collaboration. On January 10, 1945, he delivered a celebrated “speech heard round the world” in the Senate chamber, publicly announcing his conversion from isolationism to internationalism. In 1964, Illinois Republican Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen joined with President Lyndon Johnson to pass a landmark civil rights bill. Johnson had the burden of twenty-two Democrats (so-called Dixiecrats) representing the eleven states of the old Confederacy. He was not going to get any of their votes. When the actual vote took place on June 19, 1964, 66% of Democrats voted for it. But that amounted to only 44 votes. The Republicans put national interest ahead of partisan politics and actually beat the Democrats at their own game, with a whopping 82% of their 33 members voting for the bill.
Ironically, the bill passed only a month before the GOP nominated highly conservative Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona for president. While Johnson soundly defeated him in November of 1964, Johnson predicted that this election would be the beginning of the end of Democratic dominance of the southern states. He was right: Now eighteen of the twenty-two seats from the old Confederacy are occupied by Republicans. This is not “your father’s (or grandfather’s) GOP. In 1964 Republicans joined Democrats in saying ‘yes.’ This was just about the time that the James Bond movie, “Dr. No” came out, and that seems to have become the mantra of the Republicans in recent years.
When we hear Republicans now claiming that the Democrats are not interested in bi-partisan cooperation, they are simply forgetting the history of the last half century. The parties used to be amalgams of individuals seeking office, and the leaders of each party had to be especially skillful in fashioning majorities. The battles were not so much based on party identification as they were issue oriented. Unfortunately, many in today’s Republican Party have discarded real interest in issues in favor of promoting partisan polarity and demonizing the Democrats. This is easy to do when your agenda essentially consists of obstructing.
While some Americans prefer a government agenda of doing nothing, most want services provided to them that promote their personal welfare as well as that of their family members, friends, and society as a whole. This requires robust government action that not only follows people’s needs, but anticipates them in advance. Your father’s Republican party clearly had members who could do that; the present party is like the dads who become “grumpy old men.”
We welcome a Republican Party that wants to participate in the solutions to today’s and tomorrow’s problems. But first it has to go through a self-examination and cleansing process. Democrats: Please be respectful to Republicans who are looking for opportunities to help. As for the others who have little interest in governance, then govern without them. This will be good for the Democratic Party, ultimately for the Republican Party, and most importantly for the American people and other citizens of the world.