By William P. Lazarus
Anyone following the news these days has to be pretty sick of the charges and counter-charges being flung around by Democrats and Republicans. The partisan infighting is fierce with each side accusing the other of hypocrisy.
Actually, they are both right.
Both parties have repeatedly shifted positions enough over the years to cause a disk jockey to get dizzy trying to follow the spinning logic.
No field has been left untouched by the sordid slime of hypocrisy. Let’s start with the budget.
The Republicans are pushing for fiscal responsibility and reduction of the national debt. However, the two presidents who oversaw the largest expansion of government and the greatest national debt were both Republican – Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. The last president to balance a budget was a Democrat, Bill Clinton. Before that, Republican Dwight Eisenhower balanced the budget.
Vice President Joe Biden, when a senator, voted against increasing the national debt ceiling. Today, he favors it. President Barack Obama has also been on both sides of the issue.
How about Civil Rights?
The Republicans started in 1856 in opposition to slavery. That was the sole reason for the party. They lost the presidential election that year, but came back in 1860 to win with Abraham Lincoln. The election of the Great Emancipator, considered one of this country’s greatest presidents, precipitated the Civil War. South Carolina seceded, convinced that, with an anti-slavery advocate in office, it could not retain its distinct culture.
In time, however, the conservative South eventually turned solidly Republican for years, opposing the so-called liberals of the Democratic Party who were seen as pro-Civil Rights. Today, in complete opposition to its origins, the Republican Party contains relatively few Black members.
Democrats hardly have anything to crow about. Founded in the 1790s, the party was led by Thomas Jefferson, who was to become another highly ranked president and was committed to civil liberties. Yet, Democrats were the primary proponents of racist policies in the 1950s, led by Sen. Harry Byrd of Virginia. Civil Rights laws proposed by Democratic President John F. Kennedy and his successor, Lyndon Johnson, changed the ground rules, this time against Republican opposition.
The political candidate who started today’s emphasis on religious faith was Jimmy Carter, who, in 1976, promoted his Southern Baptist roots. He is a Democrat. In contrast, Democrat Jefferson and Republican Lincoln were at best deists. Neither was very religious. Lincoln did not belong to a church and rarely went to religious service. His religious feelings were private and intense.
Today, however, his party has become the bastion of religious conservatives while Democrats are seen as more irreligious.
In addition, Republicans started as outsiders, the upstarts who were pushing for the abolishment of slavery. Naturally, once getting into power, they began to attract wealthy supporters. The same thing happened to the Catholic orders, which preached poverty and accumulated vast fortunes.
In time, with only one Democratic President (Grover Cleveland) between 1860 and 1912, the Republicans evolved into the party of establish wealth. However, Republican President Theodore Roosevelt pushed through the anti-monopoly laws as well as laws improving conditions for workers and food safety, ideas originally proposed by Socialists.
Republicans often have spoken out in opposition to international treaties. Republican isolationists, for example, headed opponents to the League of Nations. However, Republican Teddy Roosevelt started America on the road to being the international leader in 1907 by sending our navy around the world to broadcast our “power and prestige.” Naturally, by showing off such force, Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Democrats led opposition to the Civil War. They were labeled Copperheads by their opponents and were thought of as pacifists. However, presidents during World I and II were Democrats, Woodrow Wilson and then Franklin Roosevelt. Democrats were also presidents during most of the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. A Republican served as commander in chief for the war with Iraq and the start of current conflicts in the Middle East.
The list goes on. Early Democrats supported strict reading of the Constitution – today a Republican theme song – and states’ rights. The latter issue was a key element in the Civil War. Today, the Democrats favor a strong national government at the expense of states.
Scandals have undermined the credibility of both parties. The worst American presidents ranked by histories come from both parties: Democrat James Buchanan, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and Republicans Ulysses S. Grant, Warren Harding and George W. Bush.
Fortunately, leaders in both parties can rely on historical ignorance that runs rampant in this country. People simply don’t recall that their chosen party has shifted and changed its message more than any halfback running through a broken field.
It's not a new situation either. In the 1950s musical L'il Abner, lyricist Johnny Mercer penned these words for a song, The Country's in the Very Best of Hands:
“Them GOP's and Democrats,
Each hates the other one.
They's always criticizing
How the country should be run,
But neither tells the public
What the others gone and done.
As long as no one knows
Where no one stands,
The country's in the very best of hands.”
It’s not going to change, not as long as people don’t remember what our politicians said the day before that contradicts what they are saying today.
William P. Lazarus is a writer and an historian who expresses his opinions in blogs. His books can be found on Amazon.com, Kindle and his website, williamplazarus.com. His blog is firstname.lastname@example.org.