Recently, I’ve had the privilege and the pleasure of corresponding with an imminently sane, inquisitive and (mostly) rational liberal female reader whose emails I’ve come to honestly cherish. After reading my review of the book Why You’re Wrong About The Right (in which I brought up the fact that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican), she wrote:
I have to give you a jab for the “Abraham Lincoln was a Republican” […] just because…well…it WAS 140+ years ago. Don’t your people have any more recent examples?
To be honest, I actually had to do some research. Like many folks, I remember things in general terms: Lincoln…good. Nixon… well, looking back he didn’t suck, but let’s face it: we Republicans got our panties in a wad when Bill Clinton, a Democrat, lied in office. Doesn’t integrity demand we be at least a bit ashamed of Nixon’s criminal activities and deceit?
But imagine my surprise, as a card-carrying Republican, when I learned that Republicans are actually behind most of the social assistance, Civil Rights and tree-hugging things the Democrats now parade as proof of their “social goodness”.
• For instance, how about Rutherford Hayes, under whom female attorneys were first given the right to argue before the Supreme Court?
• Chester Arthur initiated the International Meridian Conference which both established the Greenwich meridian and international standardized time. He also reformed the civil service, ditching the old crony system and requiring written entrance exams instead. That was a nice kick in the pants for corporations that were accustomed to putting their own employees into civil jobs so their employersd could continue getting away with corrupt practices.
• Benjamin Harrison oversaw the introduction of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, which keeps corporations from forming monopolies and cartels.
• William McKinley was known for promoting ethnic diversity and yet protecting American workers by imposing high tariffs on imported goods. (Those tariffs eventually became the financial basis for the ‘era of Prosperity’.)
• So, okay, everyone’s bitching these days about how the Republicans have a Vice Presidential candidate who is a reform-minded Republican under 45 years old, totes a gun, loves to hunt and only served as governor for 2 years before being named as the Veep candidate. Guess what? It’s not the first time. Consider Theodore Roosevelt, the guy who started the tree-hugger’s pet project, the National Park System.
• Taft continued to battle corporate trusts, launching over 80 anti-trust suits. (Roosevelt got pissed with him over the U.S. Steel trust, which Teddy had personally approved.) He also created the parcel post system. Incidentally, he thought up the federal income tax idea which was initially supposed to target corporations for the privilege of doing business in the U.S. So those social programs that are tax-funded today? They hark back to a Republican’s creation.
• Harding’s not on anyone’s list of notable presidents, but he did create the Bureau of Veterans Affairs. Yep, vets who are receiving benefits and assistance can thank a Republican, too.
• Coolidge. Eh, admittedly the only good thing to say is that he supported lowering taxes and exempting more people from them.
• Hoover, for all the bad rap he gets, wrote the Children’s Charter that advocated protection for all children regardless of their race or gender; instructed the IRS to go after Al Capone and other gangsters for tax evasion; expanded the national park system; eliminated many of the tax loopholes for the rich; and doubled the number of VA hospitals. He also advocated a Federal public pension for those over age 65 which, although not enacted during his administration, was the basis for the Social Security program. That’s right, another social assistance program thought up by a Republican!
• Eisenhower expanded all of the New Deal programs then created the Dept. of Housing, Education and Welfare to administer them. (He also extended benefits to 10 million more Americans.) Those highways we drive on? He came up with the Interstate Highway Transportation System. He also supported the Brown v. Board of Education decision and told Washington, D.C. officials they had to integrate. Eisenhower, incidentally, proposed to Congress the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960 and signed them into law. Although they weren’t as strong as those passed later by LBJ, the fact remains that a Republican president was the first to do something about Civil Rights for black Americans.
• Nixon. Okay, our bad. But, hey, at least he improved relations with China and helped bring along their split with the Soviet Union or I’d be typing this in Cyrillic right now.
• Ford supported a constitutional amendment allowing each of the states to make an independent choice on abortion, which didn’t win him many friends within the GOP. He remained pro-choice throughout his life, and his wife Betty (who is one of my personal heros) described Roe v. Wade as a “great, great decision.”. But that’s about the only nice thing I have to say about his presidency, aside from the fact that he was smart enough to give Betty a voice.
As to more recent Republican Presidents, well, it’s hard to debunk what people believe they personally witnessed. There is a reason, I submit, why so many Presidents are held in low regard until history provides hindsight on what they truly stood for and accomplished. And that reason is simply this: we all filter things through a thick lens of what we want to believe. It’s not until time has passed, and passions have cooled, that we see what truly occurred.
If we’re smart people, we revise our beliefs accordingly.