What If The GOP Was Great Again?

It was an interesting exercise for me this morning to compare the official party platforms of two very different parties. Those parties are:

* Today’s Republican Party
* 1956’s Republican Party

I know, I know, it’s just embarrassing to compare, say, Dwight D. Eisenhower to Donald J. Trump. That wouldn’t be fair. But those are two individual people, either of which could more or less represent the party’s ideals as a whole. Perhaps party platforms also aren’t the best representation of the party as a whole, but they have to be more representative than a single person. (And it’s much easier to read a party platform document than to search out thousands of policy positions of thousands of elected Republicans all over the country in 1956 and 2018.)

The 1956 Republican Party platform is here.

The 2016 Republican Party platform isn’t posted on their website. Instead, they link to this .pdf file (2.7 MB).

First, note a very important distinction. In 1956, the GOP was the incumbent party — Eisenhower was concluding four years that saw economic prosperity and the end of the Korean War. He was about to win a second term by a 15-percent margin in the popular vote and the electoral votes of 41 states — over an opponent he had already defeated in 1952. In 2016, the GOP was looking for a way to get back in the White House after eight years of economic recovery under a Democrat incumbent who couldn’t run again. This means the tones will be different. The former can say: “look at all we’re doing right now”, while the latter has to point at “failures” of the “current administration”.

• The Intro

The introductions are quite different. In 1956, the GOP began with: “America’s trust is in the merciful providence of God, in whose image every man is created … the source of every man’s dignity and freedom.” It’s more religious than I would like, but it’s well-known that the U.S. was experiencing a religious push in the 1950s as a response to “godless communism” in the Soviet Union.

The 2016 document begins with sinister nationalism: “We believe in American exceptionalism.” It mentions God too, and quickly, but then devolves into libertarianism and doublespeak.

• The Role Of Government

In the fifth paragraph, the 1956 document quotes Abraham Lincoln on the role of government:

“The legitimate object of Government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do, for themselves in their separate and individual capacities. But in all that people can individually do as well for themselves, Government ought not to interfere.”

The 2016 platform addresses the role of government in paragraph seven. It sounds similar to unperceptive ears:

“We believe our constitutional system — limited government, separation of powers, federalism, and the rights of the people — must be preserved uncompromised for future generations.”

There is a major difference. The former gives a condition to government involvement — things people can’t do or can’t do well, the government should do. The latter says we cannot compromise on the limitations of government. This means that even if something needs to be done, and even if the government can do it better than individuals, the government must not act.

It goes on to use terms like “economic freedom”, which sound nice because voters read it as “the government won’t tell me what to do”, but in actuality is doublespeak for “the government won’t protect me, as a worker or customer, from dishonest and harmful business practices”. In Republican/Libertarian language, “freedom” almost always means “fewer protective regulations on those who should be most regulated”.

• View Of Conservatism

In 1956, the GOP quoted Eisenhower: “In all those things which deal with people, be liberal, be human. In all those things which deal with people’s money, or their economy, or their form of government, be conservative.” Throughout the document, it is clear that by “conservative” they mean careful, considerate, watchful of waste.

Sixty years later, the party refers to people as “resources”. It doesn’t use the word “conservative” until page 17 of a 66-page document, and then uses it to mean “going backward” — the paragraph refers to stacking the Supreme Court with “a strong conservative majority”, which will return the Constitution to its original meaning. Notably, the original Constitution didn’t protect the rights of women or ethnic minorities, and expressly allowed slavery.

The only other use of the word “conservative” doesn’t come until page 34, when the writers complained that: “the IRS has become an ideological attack dog for the worst elements of today’s Democratic Party” (seriously) and that it “targets conservative… and libertarian organizations”.

• The Opposition Party

Keeping in mind the caveat I mentioned above — that 1956 Republicans were incumbent in the White House while 2016 Republicans controlled Congress but had been out of the White House for eight years — the two party platforms vary widely on how they talk about their opponents.

In 1956, the GOP platform uses the word “Democrat” or “Democratic” 14 times, usually referring to the excesses and mistakes of the Franklin Roosevelt administration and/or the spending of Truman. In these passages, it refers to “reduced annual spending” (which doesn’t appear to be true), “the unfortunate results of unwise financial management during 20 years of Democrat Administrations” (which I can’t find evidence for), the value of the dollar falling (which continued under Eisenhower), Truman’s unconstitutional seizure of steel mills, Democrats in Congress refusing to support unions, Democrats reluctance to fund the training of scientists, and other problems of the time. I noted that several of these instances show how the parties have since switched sides, while others were normal partisan jabs.

But it is wholly different in 2016. This new platform uses the term fifty-three times, many of them in completely imaginary scenarios — like the absurd IRS claim mentioned above. Here are just a few of these absurd (and patently untrue) claims:

“The President and the Democratic party have dismantled Americans’ system of healthcare.” (p. 4)

“Strong growth, more jobs, increasing incomes, and expanding opportunity are all in short supply under President Obama and the Democrats.” (p. 8)

“Democrats in Congress have also endorsed an anti-constitutional agenda of their own.” (p. 16)

“Forty-eight Democratic senators, for instance, voted to amend the Bill of Rights to give government officials control over political speech.” (p. 16)

“The Democratic Party is extreme on abortion. Democrats’ almost limitless support for abortion, and their strident opposition to even the most basic restrictions on abortion, put them dramatically out of step with the American people.” (pg. 21)

“Like the rest of the economy, agriculture has suffered through eight years of the Democrats’ regulatory juggernaut, particularly from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).” (pg. 25)

“The leadership of the Democratic Party, both those in office and those who seek it, no longer see America as a force for good in the world.” (p. 53)

Other claims are true, but misrepresented as bad things instead of the good things they are, including John F. Kennedy’s executive order that allowed federal workers to unionize (expanded by Nixon a few years later), opposing term limits for Congresspersons, enacting regulation to combat climate change, and others.

Additionally, the 2016 GOP platform uses the phrase “current administration” (referring to Obama) 31 times, with similar results to the above — untrue and/or misleading claims. Almost every word of the GOP platform is designed around opposition to the DNC.

• The Irony

In many places, the 1956 platform endorses policies that the 2016 Republican Party now abhors.

* “We pledge ourselves to stimulate and encourage the education of our young people in the sciences…”
* “We demand once again… Federal assistance to help build facilities to train more physicians and scientists.”
* Promoting, protecting, and expanding national parks, national forests, and wildlife refuges.
* Fully supporting scientific studies of humanity’s impact on the environment.

“The Republican Party supports an immigration policy which is in keeping with the traditions of America in providing a haven for oppressed peoples, and which is based on equality of treatment, freedom from implications of discrimination between racial, nationality and religious groups, and flexible enough to conform to changing needs and conditions.

We believe that such a policy serves our self-interest, reflects our responsibility for world leadership and develops maximum cooperation with other nations in resolving problems in this area…

In that concept, this Republican Administration sponsored the Refugee Relief Act to provide asylum for thousands of refugees, expellees and displaced persons, and undertook… correct the inequities in existing law and to bring our immigration policies in line with the dynamic needs of the country and principles of equity and justice.”

Good grief. Today’s Republicans would faint dead away if their party proposed any of this.

Look at the 2016 platform:

“Asylum should be limited…”, “To ensure our national security, refugees who cannot be carefully vetted cannot be admitted to the country…”, “our nation’s immigration and refugee policies are placing Americans at risk…”, “To keep our people safe, we must secure our borders…”, “Our immigration system must protect American working families and their wages…”, “Illegal immigration endangers everyone, exploits the taxpayers”, “Our highest priority, therefore, must be to secure our borders and all ports of entry…”, “To keep our people safe, we must secure our borders…”

When it comes to scientific research, the document is full of “we oppose” and “ban” and “condemn”. When it comes to funding scientific research: “We demand an immediate halt…”

• Different In KIND

There’s more. I’m sure if you’re interested, you’ll read through both linked documents, but I don’t have time or space to list everything wrong with the 2016 platform.

More than the content, though, there is a difference in tone, style, and intent that is downright scary. The 1956 platform reads like the platform of a political party interested in doing right by the people. They have differences of opinion with their opponents and occasionally exaggerate claims or twist facts to support their position. None of this is startling or surprising.

But the 2016 document reads like the manifesto of a party from Orwell’s 1984. Words don’t mean what you think they mean. Facts are no longer true. Assertions invented entirely for this document are treated as fact. They couch their destructive policies in terms no one can baldly disagree with, like “advancing human rights” and “helping everyone prosper” — so that the indefensible policies suddenly sound defensible. This kind of propaganda is well known to ideologues and authoritarians throughout history who twist a statement so badly that the opponent first has to explain it before arguing against it.

“Don’t you want to be safe? Folks, my opponent doesn’t want you to be safe; he just said so!” When the argument wasn’t about safety, but about turning away refugees. Or splitting up immigrant families. Or suppressing voting rights for minorities.

There are entire sections on “restoring” theocracy to U.S. government, as if the government had ever been technically a Christian organization. They want to “restore” Christianity to the military (despite many hundreds of Christian chaplains currently being paid to preach to and pray for troops). Most of these passages are slipped in under other headings, subjects that are sacrosanct to GOP voters like “support the military” or “stop killing babies” (okay, that last one was a paraphrase).

• Conclusion

Don’t misunderstand. There are several things in the 1956 platform that either I disagree with, or that aren’t true, or that aren’t relevant today. And there are (probably) things in the 2016 platform that I do agree with or support, at least in principle. I’m not here to say that Republicans were perfect in 1956 or that they’re entirely evil now.

But the difference is clear. In sixty years, the GOP has fallen from an empathetic, scientifically minded party into a fusion of theocrats, plutocrats, and nationalists that thrive on fear and misinformation. If these two parties were on the ballot, opposing each other, I know which one I’d vote for.

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