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Is the modern Republican Party really "the party of Lincoln," and responsible for freeing the slaves? I don't think so. But the GOP regularly, routinely, and with a straight face makes that claim. One Republican recently confronted me and stated the following:
"It was Republicans who beat Democrats in the Civil War, thus freeing the slaves. It was Democrats who started the KKK as its military wing to intimidate the (largely black) Republican party, who were running the south after the war. Can a leopard change its spots?? Are the Democrats now the party FOR the black people after being against them for so long? So many of you are duped by the Devil's trickery. A few table scraps from massa's table and you run right back to his side. The Democrat is the racist."
The above assertion is a prime example of how many Republicans can take a kernel of truth and create a banquet of lies. The truth is, Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, and so was Frederick Douglass and Dr. Martin Luther King. But since the Civil War the Republican and Democratic parties have completely changed their relative political positions, so relative to political philosophy, the modern Republican party bears absolutely no relationship to its predecessor.
Prior to the Civil War the Republican Party was made up of big business interests and Northern aristocrats, and the Democratic Party was made up of Dixiecratics and Southern agrarian interests--farmers and slave owners. Thus, the Republicans were progressive liberals and the Democrats (or Dixiecrats) were Southern conservative slave owners.
But that began to change during the Great Depression when Democratic President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, came out against the corporations and to the aid of the poor with his "New Deal for the American People." With the "New Deal," Democrats ushered in workers' rights. They created Social Security so the elderly wouldn't have to go to the "Poor House" or become a burden on their children when they became too old to work.
The Democrats also created unemployment insurance so people would have something to fall back on if they lost their jobs, and the Fair Labor Standards Act, which set rules of conduct for corporations that allowed workers to work with some semblance of dignity. The new law set a minimum wage, overtime pay, child labor standards, and many other regulations protecting workers.
Prior to the FLSA corporations could work employees for as many hours as they liked, and they often set wages so low that families had to send their children to work just to survive--and many of those children were maimed or killed because they had to work under the most horrific conditions, such as in coal mines and the like.
But after President Roosevelt brought relief to the people with these "big government, socialist programs," the Democratic Party began to become associated with the common man, and the Republican party embarked upon a single-minded mission to reverse these "bleeding heart liberal" policies and return America to what had previously been the status quo.
Then during the fifties the Democratic Party came out in support of the Civil Rights Movement. As a result, during the fifties and sixties the Southern Dixiecrats became disenchanted with the Democrats and migrated to the Republican Party. At the same time, many Southern Blacks began leaving the Republican Party to become Democrats.
Thus, the Republican Party is now a coalition of three separate constituencies with confluent interests. The first group is made up of traditional conservatives. These are highly patriotic Americans who believe in limited government, the primacy of the people over government, and fiscal responsibility. But the other two groups that have coalesced within the GOP are much more malevolent--international business interests, and social bigots.
It is the former of these two, international business, that controls the GOP. It's made up of wealthy and highly educated individuals with huge amounts of monetary resources, and thus, political influence--and they use every bit of that leverage to manipulate what has become their citizen army--the social bigots. These are the people who hate any and everybody who doesn't look, think, and act like themselves.
The social bigots are the people we see armed to the teeth at presidential speeches, disrupting town hall meetings, and fighting against their own interests. In short, these are the "Joe the Plumbers" of the world who are being deluded by corporatist propaganda. Also among their ranks are the diehard racists who are still fighting to promote a segregationist agenda.
But the social bigots are merely the soldiers of the party. The corporatists, who control the GOP, have never lost sight of their seventy-year-old mission to undo the New Deal. But they've found that the safety-net that President Roosevelt provided for the people is much too popular to attack head on, so they had to devise a plan to chip away at it.
Then came 9/11, so they decided to used the war in Iraq to ravage the national treasury. They then gave themselves a $4 trillion tax cut to further deplete the treasury, and now they're telling the poor and middle class, "Sorry, but we no longer have the revenue to fund the programs that you've come to depend on for the past seventy years. And in the meantime, Gov. Scott Walker is hard at work in Wisconsin trying to dismantle the Fair Labor Standards Act.
So, can a leopard change its spots? Yes it can--and with regard to the Democratic and Republican parties, the leopard has changed in a very big way. But the modern GOP has never been prone to allowing the facts to distort a well-crafted lie. That's why they have such a fierce aversion to a well-educated electorate.
Thus, the facts dictate that the modern GOP's claim to have any connection with President Lincoln whatsoever--other than the enemy of everything he stood for--is not only a gross misrepresentation of history, but a blatant lie. The fact is, if the Civil War were being fought today, the GOP would be the Confederacy.
Eric L. Wattree
Citizens Against Reckless Middle-Class Abuse (CARMA)