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Allan Powell: Rule and Ruin - the collapse of Republican moderates

June 15, 2012|By ALLAN POWELL

Geoffrey Kabaservice’s newly published book, “Rule and Ruin,” describes the step-by-step slide into a debilitating sickness of the Republican Party, making it incapable of responsible governance. The subtitle, “The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, From Eisenhower to the Tea Party,” is but a condensed version of more than 400 pages of support evidence. For those who have lived through this half-century drama, there is little that is new.

The complete argument of Kabaservice is summed up with these words: “In hindsight, (George) Romney was the GOP moderates’ last and best chance to elect one of their own for the presidency, which in turn would have preserved the long-term viability of the moderate movement. No other Republican candidate in the 1968 election — or for the next four decades for that matter, could match the Eisenhower-like poll numbers Romney received at his zenith. None would combine his appeal to morality-minded Americans as well as secular moderates, his heartfelt support of civil rights and his potential to attract nontraditional Republican constituencies …” In short, after the moderate Eisenhower era, political moderation lost its identity in the Republican Party.

The heady and brash statements regularly and effortlessly pronounced by the Libertarian enthusiasts today are in sharp contrast to the more moderate Republican politicians who lived when the accomplishments of the New Deal were held with more respect. The author avers that Sen. Robert Taft (“Mr. Republican”) “was no laissez-faire conservative and opposed bigness in business as well as government and labor. He recognized that parts of the New Deal were legitimate responses to real needs, and he tried to offer social welfare alternatives more in keeping with Republican ideals of small government, sound finance and local responsibility. He supported government-funded old-age pensions, medical care for the indigent, an income floor for the deserving poor, unemployment insurance and an increased minimum wage.”

Taft, a moderate Republican, would now be considered persona non grata and possibly a traitor. Presidential candidate Thomas Dewey, another moderate, had the audacity to say, “There has never been a responsible government which did not have the welfare of its people at heart . ... Anybody who thinks that an attack on the fundamental idea of security and welfare is appealing to people generally is living in the Middle Ages.” This former governor of New York came within a whisker of being a president and yet would now be considered unacceptable. They are giants compared to the present crop of mediocre candidates being applauded. One sings patriotic songs during speeches yet avoids income taxes by using offshore banks. They surely will have to hold their noses when they vote for him.

There are two thoughts, worthy of attention, after reading this massive study of the radical shift in the composition of the Republican Party. First is that our nation is not well served by the loss of the vital moderate voice that is needed to maintain a rational balance in our public debate. In ancient Greece, Aristotle was a powerful voice in favor of moderation as a practice to live a good life. He called it the “Golden Middle,” which shunned extremes in thinking and acting.

The second thought is that the constant voicing of fear about the danger and evil of big government is not matched by the fear of bigness in corporations. Bigness is a threat in more than one segment of our society. With all of its faults, it was not big government that broke the back of our economy twice within a few generations. We should all hope that the Republican Party is open to the restoration of a moderate component in its future.

Allan Powell is a professor emeritus of philosophy at Hagerstown Community College.

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