Conservatives love to ask us to think of our Founding Fathers. What would the Founders do in times like these?
…which is kind of a dumb rhetorical question because the Founding Fathers were hardly like-minded on anything, and neither were they entirely selfless public servants working for the greatest public good. The signers of the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation and Constitution argued over nearly everything, and by the time the Constitution was being debated our Founders could not even agree just how many black people were equal to one white person.
Which is why conservatives’ retro-loyalty to the Founders is not appropriate to modern politics. It is true that conservatism, as a political philosophy, applies a brake to the populist revolutions in which liberalism dreams, but American conservatism has worn down its brake pad to a frictionless ideology of emptiness due to decades of opposition toward proposed progress. Economic equality is contemporary conservatism’s greatest anathema, and decades of socialistic initiatives have generated eternal Republican cries of wolf over imagined threats of communism, fascism, un-Americanism, etc. Republican efforts to smear progress as an existential attack on America have been nothing but bluffs for generations, and now, conservatism a la Election 2016 is nothing more than a Pavlovian opposition to any progressive advancement at all.
The political vision of conservatism is to go backward in time, not forward. Republicans in Congress are doing everything they can to keep governmental regulation stuck in the 1920s; ideals of gender, race, and sexual diversity stuck in the 1950s; taxes stuck in the 1980s; and American hegemony stuck in the early 2000s.
Notice a pattern here, though? Modern American history is filled with history book fossils of Republican obstinacy or outright destruction followed by Democratic recovery.
The 1920s decade saw three successive laissez-faire GOP presidencies that led to the Great Depression: Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover. Throughout this Republican era of executive government, economic inequality soared, and the government proudly did as little as possible. Harding ran one of the most corrupt administrations in US history, and his successor President Coolidge loved to posit that the least government was the best government. This led to stunning economic inequality, which carved out the inflated bubble that was the American economy, and made depression inevitable. When the economy did collapse, Republicans’ laissez-faire inaction exacerbated the country’s problems. President Hoover’s long political career may have been filled with impressive, administratively-minded successes, but his presidency’s administration exerted little governmental energy toward alleviating the suffering throughout the Great Depression’s early years.
As a result of these three consecutive Republican administrations, Franklin Roosevelt was elected an unprecedented FOUR times to fix the great mess in which Republicans had left the country.
The 1950s saw rampant racial discrimination throughout the Jim Crow South, and both Presidents Truman and Eisenhower made morally correct calls in integrating the military and protecting civil rights, respectively. However, over existential opposition in the South, Democratic presidents Kennedy and, more significantly, Johnson strong-armed major civil rights reform giving the Republican Party the racially-motivated Southern base it relies on today. These civil rights legislative achievements also did much to protect women from discrimination.
In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan passed major tax cuts and tripled the national debt in the most beautifully apparent tax cut rebuttal ever offered. Reagan proved that tax cuts do not work, and Republicans have proved themselves that their economic ideology is a sham. Following Reagan and Bush tax flip flops attempting to undo some of the fiscal damage they had done, Bill Clinton committed himself to rational administration, and reversed the rampant deficit spending of his allegedly conservative Republican predecessors. Clinton managed budget surpluses toward the end of his administration, as proof that Democrats’ economic ideology is effective both in theory and practice.
The early 2000’s were an overextension of American military power, and a waste of America’s post-Cold War hegemony. The United States was a lone hyper-power and the beacon of freedom, and the world respected America. Then the W. Bush Administration squandered it all by invading Iraq, and self-described Republican patriots reacted to international dissension with arrogantly nativist ideas of exceptionalism, which obviously wrecked America’s global reputation. Then W. Bush passed more Republican tax cuts, and ignored the country’s growing economic problems via more laissez-faire governance leading to the Great Recession’s economic free-fall. In 2008, once again, a Democrat was elected to clean up the mess, and by any economic standard America is better off today than before President Obama took office. Republicans gave Obama an economy of negative growth, and are now maligning his presidency because the economy is not growing at the unrealistic rate they claim they will deliver. Conservatism will not grow the economy, it will only inflate an economic bubble and blow it toward another recession.
Republicans in modern history have a track record of economic hubris and self-destruction, social ignorance, and abuse of power. Democrats have a track record filled with cleaning up Republican messes. And now in the Obama era, Republicans do not want government to do ANYTHING, including even paying our debt. Say what you will about the Great Depression-inducing laissez-faire conservatives of the 1920s, but even they did not threaten to shut down the government over the idea of paying back the nation’s creditors like contemporary Republicans do every time the debt ceiling must be raised.
I’ve written it before, but the message must be emphasized: conservatism is sham, and Republicans have no interest in quality governance. Modern American history is filled with examples of Republican failure economically, socially, and geopolitically. Today’s Republican presidential candidates are all calling for more tax cuts, less regulation, more war, less civil rights, and are smearing an impressively competent Obama Administration. They want to take America back to 2007, but — if you remember — 2007 turned into a fucking political wasteland of nearly unprecedented Republican executive failure. I say “nearly unprecedented” because the last time America was made into a wasteland was the Great Depression…which was also Republicans’ fault.