It was such a Grand Old Party for nearly 160 years. It was the party of Lincoln and led the way to the end of slavery. It was the party of Teddy Roosevelt and let the way toward economic justice and conservation of our natural resources.
Later in the 20th Century the GOP become home to great leaders like Everett Dirksen, Howard Baker, Charles Percy and Nelson Rockefeller.
But after all that great tradition, the Grand Old Party has – apparently – ceased to exist. It is now the Tea Party and they like it like that.
According to a poll released last week by the Wall Street Journal, the staid old organ of the Republican Party, over 70 percent of those identifying themselves as Republicans say they support the Tea Party. Neither Richard Nixon nor Ronald Reagan would be welcomed in today’s Tea Party.
Of course, the GOP itself was on shaky ground to begin with. Since George W. Bush retired as the party’s standard bearer only 20 to 25 percent of Americans were willing to identify themselves as Republicans.
So, really, 70 percent of 25 percent isn’t really that many people.
But, nonetheless, the Republican Party is now officially the Tea Party! Just say NO! To whatever!!
But what happened to turn the GOP into the purely reactionary Tea Party? Did they run out all the moderates and progressives? Well, yes. But that’s not the complete answer.
Back in the early 1900s Teddy Roosevelt led a progressive Republican Party.
TR knighted William Howard Taft to succeed him as president in the election of 1908 and Taft won easily. But Taft did the unthinkable and led the nation and the Republican Party back toward the corporatists and monopolies of which TR disapproved and against which TR fought.
The Republican Party, thought TR, should be more progressive and fight for the great mass of good, hard-working Americans.
But the progressive core of the GOP was way ahead of TR, rallied by the great progressive Senator Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin.
TR found himself boxed out and bolted to form what would become the Bull Moose Party. (So named because TR’s running mate, California Gov. Hiram Johnson claimed he was “as strong as a bull moose.”)
The Bull Moose Party, formally called the Progressive Party, put out a platform in 1912 called, not making this up, “A Contract with the People.”
The platform called for a national health plan, social security, worker’s compensation, relief for farmers, women’s suffrage, an inheritance tax, a federal income tax, the direct election of senators (who were still at the time elected by state legislators).
The Bull Moose Party also called for citizen initiatives and referenda, strict limits and disclosure of campaign contributions and a “trust busting” plank to end large corporate monopolies.
It took 100 years and lots of southern strategy, hate & race-baiting but the mirror matter, the exact opposite and until recently undetectable matter of the GOP has taken over and converted the bull moose particles into the mama grizzly particles.