Well…here we are…the day after the presidential election. In a recent post, Jack Hunter a.k.a. the Southern Avenger asked what issues motivated you in this election. For him, the central concerns were controlling illegal immigration and an elimination of the present aggressive and expansive foreign policy. I think that both were indeed important, but did these issues move you? Could there have been others? What about the killing of our children via abortion? Or how about cutting taxes? Reducing government spending? Protecting our rights to keep and bear arms? The list goes on. Although there were numerous issues of importance in this election, as with every year, the single most important and all-encompassing issue for me was a drastic reduction of the size and scope of the federal government. As well you know, neither of the two major party candidates offered any significant plans to noticeably put us on a path to a reduction in government. Although you would be right to ask why neither the Republicans and the Democrats would nominate a person who shares my goal, instead let us focus a bit on the history of American politics.
Those without grounding in early American politics might find my title “the Virginia Democratic-Republican” a bit strange. No, I assure you that I don’t have some sort of multiple personally disorder or that I’m pining for the fusion of both Democrats and Republicans, but rather I’m referring to one of the two original political parties in the county. Early in the nation’s history, there were, like today, two parties. The first sought greater power for the federal government through means such as the establishment of a national bank, a strong national army and navy, close ties to Great Britain, high tariffs, considerable government spending, and the ability to punish those who spoke against the policies of the government. They were called the Federalists and were led by men like Alexander Hamilton and John Adams. Sounds a bit like today doesn’t it…with a federal reserve/bailout, the War on Terror, and the Patriot Act, huh? Opposing this party were the Democratic-Republicans who favored a weak, limited, constitutional government with greater power reserved for the states. They argued for low taxes and spending, small or nonexistent standing military, good relations with France, and a balanced budget. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe were leaders in this party. Slowly, but surely, due to a number of factors, the Democratic-Republicans gained power until the Federalist Party disappeared.
Although the Federalist Party died, their ideas did not and they reformed as the Whigs and later as the Republican Party. The Democratic-Republicans, on the other hand, became the forbearers of the Democratic Party. The first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, and his successors continued in the vein of the Federalist Party of old by attempting to create national banks, an income tax, a large military force, internal improvements through massive government spending, high tariffs, and subduing states rights under the heel of the national government.
For the most part, the Democratic Party stood as the champions of states rights and limited government. Curiously this trend changed with the presidencies of the first two Democratic Presidents in the 20th Century. Woodrow Wilson, like the Republican Lincoln before him, created a permanent national bank (the Fed), the income tax, and vigorously supported American military interventionism in the name of idealism. Later came Franklin Roosevelt who expanded the power of the federal government like never before with the creation of unconstitutional programs such as the New Deal, complete with the financial nightmare of social security and massive federal spending such as the Public Works Administration. With the Democratic Party corrupted, who would stand firm for the Jeffersonian or Democratic-Republican principles of limited government? Enter the Conservative coalition.
A conservative faction within both the Democratic and Republican parties rose to stand in opposition to big government advocates like FDR. The Democratic wing came from mostly southern states and, unfortunately, often tied the movement to policies of racial inequality. The most prominent leader of this group was Senator Robert Taft. He, like the Democratic-Republicans, supported a small government rather than the welfare state and a non-interventionist foreign policy. Conservatives managed to get two presidential nominees, Barry Goldwater followed by Ronald Reagan. As time passed, the conservative Democrats disappeared which left the Republicans to hold the torch. As Reagan stated when he became a Republican after being a Democrat, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The party left me.” Unfortunately, since Reagan, neither party has nominated a true limited government advocate for president.
1994 was another important milestone in conservative politics in the United States. Not only did the Republican Party simply regain control of the House and Senate, but also it was after a 40-year hiatus. They achieved power through a coordinated effort promising to streamline government called the Contract with America. By promoting conservative thinking, the Republican Party was able to win. Since 1994 conservative politics have been backsliding. As I’ve stated in earlier posts, the presidency of George W. Bush has been a pretty consistent disappointment for conservatives and a John McCain presidency offers little joy either. Add this to the fact that none of the Republican or Democratic leaders in the House or Senate have taken a firm, strong stand for conservatism in recent years and you get a recipe for massive government increases.
Where are the politicians who embrace the philosophies of limited government in the tradition of Jefferson? Although they still exist, both major parties have marginalized them. Ron Paul has been the most vocal leader in recent years; the conservative Democrat Bob Conley unfortunately failed in his attempt to knock off McCain pal Lindsey Graham in South Carolina; Bob Marshall nearly grabbed the GOP Senate nomination here in Virginia. What the future has in store for us I cannot say, but we must never give in and never compromise our core values. I hope that with McCain’s defeat yesterday the Republican Party will be shocked back to its senses. Otherwise we will need a new party to advance our cause. No more Bushes and no more McCains. Where’s Robert Taft when you need him?