A Message To My Republican Friends
It started out with the best of intentions, to be sure. In 1856 the Republican party thrived on one issue - But what an issue! It should never be forgotten by history that it was, at its inception, the party of freedom and that their platform was vehemently anti-slavery. It's kind of hard to find fault with so noble a stand, is it not? Its first national ticket, John C. Fremont of California and running mate, William L. Dayton of New Jersey, went down in flames in the general election, losing handily to democrat James Buchanan of Pennsylvania, generally regarded by historians to be the worst president in American history (before the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue took up residence, that is). Four years later, the people would send Abraham Lincoln, an obscure lawyer from Springfield, Illinois to the White House. His name would rightfully be retained down through the ages as their finest president - Republican or Democratic.
How did Honest Abe's Republican heirs perform in their duties as chiefs executive? As Al Smith would have said, "Let's look at the record"....
Aside from Theodore Roosevelt (and, quite possibly, one or two minor exceptions), every single Republican who succeeded President Lincoln into the executive mansion were all second rate mediocrities. Rutherford B. Hayes, who served from 1877 to 1881 seems to have had what it took to be a great president and might very well have been one had a major domestic crisis occurred. Unfortunately, his one term in office was a rather tepid period in our history and he was never given the chance to show his stuff. Hayes's successor, James A. Garfield, a decent and incorruptible man, also showed great promise but was assassinated less than six months in to his only term.
Garfield's successor, Chester Allen Arthur, a career machine politician from New York City, is as forgettable a president as we've ever had with one notable exception: his Republican successor! Benjamin Harrison, the grandson of President William Henry Harrison, stands out like a rock in American history only for the fact that he is our least memorable president! Truth be told, I can't think of one single thing to write about the man, save for the fact that his administration was sandwiched between the two non-consecutive terms of democrat Grover Cleveland (the only time in history that that ever happened), that he bored to tears almost everyone unfortunate enough to come in contact with him and that his contemporaries couldn't wait for his term of office to end! For four long years he just sat there in the executive mansion waiting for something to happen. Nothing did.
Wait. It gets worse....
Dwight D. Eisenhower may be another exception to the rule. But while Ike might have been a capable and intelligent leader (The jury's still out on that question), he did a lot of damage to our standing within the family of nations that we're still paying a heavy price for all of these decades later. During the 1950s, the CIA-fueled coups that led to the overthrow of the democratically elected governments of Mohammad Mossodegh in Iran (1953) and Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala (1955), were the nucleus of the atrocious humanitarian situation that exists in both of those countries to this day. Think about that for a minute: Iran and Guatemala have not been democratic since an American president ended democracy there over fifty years ago. Hmmm. I wonder what he was thinking??
And yet, for all his faults, Eisenhower ended is tenure in office with words that, in hindsight, are absolutely bone-chilling in their prophecy and accuracy. On the night of January 17, 1961, three days before the oldest president in history would hand over the reigns of power to John F. Kennedy, the youngest elected president in history, President Eisenhower delivered his farewell address to the nation via the still-infant medium of television:
"In the councils of government we must guard against the acquisition of misplaced power, whether sought or unsought by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties and democratic processes"
Whoa! Call it a hunch but I have a sneaky suspicion that the old bugger was on to something there!
Eight years later - almost to the day - the man who had served as Ike's vice-president would, himself, take the oath of office. As far as Dick Nixon is concerned, it would be unfair if not downright cruel to refer to the thirty-seventh president as a "mediocrity". Other than Woodrow Wilson, Nixon probably had the most brilliant mind of any occupant of the oval office during the twentieth century. The basic problem with Tricky Dick is the fact that the old bastard was so psychologically dysfunctional and inherently corrupt, that to insist that we all would have been better off had he never been elected in 1968 is, by now, pretty much of a no-brainer. Need I go into details? I didn't think so.
Gerald R. Ford, who followed Nixon into the White House, has, sadly, been under-rated by historians. It should be remembered that, while he accomplished little in the two and a half short years allotted to him, he was a good and decent man who did much to heal the nation after the twin traumas of Watergate and Viet Nam. He should have been elected in his own right in 1976.
I am reminded of the day in 1975 when the president's son, Jack Ford, invited the late George Harrison to meet with his father in the oval office....
The day the world gets 'round
To understanding where it is
Losing so much ground,
Killing each other hand in hand
Such foolishness in man
I want no part of their plan
Was Ford listening? Only God knows. You pray that the politicians will listen but they never do, do they? They never do.
Getting back to the subject subject of dysfunction, let's explore America's twisted relationship with Ronald Reagan, shall we? Nothing annoys me more than the "Saint Ronnie" mentality that has overtaken so many people in this country since his death two years ago. Just take a look at what happened under his watch! The social and economic infrastructure of this country nearly disintegrated and he almost spent us in to bankruptcy! To quote the recently deceased, Lloyd Bensten, "You give me four trillion dollars in hot checks and I'll give you one hell of an illusion of prosperity". When all is said and done, we the people were screwed by Ronald Reagan, and yet, so many of us cheerfully (brainlessly?) still insist on referring to him as the greatest chief-executive in history! Go figure.
He was caught, dead-to-rights, illegally selling military weapons to Iran without the constitutionally mandated congressional approval and then used the profits of that sale to arm a gang of terrorist thugs who were brutally trying to overthrow the legitimate government of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua in direct violation of the Boland Amendment. The Gipper even stupidly compared these homicidal rapists to our founding fathers. And we must never forget that of the many human beings who were murdered in cold blood by these so-called "Contras", over five thousand of them were women and children. For that fact alone, he should have been impeached and hauled off to Leavenworth prison in a padded wagon.
It should also never be forgotten that it was Ronald Reagan - along with George Bush the elder - who armed Saddam Hussein to the teeth during the Iran/Iraq war in the 1980s. Even after Saddam used chemical weapons to slaughter thousands of Kurdish people in northern Iraq in 1985, Reagan, Bush and Donald Rumsfeld couldn't do enough for the guy. This was foreign policy at its craziest. It would not be surpassed in terms of utter stupidity until another Bush would invade that same country almost twenty years later - but we won't go into that.
And what do his supporters continue say, over and over again, to justify the eight wasted years of President Ronald Reagan? "He ended the cold war". Oh really? Every time someone uses that old weather-worn line on me, it only reveals their deplorable lack historical knowledge. He ended the cold war, huh? Sure. And I invented broken glass.
When it comes to the subject of Ronald Reagan, America suffers from a serious case of denial. The damage that his administration did to this once-great nation is so immense, it will never be accurately assessed. It is incalculable.
Which brings me to Theodore Roosevelt, the only Republican president, other than Lincoln, to whom I would ascribe the label "great". You know who I'm talking about, don't you? Sure ya do! Teddy Roosevelt? - The president who took on the major corporations of his time in favor of the common man? Teddy Roosevelt - who preferred political courage over political expediency? Teddy Roosevelt - who by executive decree set aside over a hundred and fifty million acres of national parkland in order that it not be ravaged by the timber industry? Teddy Roosevelt - who in in 1901, in spite of southern condemnation, became the first president to invite an African American (Booker T. Washington) to dinner at the White House? Teddy Roosevelt - who campaigned vigorously in favor of a living wage for all working Americans? Teddy Roosevelt - who in 1912 was denied the nomination by his own party in spite of that fact that he arrived at the convention with more than enough delegates needed to seize the mantle of standard bearer? Oh yeah, that Teddy Roosevelt! You remember him, don't you? You do? That's funny! Because the Republican party sure doesn't. They don't remember him at all.
Do you seriously believe that it's merely a coincidence that the name of Theodore Roosevelt is today never, EVER mentioned even as a passing reference in Republican campaign literature? They love singing the praises of of a feeble-minded dingbat like Reagan and, occasionally, General Eisenhower and Mr. Lincoln. But Theodore Roosevelt's name is ALWAYS missing from their speeches and pamphlets. With the exception of the maverick senator from Arizona, John McCain (a staunch admirer of Roosevelt) and a handful of others within the party, he is, quite frankly, persona non grata. He never even existed as far as these clowns are concerned. In fact, most people today are under the impression that he was a Democrat like his niece, Eleanor, and his distant cousin, Franklin. Why? Because like the FDRs (and unlike more than a few present day Democrats, I'm afraid), his core moral compass emphasized fairness and compassion for all Americans. A "Square Deal", he called it. The way TR saw things, big business was the servant of the people - not the other way around. That sort of thinking is anathema to the modern day GOP.
He was a thorn in the side of the Republican party bigwigs even before he assumed the presidency. One of his contemporaries would famously dismiss him as, "that damned cowboy". While governor of New York, Roosevelt's principled stand on the issues of the day were such a headache for the party brass, in 1900 they decided to literally force him into the presidential race as William McKinley's running mate. McKinley's VP, Garrett Hobart, had died suddenly the year before and the opportunity was ripe. The argument was that as the number two man, Roosevelt would all but disappear. In those days - long before Dick Cheney - The vice-presidency was, for all practical purposes, an invisible, powerless office. John Nance Garner, Franklin D. Roosevelt's first vice-president, once profanely observed that the job wasn't worth "a bucket of warm piss". On March 4, 1901, after a successful campaign the year before, Theodore Roosevelt, with President McKinley at his side, took the oath of office as the first vice-president of the new twentieth century. He was now destined for total obscurity.
And then the unthinkable happened....
Six months into his second term, on September 6, 1901 William McKinley was shot while visiting the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, NY. He died one week later. Theodore Roosevelt was now the president of the United States of America.
There can be no denying that he is one of the five greatest presidents in all of our history. It is not by accident that his likeness is carved onto the face of Mt. Rushmore. And yet, had his own political party had its way, his presidency never would have happened. In the end, they would destroy him, both politically and personally. He would die quietly in his sleep, in the predawn hours of January 6, 1919 at the age of sixty, a tired, broken and beaten man.
I might also have inserted into this little essay of mine the administrations of Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S Grant, William Howard Taft, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover and - least I forget - George W. Bush - Republicans all - Six disastrous, scandal-ridden and incompetent presidencies that nearly broke this nation and one that is now in the process of destroying it - but why depress you further?
Quite often I have been asked the question, "Tom Degan, why do you hate Republicans so much"? Let me clarify a couple of things for you. This may sound like a silly cliche but it's the absolute truth: Some of my best friends are Republicans. There! I admitted it. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb here (Brace yourselves): Some of the nicest, most decent people I've ever met in my life are self-described Republicans. But while they may be registered Republicans, they are not members, so to speak, of the Republican party. They are not connected in any way, shape or form to the Republican National Committee. They are not the men and women who set forth the policies and guiding principles that defines so much of modern day Republicanism and what it represents. So please, let me say for the record that I have nothing against average, decent Americans who have chosen to take part in our democracy as registered Republicans - But I totally and unequivocally despise the professional Republican Party and all that is stands for with a passion so intense, I cannot adequately put it into words. While I rejoice in many aspects of the history of the Republican Party, I despair in its awful present.
In its defense, the Republican Party is, after all, the party of John McCain and Arlen Spector, both of whom I believe to be fairly decent senators.
It is the party of Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island, a congressman of outstanding ability and stature.
It is also the party of Everett Dirksen, Barry Goldwater and Millicent Fenwick - three distinguished lawmakers of another era of whom the Republican party has every reason to be proud.
Is is the party of Dwight David Eisenhower who, in spite of the flaws listed above, was a pretty good president in many respects, not to mention the hero of World War Two.
It is the party of Teddy Roosevelt who, as I mentioned before, was rejected by that same party in spite of his obvious ability and undeniable greatness.
It's the party of Abraham Lincoln! Unarguably our greatest president - Only a fool would argue with that assertion!
But I have a message for my Republican friends: Forty-two years ago, in the summer of 1964, at the Republican National Convention at the Cow Palace Arena - in San Fransisco, of all places - your party was hijacked by a cabal of kooks, criminals and fools. And all these years later they - or their ideological heirs - still retain tight control of the GOP. They don't plan on letting go anytime soon.
For far too many years to count, we've had to listen to these assholes try to portray themselves as the party of family values. Don't get me started! Family values? Family values?? Would someone please explain to me just what the hell their virtual war on the middle class has got to do with family values? It is the average working and middle income families across the country who have suffered the most from the contemptible policies of these atrocious bastards. For the first time in our history, the upcoming generation will not enjoy the standard of living that their parents enjoyed thanks to the recklessness and greed of their parent's generation. And, while we're on the subject, since when does an obscene tax cut that mainly benefits the already obscenely wealthy have a goddamned thing to do with family values? Family values???
I need a drink.
Please stop desecrating the memory of the great emancipator by continuing to refer to it as "the party of Lincoln". Don't ever call it that again. Abraham Lincoln's influence on the Republican Party ended at exactly 7:22 on the morning of April 15, 1865 when he breathed his last breath.
Have there been bad democratic administrations in the past? Of course there have. An informed, educated electorate would never have sent the likes of James Buchanan and Franklin Pierce to Washington. Buchanan's total inability to deal with the domestic unrest that riddled the landscape of the 1850s led this nation directly into civil war. (Incidentally, it should be noted for the sake of historical accuracy that Pierce is related to the current president which proves that incompetence is hereditary). James K. Polk's single term was such an ordeal for him, within three and a half months of leaving office in 1849, he was dead at the age of fifty-three. While Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter were each able to claim more than a few positive achievements for America, their terms are today remembered by historians more for their failures than for their successes. And I'll let you in on something that the Democrats will find sacrilegious: President Kennedy is the Elvis Presley of American politics - somewhat overrated. However when one focuses on the vast record of corruption, greed and utter stupidity, the Dems aren't even in the same league as the GOP. Truth be told: It isn't even close.
Again, to paraphrase the late governor Smith, look at the record:
They have cut the throats of the poor and the middle class.
They have looted our national treasure.
They have abandoned their constituency in favor of a multi-national corporate behemoth and an out-of-control military industrial complex.
They have created a global, geo-political catastrophe in the Middle East that will take at least a century to remedy.
They have shoveled a generation of American children into an untenable slaughterhouse in Iraq.
They have engendered an economic nightmare so immense that generations yet unborn will still be bearing its burden.
They have sold our nation's soul to the highest corporate bidder.
They have made a mockery of the First Amendment.
They have squandered a five trillion dollar surplus with a tax cut for a class of people who didn't need it.
They have gutted vital social programs that aid the poor and the elderly which have been in place for over seventy years.
They have turned federal emergency management into a sick joke.
They have knocked the teeth out of laws meant to protect working men and women.
They have plundered the environment.
They have depleted our educational system.
They have hijacked this nation's political dialogue.
They have ruined our international reputation.
They have handed our domestic agenda over to religious fanatics.
They have denied voting rights to people of color in three states.
They have stolen two national elections.
They have trampled on our constitution.
They have sent our Bill of Rights through the sausage grinder....
They must never, ever be allowed to govern our country again.
The grand old party is over.
Pray for peace.