The recent moves by the Republican Establishment in the House, led by Speaker Paul Ryan, are enough to give any true conservative a major case of heartburn, if not feelings of outright disgust, contempt, and abandonment. The GOP seems poised to continue on its well-worn path of political destruction, abandoning the very principles and policy positions they campaigned on.
This week the House passed two bills – the Omnibus Budget Bill – which bails out Puerto Rico’s Medicaid fund, does not fund the border wall, keeps cash flowing to Planned Parenthood – and an Obamacare “repeal and replacement” bill, dubbed Ryancare, that does not actually repeal anything. As Mark Levin has said, the new bill is “about 90 percent Obamacare.” So principle goes right out the window with this crew.
So the real question is this: if the Republicans are moving toward the Democrats on these issues, why do we need a GOP? Why don’t we just all vote Democrat? In fact, why don’t we just throw in the towel on every issue? Why not let them spend all they want and tax all they want? That would certainly make our political contests much more civil.
But parties were formed to support solid political principles and to give the people who held those views a vehicle to promote them. It makes no sense to have two parties with likeminded views on any issue.
A similar situation concerned the original Jeffersonian Democratic Party at the turn of the 20th century. Jefferson’s party had been the purveyors of true conservatism for a century, unabashedly pushing the ideals of limited government, federalism, strict construction of the Constitution, low taxes, no public debt, free trade, sound money, and a non-interventionist foreign policy.
By 1896 the party was changing and moving leftward. That year pitted William Jennings Bryan as the Democratic nominee against Governor William McKinley for the Republicans, then a more progressive party. Bryan, a former two-term congressman from Nebraska, also held some mild progressive views, seeking to use the government to aid the people directly, especially in terms of a cheaper, inflationary currency that would destroy the gold standard and a progressive income tax.
President Grover Cleveland, the last Jeffersonian, as it would turn out, was retiring from politics and aloof from party business but he loathed Bryan and refused to support him. He was concerned for the future of his beloved “Democracy,” seeing Bryan as the vehicle that would promote progressivism and destroy the party’s original conservative principles.
So from that watershed campaign in 1896 until his death in 1908, Cleveland wrote letters to friends seeking a defeat of “Bryanism,” ideals he considered a “disastrous heresy,” and a return to true principles. If those Jeffersonian principles died out, then the Republic could very well die out with it, he believed.
After the election, and Bryan’s loss to McKinley, Cleveland wrote his friend, and former Attorney General, Richard Olney. “And the poor old Democratic party! What a spectacle it presents as a tender to Bryanism and nonsense!” The party had a chance to right itself and win back the presidency in 1900, he believed, if Bryan and his followers were purged. It is advice modern conservatives might pay heed.
“The Democratic party, if it was only in tolerable condition, could win an easy victory next year,” he wrote, “but I am afraid it will never be in winning condition until we have had a regular knock-down fight among ourselves, and succeeded in putting the organization in Democratic hands and reviving Democratic principles in our platform.”
For Cleveland, it was time to throw the progressives out of the party before they seized control and destroyed it. If the party did not soon cleanse itself from the progressive bug that had bitten it, the country would get the same candidates that were on the ballot four years before, representing ideologies that were not that far apart. “Bryanism and McKinleyism! What a choice for a patriotic American!” Cleveland thundered.
And Cleveland was right. Bryan lost the 1900 election to McKinley, just as he had in 1896, and went on to lose the 1908 election to William Howard Taft as well. The “knock-down fight” never took place and Bryanism won out in the Democratic Party.
As a result, Cleveland’s Jeffersonian conservatism was finished, never to re-appear again. And as a result, the Democratic Party has continued its steady progression to the left over the last century.
And what do we have on the opposing side? A Republican Party controlled by the Establishment that is not too distance from their Democratic counterparts. The time draws near for conservatives to throw these rascals out before its too late.