Recently I began reading Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of President Abraham Lincoln and key members of his cabinet. Besides being a fantastic portrait of a wonderful President, one of the most striking things I’ve taken from the book is just how radically different today’s Republican Party is from that in 1860. Over the last four years we’ve seen a Republican Party that has literally opposed everything President Obama has supported, from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s massive infrastructure investments and tax cuts, to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, a free-market approach to expanding health care insurance that was initially proposed by the Heritage Foundation more than twenty years ago. It was even enacted in the state of Massachusetts by a certain former Republican Presidential candidate. The last Congress was the least productive on record, fighting over things that Congress shouldn’t even fight over. In addition, the Republican Party has spent years opposed to improving our immigration laws. Having followed these events made the days of Team of Rivals all the more striking to me, because it shows that the Republican Party has not always been this way. Throughout its history it has been a party that’s not adamantly opposed to absolutely everything involving the government.
Upon reviewing the 1860 Republican Party platform, you’ll see a fairly progressive platform for the time. They were opposed to an expansion of slavery, they supported open immigration policy that grants full rights to all who migrate to the United States, and they supported focusing the government’s efforts on modernizing our infrastructure. Republican President Dwight Eisenhower began “the greatest public works project in history” when he presided over the creation of the 41,000 mile-long Interstate Highway System. Eisenhower also created NASA and supported the creation of the Advanced Research Projects Agency, the agency that ultimately created the Internet through government-funded research. The Environmental Protection Agency was created under President Nixon. Today, many Republicans act as if the current head of the EPA is a cartoon villain, targeting her for actually enforcing environmental laws.
I genuinely don’t believe that President Ronald Reagan, an idol to the modern day GOP, would even be able to survive a primary challenge against this current crop of elected officials. Ronald Reagan supported amnesty for illegal immigrants, the 1994 ban on assault weapons, raising taxes, raising the debt ceiling 18 times, and efforts to invest tax dollars in infrastructure to create jobs.
Am I being too optimistic in hoping for a two party system in which both sides engage in a reasonable debate and a system in which lawmakers are willing to compromise to accomplish something? Despite how thick-headed our last Congress was, history shows that compromise and bipartisanship is possible. Will it be the 113th Congress that accomplishes this? Probably not, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe that this stonewalling will eventually end.