The modern Republican party is a loose coalition of backward-looking, right-wing reactionaries. Isn’t it?
The Republican party was founded in the mid 19th century as a political vehicle for northern anti-slavery activists, specifically northeastern Christian fundamentalists and midwestern “Free Soilers.” Before and during the Civil War, Republicans were the people who viewed slavery as a transcendant moral issue which urgently required their action and sacrifice. Consequently, the party was long considered the best friend of minorities in America. In that time the Republican party was characterized by a level of religiosity every bit as pervasive as today’s, if not more so. But the party’s positions then were considered liberal, leftist, and radical – in contrast to the general view today that the Republican party is conservative, right-wing, and stuck in the past.
What’s different about the Republican party today? Why are determined stands on moral issues and high standards for personal conduct no longer the radical positions they used to be? The issues are different, of course – back then it was slavery, the gold standard, and prohibition. Today some of the prominent issues are illegal immigration, terrorism, abortion, and moral standards in the wider culture. The party’s official positions on the issues back then were what we would now call conservative, but back then they were considered cutting-edge, ascendant – triumphant. What’s different?
Maybe part of it is that the culture views religion differently than it used to. Maybe American society doesn’t value restraint and morality the way it used to. (duh!) There’s also a possibility that, as some people believe, the media has something to do with it.
The good news is that history is cyclical; past is future. Technology and philosphy always trudge on, but politics and morality take surprising new directions, often returning to and repeating themes from the past, both good and bad. There will be challenges for America, but there will also be new “Great Awakenings” and new “Renaissances.” There will be great new tests of America’s virtue and durability, and these tests have a tendency to refine this country into something better, as fire refines gold. There will also be great new leaders who show us what we have been and what we can yet be.
I’m confident that the United States has good new days of radical conservatism ahead of it, and I believe that the next step in that process involves choosing Mike Huckabee to be our leader in 2008.