Historic Perspective of Extremism
When I look at history I am always amazed at how things that are now normal were once considered revolutionary and extreme. Take catchwords such as equality, justice and freedom, for example.Today politicians get thunderous applause preaching these things but in the ‘60s men got shot advocating for them.
As we watch the contentious fights between political parties, one can be transfixed over how the two parties have switched ideologies. Ideas once considered progressive are now right-wing talking points and vice versa for the left.
Sometimes I wonder what Abe Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt would think of today’s Republican party, a party that was once the center of radicalism for championing the working class, women’s rights, and racial equality.
Roosevelt’s landslide victory made him the first Democrat to win the popular vote since 1876. He realigned the party from a regional southern party to an urban power base that was centered in industrial cities. His strategy was simple, tax the wealthy and give those without work government assistance. The welfare issue was a hit with liberal politicians in cities like Washington and Chicago. Whenever Democrats risked losing an election they would increase welfare payments and handily defeat their opponents.
Seeing their taxes increase, the New Deal was not embraced by executives and the Dixiecrats in the South. This gave rise to modern conservatism. Early conservatism was derisively mocked by the liberal intellectuals and was ridiculed as pseudoscience.
Although conservatism was being bounced around in New York, it didn’t have a pitchman that could expound its philosophy. However, its voice came from an unlikely Hollywood liberal. A self confessed leftist, Ronald Reagan was an ardent supporter of F.D.R’s New Deal.
By the early ‘60s this self-proclaimed leftist became America’s leading conservative provocateur. These days, California is synonymous with leftist thought, but in the ‘50s it was solidly Republican. Reagan became a leading voice, disparaging the most downtrodden in the state. Declaring that “Unemployment Insurance is a pre-paid vacation for freeloaders”, he also demonized single mothers as “Welfare Queens” and was a staunch opponent of Civil Rights. Saying “if an individual wants to discriminate against Negroes or others in selling or renting his house, it is his right to do so”.
Truth is, what seems extreme today will eventually become mainstream thinking in the future. The Tea Party extremists are no different than the San Francisco Democrats of the ‘70s and ‘80s that overran the Democratic party and got them shellacked every election during that period. Eventually they had to be purged and Bill Clinton had to stand up to his base and create a more moderate Democratic party which paved the way for Barack Obama. Only time will tell if the conservatives will stand up to the extreme elements of their party.