“For the past century-and-a-half, the Republican Party has proven to be
the most effective political organization ever to champion equality and
human rights in the United States and around the world.”

Michael Zak

by Rod D. Martin
June 17, 2006

This weekend marks a proud milestone for Republicans, the 150th anniversary of the first Republican National Convention.

Founded in 1854, the Republicans, distinct from Democrats, grounded their party on two noble convictions: that America was truly one nation, not a polyglot of regions, races, or classes, and that American identity was based not on blood or soil, but on its founding ideal — the dignity, worth, and fundamental rights of each person in the eyes of their Creator.

At first, the GOP’s main cause was to oppose slavery, the most depraved institution of their day. Indeed, Democrats were so vehemently pro-slavery that just six years later they split the nation and went to war; and despite Republicans’ victory, those same Democrats established and maintained segregationist “Jim Crow” regimes in the Southern states for another 100 years.

But opposing slavery was just one aspect of a deeper principle.

Abraham Lincoln put it best:

“[E]ach individual is….entitled to do as he pleases with himself and the fruits of his labor, so far as it in no wise interferes with any other man’s rights.”

This is another way of stating Jefferson’s formulation — from the Declaration of Independence — of man’s unalienable rights. To be truly free, man must own property; he must not be property himself. Without economic freedom, political freedom cannot exist. And while an equality of results is impossible — indeed, such “equality” would actually defeat the idea of freedom — it is certainly the job of government to make opportunity as nearly equal as possible.

For this very reason, Lincoln’s Republicans weren’t anti-government. They believed strongly in a government that promoted and protected freedom, responsibility and enterprise for all.

What they did oppose was government’s pitting American against American, the left’s chief strategy to this day. Or as Lincoln put it:

“Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another, but let him work diligently and build one for himself…..”

Unfortunately, for a time — roughly calculated from Herbert Hoover till Barry Goldwater — Republicans badly lost their way.

And as Americans rejected the semi-socialist Hoover for the charismatic FDR, a “consensus politics” emerged in which Republicans became sort of “Democrats-lite”, proposing mostly the same things, just slower and stingier. When Nixon claimed in 1971 that “we are all Keynesians now,” he meant it.

But he was wrong. And leftist rule proved ruinous for America.

By the 1970s, Democrats’ traditional reliance on regional and ethnic separatism had opened the door to a far-left counterculture attacking everything American, myriad ethnic and class-based special interests asserting their priority over the nation or any individual’s liberty, and crazed, Orwellian courts conjuring a “Constitutional right” to kill the innocent unborn alongside a prohibition against executing convicted murderers.

Abroad, these Democrats embraced “moral equivalence”, the idea that America is no better — and perhaps far worse — than its enemies, particularly the tyrannical (but left-wing) Soviet Union. At home, their Keynesian economics unraveled in a mire of stagflation, double-digit unemployment and “limits to growth,” amid calls for greater and greater centralization reminiscent of that same USSR.

Have they changed? Not at all. The hippies are still running the show, horrified that President Bush would harm Iraq’s butcher Zarqawi, clamoring to hand over 25 million Iraqis to a couple thousand al Qaeda terrorists, demanding that government confiscate 55% of your assets when you die. Even their racial separatism remains: Democrats tried — and failed — this week to pass legislation creating an ethnic-separatist regime in Hawaii, openly encouraging it to secede from the Union.

This is bemusing, even annoying, in a minority party. It would be suicidal in power.

So when Republicans found their way again under Ronald Reagan’s banner, Americans flocked to them in droves. They haven’t stopped since.

To borrow from Tocqueville, Republicans are great when Republicans are good. It’s not enough to win elections, or “have a seat at the table”. They must stand for something; and not just anything, but those core values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; of an overarching national identity; of equal opportunity for all; and of a God-given freedom and human dignity for every person which cannot be compromised or legislated away. These are conservatism, and these are the values which make us who we are.

When Republicans have abandoned these things, they’ve descended into utter irrelevancy. When they have stood strongly upon them, at home and abroad, they have won the greatest triumphs of our time.

So happy 150th, GOP. May you be good — and great — for centuries yet untold.