t is not called the Grand Old Party without good reason. Formed in 1854 as a response to the proposed expansion of slavery into Kansas and Nebraska, by 1860, they controlled Congress, and had succeeded in electing one of the greatest men to ever hold the highest office in our nation. They governed our country through the Civil War, helping to preserve our nation, end slavery, and pass the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth amendments, taking a great step toward equal treatment under the law for all human beings.
Today’s Republican Party however bears little resemblance to the GOP of old. For thirty years, they have pursued policies that disproportionately benefit the wealthiest Americans, much to the detriment of the poor, working, and middle class.
If Abraham Lincoln were alive today, I think it is safe to say he would not side with the Republicans. But he wouldn’t necessarily side with the Democrats either. Though when you read his writings and find lines like “These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert, to fleece the people,” and “We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution,” it is plain to see that Mr. Lincoln would have been proud to stand with the 99%.
But Lincoln is not the only Republican standard-bearer that we the people claim for our legacy. Teddy Roosevelt—the Bull Moose, the great trustbuster, actually fought for progressive causes—something that is virtually unheard of in today’s Republican party.
In fact, it was not a Republican, but President Obama who invoked Roosevelt on his recent trip to Osawatomie, Kansas, the site of Roosevelt’s famous New Nationalism speech. The President joked about how Roosevelt was called a socialist and a communist for fighting for what Roosevelt called the square deal, which centered around conserving our natural resources, regulating corporations, protecting consumers, and perhaps most importantly, fighting for, as Roosevelt said, and Obama echoed, “the triumph of a real democracy, the triumph of popular government, and, in the long run, of an economic system under which each man shall be guaranteed the opportunity to show the best that there is in him.”
Obama however did not go as far as Roosevelt did in tapping into populist sentiments, failing to address what many in the 99% agree is the single issue that is central to the complex challenges we face as a nation: the influence of special interests in our political system.
Here, Roosevelt’s speech in Osawatomie may be quoted at length:
“At many stages in the advance of humanity, this conflict between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess is the central condition of progress. In our day it appears as the struggle of freemen to gain and hold the right of self-government as against the special interests, who twist the methods of free government into machinery for defeating the popular will.”
And even more explicitly:
“We must have complete and effective publicity of corporate affairs, so that the people may know beyond peradventure whether the corporations obey the law and whether their management entitles them to the confidence of the public. It is necessary that laws should be passed to prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes; it is still more necessary that such laws should be thoroughly enforced. Corporate expenditures for political purposes, and especially such expenditures by public-service corporations, have supplied one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs.”
Roosevelt’s words are as appropriate now as they were in 1910. But our President has chosen not to use his bully pulpit to strike at the root of our problems, and their systemic nature. Nor have any of the Republican Presidential Candidates made an issue of the corrupting influence of money in politics, save one—Buddy Roemer.
Roemer is essentially running a single-issue campaign. He’s not allowing any individual or corporation to donate more than $100. He’s disclosing all his donors. He’s not accepting money from PACs or SuperPACs. And this isn’t a new thing for him either. He’s always run his campaigns like this.
He’s also got a pretty impressive record—a former four term Congressman and Governor from Louisiana who helped take that state’s unemployment rate from twelve to six percent during his tenure, and a businessman who helped build a billion dollar community bank without any help from the government—a bank that didn’t need a bailout in 2008, and hasn’t foreclosed on a single homeowner.
Unfortunately, more than ninety percent of the American people don’t even know he’s running for President. That’s because he’s been systematically excluded from the Republican debates, along with another candidate who appears to be more sensible than most, former Governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson.
Meanwhile, we’ve got clowns like Rick “please don’t Google me” Santorum, Rick Perry, who stumbles more than a newborn foal, and Herman “I’m the Koch brothers’ brother from another mother” Cain parading around on stage, not to mention Donald Trump, who is now pretending to consider running as an independent candidate in an attempt to keep himself relevant, and had to fire himself from the debate he was set to moderate after all but two of the candidates decided not to attend.
Of course, that is just the sideshow…but the frontrunners aren’t any better. Mitt Romney is about as transparent a politician as they come—not taking principled stances so much as ones that are politically expedient. And every time he gets put in an uncomfortable position, where the apparent inconsistencies in his record and lack of conservative credentials are pointed out, we see that plastic smile that says, “Why can’t you just let me play to both sides of the issue?”
So the conservatives and Tea Party folks that largely make up the Republican primary electorate don’t like Mitt Romney, even though he’s widely held to have the best shot at beating Obama, and Trump, Cain and Perry all turned out to be duds, so they turn to…Newt Gingrich? The only Speaker of the House ever formally reprimanded for ethics violations, forced to pay a $300,000 fine and later pressured to resign? The guy who has honored businesses and doctors with prestigious awards for the small sum of $5,000?
Now I always thought Michele Bachman was pretty much crazy, but I will admit she actually makes a fair amount of sense when she talks about taxes, and she was right on when she called Gingrich “a poster child for crony capitalism” and “the ultimate consummate influence peddler” while discussing the more than $100 million he’s made from lobbying and other related activities since he was pressured to resign the Speakership. Still, Gingrich continues to lead the field, while Bachman polls between six and nine percent nationally, and only slightly higher in her birth state, Iowa.
And that brings us to the latest candidate to see a surge in the polls that has, at least in part, been a result of many Republicans not being satisfied with any of the candidates that are running. Similar to Buddy Roemer and Gary Johnson, Ron Paul was largely shut out of the debates when he ran in 2008. This time, he’s actually been allowed on the stage, though he consistently gets less time than most of the other candidates. And while his libertarian principles may be too radical for many Americans, as Buddy Roemer said of him, “Ron Paul has the most substance [of any of the candidates on the debate stage]…he’s consistent. Has integrity.” And like Roemer, he brings a much-needed voice to the conversation—a voice with whom many in the 99% can find common ground with. End the wars. End bailouts. End special tax privileges and crony capitalism. End the Federal Reserve? Well, we might not want to go that far, but we do need to have a real conversation not just about erasing the federal deficit and getting our national debt under control, but about our entire monetary system, and the sort of society we want to live in.
These are the conversations that need to be at the forefront of our national debate. But they’re not, and there are several reasons for this. The media’s tendency toward sensationalism and its desire for ratings has led to the distractions of Donald Trump and Harman Cain while marginalizing the more substantive candidates. The systemic problems with our political structure as a whole have created conflicts of interest that have led to corruption and crony capitalism, which is pervasive not only in our government, but in our financial, healthcare, media, defense contracting, energy and other sectors. This system has created an incentive for politicians to put their political interests above the interests of the people, creating myopic policies that have not served our country well, and are partly responsible for the hyper-polarization of the Republican party, which is now pursuing policies that even Ronald Reagan would have considered radical.
And this is why I’m calling for an occupation of the GOP. And I’m not saying call or email your Republican Senator or Congressperson (although you can certainly do that too). I’m saying JOIN THE PARTY. Cast your vote in the Republican presidential primary, and every other Republican primary right down the line. Vote for Mitt Romney if you really think he’s the best they have to offer, or vote for Ron Paul or Buddy Roemer or Gary Johnson or whoever you think has the best ideas to get this country on the right track again.
Now many of you who are reading this probably had a negative visceral reaction to what I just said. You may have even vomited in your mouth a little. But you’ve read this far already, so just hear me out.
You may not want any of the Republican candidates running our country, but certainly some of them would be better than others. And like it or not, not only do we live in a two party system, but whoever ends up with the GOP nomination will have a pretty decent shot at becoming the next president, especially since the economy is still sputtering. Electing a third party candidate will be exceedingly difficult, and if a third party candidate comes along that ends up having a major impact, the outcome is going to be completely unpredictable. Even a candidate such as Roemer, who has said he would pursue the Americans Elect nomination if he loses the Republican primary, or Johnson, who is looking at running on the Libertarian ticket, could just as easily tilt the balance toward the candidate toward the Republican candidate, peeling off more would-be Obama supporters, and leaving a large majority of the American people feeling like they ended up with the worst possible outcome.
But that is only part of it. We need two strong parties for our system to function properly, so we can have a real debate on the issues that truly matter. And the further the Republican Party gets pulled to the right, the more the conversation gets skewed, and the less the two parties are able to work together to effectively govern. And this is exactly what we’ve seen happen since 2008.
If there’s one thing I’ve heard coming from the Occupy Movement, it’s that The 99% of The People of the United States of America are tired of politics as usual. They realize the system is broken. It is not working for them. And so I am proposing something that is certainly unusual politics, but perhaps that is what is needed. The Grand Old Party earned its namesake by standing for the 99%, and fighting for equality for all men. So let us honor that legacy—the legacy of Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt, and Dwight D. Eisenhower, under whom the top marginal income tax rate was 90%, and reclaim the Grand Old Party for the people. Let us make it progressive and conservative, but most of all, let us make it American.
Frank Lee Speaking is a member of the Concerned Citizens Coalition and Sr. Political Polemicist at Slurve Magazine