September 26, 2013
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Forty or 50 years ago, the very thought of Dwight Eisenhower or Richard Nixon being too liberal for the Republican Party would have been hard to fathom. But what was considered conservative in the GOP of the 1950s, ’60s or ’70s would be considered centrist or moderate today. The power that extreme wingnuts exert on the modern GOP has been obvious during recent events in Congress, especially the ongoing debates surrounding the Affordable Care Act of 2010. Catering to the Tea Party and the GOP’s extremist base, Republicans shut down the government for the first time since 1995-1996.
The fact that killing Obamacare is such an obsession for House and Senate Republicans is ironic in light of the fact that in the past, many Republicans (including Nixon, Sen. Bob Dole and Mitt Romney) were proponents of universal healthcare via the private sector and proposed ideas similar to Obamacare. In fact, a criticism many liberals and progressives have had of Obamacare is that it is too close to Republican ideas of the past. So House Republicans have, in effect, been railing against what used to be a Republican idea.
House Republicans also pandered to the Tea Party when, on September 19, they pushed through a bill that calls for slashing billions of dollars from the food stamp program during the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression. The bill, which passed the house 217-210, was passed largely along party lines: only 15 Republicans voted against it, and not one House Democrat voted for it. In the past, that bill would have encountered a lot more Republican opposition; it’s hard to imagine Nelson Rockefeller, Thomas E. Dewey or Dwight D. Eisenhower favoring so deep an assault on the social safety net. But there is little room for either moderation or compassion in the GOP of 2013.
American politics have evolved in such a way that in 2013, the United States has two main political parties: a very centrist, even center-right party (the Democrats) and a hard-right authoritarian party (the Republicans). GOP strategists may say they are the party of Abraham Lincoln, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Teddy Roosevelt, but none of those presidents would get very far in today’s GOP—certainly not at the national level. The GOP has become the party of Ted Cruz, Iowa Rep. Steve King, Rick Santorum and Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli. Here are 10 Republicans who would actually be hated if they were trying to make it in today’s GOP.
1. Richard Nixon
The word “liberal” was seldom used in connection with Richard Nixon in the late 1960s or early ’70s. Nixon was a paranoid Cold War anti-communist and uptight moralist who helped push the U.S. Supreme Court to the right, railed against pornography and defeated Democrat Hubert Humphrey in the presidential election of 1968 by helping to usher in the GOP’s “Southern strategy” (which was designed to win over racist Southern whites who had left the Democratic Party because of the civil rights movement and LBJ’s Great Society). Nevertheless, there are many things about Nixon that would make him persona non grata in the GOP of 2013.
Nixon strengthened social security benefits, supported elements of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, and was instrumental in the creation of both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 1970. But perhaps Nixon’s greatest sin, in the minds of modern Republicans and the Tea Party, would be his support of universal healthcare. In 1974, Nixon and Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts worked out a healthcare reform deal. Kennedy, at first, proposed a single-payer healthcare system along the lines of Canada and the U.K., but when it became obvious he didn’t have the votes for that, the plan Kennedy and Nixon agreed upon would have been similar to the Affordable Care Act of 2010 but with more generous provisions. (“Nixoncare” was derailed by the Watergate scandal and Nixon’s resignation in 1974.) So when it came to healthcare reform, Nixon was to the left of President Barack Obama and way to the left of Paul Ryan or the Tea Party.