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Morning Jay: Leave Ike Out of It!

6:00 AM, Aug 19, 2011 • By JAY COST
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So, bringing out Republicans of yesteryear to cast judgment on today’s Grand Old Party is really nothing more than a category error. The political debate has changed in the decades since Eisenhower and Ford’s day – and they simply don’t belong to the contemporary political battles.

The primary way that the past has relevance is in the deeper principles that both parties embody, the philosophies that connect each side’s positions on the contentious issues of the day. And in that regard, past Republican leaders fit – along with today’s GOP – in the tradition that has defined the party since at least William McKinley: a belief in the unmatched power of American private enterprise to bring about mass prosperity, and the job of the federal government to support entrepreneurs in their endeavors. That’s the core Republican economic creed, and it is what binds today’s Republicans to those of past generations, including Eisenhower and Ford.

Liberals have scoffed at this philosophy for over a century. William Jennings Bryan articulated this view of affairs quite well in 1896:

There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that if you just legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, that their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous their prosperity will find its way up and through every class that rests upon it.

This has been the Democratic point of view ever since. Sixty years ago, Harry Truman said that the GOP was and always had been the party of the special interests. Twenty years ago, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, and Bill Clinton blasted Reagan’s “trickle-down economics." And so on and so forth. The issues and people change, but the core philosophies remain the same.

That’s why it is supremely frustrating that yesteryear’s perpetuators of “trickle-down, special interest crony-Republicanism” are now cited as paragons of moderation to blast today’s GOP "cronies." But take heart! In a generation, today’s conservatives will be remembered as sensible moderates, and our grandchildren will be the evil conservative extremists who want to rob the poor to pay the rich!

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