Friday, February 03, 2012

Where's that "Party of Ideas"?

I remember that "party of ideas" business from when I really started paying attention to politics, as a teenager in the mid-'80s. It always seemed like bullshit to me back then, the kind of thing that any political party would want to say about itself. Looking back, I guess I can see where that came from, since the Reagan revolution was all about different ideas, and people had been excited about them. I maintain that those different ideas were terrible, but it's fair to say that they were new and different.

But the "party of ideas" label continued to be used into the 1990s, though I recall hearing it less and less. The last time I heard someone actually use it to describe the Republican Party was early in the second Bush administration. I can't remember who used the term or why, but it struck me at the time as partisan and out of touch.

I don't know when the "party of ideas" label came out. I can see it possibly getting used as early as the 1950s, in the twilight of the Truman administration, when Republicans were trying to paint Democrats as the defenders of tired, old social programs, suggesting that the GOP had something new. (Granted, if you look at politicians like Bob Taft and Joseph McCarthy, that new thing was not desirable in the least.)

Today, the Republicans would be horrified to call themselves the "party of ideas". It doesn't fit their modern narrative, which is that they're somehow the defenders of the Constitution, which is for some reason supposed to remain pure and untouched and in the same form it was in 1787. Or 1791. Or 1804. Or... well, you get the idea.

The 20th century was a time when progress was an ideal, and everyone wanted to claim its mantle. Early signs of change came in 1960, when Barry Goldwater groused in his book "The Conscience of a Conservative" about conservatives who referred to themselves as "progressive conservatives". Progress just seemed like something desirable back then. Nowadays if you turn on FoxNews or any of the hate media, you're going to hear progress used as a derisive term. Will Republicans manage to quash Americans' long-running tendency to favor progress? Time will tell. Don't expect them to give up trying any time soon, at any rate.

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