Created as part of the abolitionist movement, the Republican Party has shifted and transformed since the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. It was the party of Lincoln. It was the party of freedom and equality for all, and it was the party of a progressive social movement on behalf of the voiceless and the powerless.
Charles Sumner led the Republican Party in the Senate from 1865-1871, the first time that Republicans had political power. He was so adamantly opposed to slavery that his words provoked a fellow Senator named Preston Brooks to beat him with a cane until the cane broke and Sumner was beaten unconscious. It took three years for Sumner to recover from the attack and regain his Senate seat.
Had I lived during the 1860s, I’m sure that I would have been a Republican. But when I see today’s Republican Party, I can’t help but notice how far they’ve fallen. Consider, for example, Tom Tancredo’s speech at a Tea Party rally last week, in which he proposed an idea taken straight from the southern racists’ Jim Crow laws — to the roaring applause of the conservative crowd.
“Every year, the liberal Dems and the RINO Republicans turned up the temperature ever so slightly,” Tancredo said. “It seemed after awhile that we’d all be boiled to death in a cauldron of the nanny state. And then something really odd happened — mostly because we do not have a civics literacy test before people can vote in this country. People who cannot even spell the word ‘vote,’ or say it in English put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House. Name is Barack Hussein Obama.”
I wonder what Sumner would say to Tancredo, after Sumner nearly lost his life for the abolitionist cause and he fought so hard against inequality and for equal voting rights. I also wonder what Sumner would think of the sizable movement supporting Tancredo, and the roaring applause that he received because of his “civics literacy test” idea.
What used to be the progressive Republican Party is now the regressive Republican Party. I’m not as offended by the idea itself as I am by the support it garnered from the audience and Tancredo’s disregard for the historical implications of his statements.
If I were a Republican, my understanding of history and my social awareness alone would alienate me from the Tea Party movement — and because of the Republican Party support for the Tea Partiers, it would probably push me to become an independent.
But instead of conservatives feeling alienated from such a regressive, anti-Republican movement as the Tea Party group, conservative leaders seem to be pulled into the fold. Sarah Palin, for example, supports the Tea Party movement, and views it as reflective of her own political beliefs. However, I don’t think she understands the movement or her party very well.
On Chris Wallace’s Fox News Sunday (after Tancredo’s speech), Palin said she believes that the Tea Party movement and the Republicans should merge even more than they have, “because the Tea Party movement is quite reflective of what the GOP, the planks in the platform, are supposed to be about — limited government and more freedom, more respect for equality. That’s what the tea party movement is about. So I think that the two are much entwined.”
I don’t see the Tea Party movement reflecting “more respect for equality,” “more freedom,” or the original values of the Republican Party. As this Tea Party movement continues, it foments unnecessary anger, it inspires absurd and false political discussion and, maybe worst of all, it is deconstructing and shaming the abolitionist legacy of the Republican Party.
If Sumner were alive today, I would ask him whether he would still lead the Republican Party in the Senate if he knew what it would become. I doubt his answer would be yes if he knew that future Republicans would dismantle his life’s work and shame his party’s name.