Taking a look at Republicans of yore

People today make sweeping statements about political parties or the direction of the country, but they often misrepresent the facts and engage in labeling rather than rigorous research.

Then again, political change may often only be seen in hindsight. We all remember Republican Joe McCarthy — the spinner of tales that found communists under everyone’s bed. He destroyed himself in the 1950s when he attacked the U.S. Army which was still remembered fondly as useful during World War II.

One of the first Republican Senators to call him to task was Margaret Chase Smith of Maine. The Senate record quotes her as saying, “I speak as a Republican. I speak as a woman. I speak as a United States Senator. I speak as an American. I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the four horsemen of calumny — fear, ignorance, bigotry and smear.

After the marches in Selma in 1965, the Senate passed the Voting Rights Act later that year. The 16 Democratic Senators (plus Harry Byrd of Virginia) who voted against the Voting Rights Act in 1965 were all from the South. Over the years, southern Democratic voters and party leaders moved to the Republican Party, as Strom Thurman (SC) and John Tower (TX) had already done. Except for Virginia and Florida (Senator Nelson), all of these “Confederate” states are today represented by Republicans in the U.S. Senate. Abraham Lincoln would be appalled.

Nevertheless, Republicans pridefully boast that that the Voting Rights Act was a model of bipartisanship and that Republicans should be given credit for their supportive vote. Indeed, they should be, except that none of them were from today’s core Republican base — the South.

Nor were they today’s ultraconservative Republicans. They were northerners and westerners from the states that brought down the Confederacy and preserved the Union. Those Senators — a different breed entirely — included such luminaries as Everett Dirksen of Illinois, Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, Leverett Saltonstall of Massachusetts, Clifford Case of New Jersey and Jacob Javits of New York.

The reality is that the Republican Party of today would not welcome those centrist Senators of 1965. Today’s Republican Party enacts voter suppression measures throughout the United States, just like the old Democratic party of Reconstruction and Massive Resistance. In the case of North Carolina, the court noted that the barriers were put into place with “surgical precision” to suppress the black vote.

Today’s Republicans, including Trump, insist that there was massive voter fraud in the last election, although no such evidence has been found. Trump’s claim that 3 million fraudulent votes were cast in the last election is an insult to state-run elections and all those who put their integrity on the line to make them fair.

The Republicans of today are asking the states to turn over the crown jewels of each state’s voter rolls so that it can find fraud where none exists. This is all done in the name of a political party that has prided itself on the narrative of creating fear about government overreach. This is the new Republican Party: frozen in ideology, dismissive of public discourse, creating “alternative facts” and further enriching the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us.

We just celebrated our 241st Independence Day — a day when we remember Thomas Jefferson’s ringing words about freedom and the rights of the common man. Which party is truly for freedom? Is it the party that offers new and creative restrictions on universal suffrage, or is it the party that would continue historic expansion of the vote?

As Pennsylvania Republican House Leader Mike Turzai bragged in 2012, his state’s voter ID laws were specifically designed to disenfranchise as many citizens (primarily minority, elderly and urban voters) as possible.

This is now typical of a party that displays racism and xenophobia, embraces Jim Crow and the KKK, supports government intrusion into personal decisions, takes health care away from millions of Americans, robs the poor to give to the rich, destroys the environment, defunds education, impoverishes college students, colludes with Russia to interfere in our last election and emboldens a man who has become the laughingstock of the rest of the world.

If you don’t believe me, just look at the good country doctor’s column in last Sunday’s paper, or read some of the truly despicable hatred and ignorance exhibited by a few select online commenter’s in this paper. For shame.

Mike McClary

Editor’s note: this op-ed is re-posted with the author’s permission, and originally appeared here.

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