Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Why are Republicans in Such a Funk?

In November 1952 the bottom fell out of our world. “Our” refers to the Rapp family and others like us who had come to believe that the Democratic Party and its “New Deal” represented the pillar upon which the present and future prosperity of the nation rested. Dwight David Eisenhower had been elected and would be sworn in soon. It was a sad and fearsome day as we contemplated the Republican’s reinstatement of all the policies that had led to the Great Depression and the dismantling of those policies that had led us out of it.

Sixty years later I can see how foolish we were to believe that Eisenhower, and his supporters in Congress, would, or even could, flip the nation on its head in the course of one or two presidential terms. First, Eisenhower had no intention of doing so. And second, even if those in his party who might have wanted to do that had tried, there was still too much power in the hands of the Democrats to allow it to happen overnight. Our fears were over-blown at best.

Today I read that Republicans are suffering in a funk similar to that which my family felt sixty years ago. A Gallop poll released today shows that the gap between Democrat’s optimism for the future and Republican’s pessimism is greater than it has been since Gallop began measuring such things. In 2008, a year before the economy collapsed sending the nation into a recession almost equal to the Great Depression of the 1920s and 1930s, the survey showed just the opposite; Republicans were more optimistic than Democrats. But now, even with the economy slowly recovering, the mood among Republicans is dour to say the least. And all because President Obama won re-election a month and a half ago.

As one who views President Obama positively, it is very difficult for me understand the despair expressed by Republicans . . . until I think back to 1952. I am no Pollyanna; I know that we have many intractable problems to contend with, not the least that our two political parties, and those of us who support them, are about as divided as we have ever been in my lifetime. It is a challenge to govern such a people as us.

It may well be that Republican pessimism is justified; that we are perched on a fiscal, social and political cliff over which we will ultimately tumble. But it isn’t inevitable that we will. The nation did not collapse into chaos after 1952; instead the economy grew. We began the construction of one of the world’s most impressive interstate highway systems and expanded the government sponsored “safety net” programs like social security. The expansion of the “welfare state” continued apace. Looking back, that era is viewed by many – Democrats who feared it, as well as Republicans who welcomed it – as an idyllic and prosperous period in the 20th Century.

So what’s to fear today? If one truly believes that President Obama is an evil, divisive, conniving man, that certainly predisposes one to gloom I suppose. But even if it is true that he is Muslim, or an illegal alien, or that he faked his grades at Coumbia and Harvard, or that he has plans to confiscate all guns in the country, or that he wants to round up all Christians and put them in concentration camps, Republicans have shown themselves capable of thwarting his devious schemes over the last four years and will most certainly be able to hold him at bay for another four years. And, though it must be difficult for those who fear him to admit, being in the deep funk they are in, it is just possible that he is a decent man, with the best interests of the nation at heart, in which case history might look back on the Obama years with the same approval it now judges those Eisenhower years that I feared so much.

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