orgtheory.net

republicans and their presidents

If you were to summarize the Republican party’s collective memory about its leadership, it would go something like this:

  1. This dude named Lincoln totally ruled and crushed his enemies, but his one flaw was that he trampled state’s rights.
  2. [empty space]
  3. [empty space]
  4. [empty space]
  5. Jesus Christ, Reagan was awesome. Especially that part where exhumed Lenin’s body and spiked it atop the Brandenburg Gate.
  6. [empty space]
  7. [empty space]
  8. Mitt Romney the guy we just nominated and who is the least insane rocks!

This is in contrast with the Democratic collective memory. You can’t expect people to remember every leader from 200 years and they’ll get some stuff wrong, but they actually remember the big ones. Jackson. Wilson. FDR. Kennedy. Even Carter and Clinton get the love. This isn’t to say that Democrats always get history right, but, at the very least, they seem to have a normal, flattering understanding of their history.

A few factors are at work in explaining the GOP’s collective amnesia. First, they’ve elected some real clunkers. Nixon, for example. Bush II will go down as a clunker and is already banned from polite conversation in the GOP. Second, there have been some insanely boring dudes in the GOP, like Calvin Coolidge.

But there’s a deeper reason, one that explains a lot of the memory loss. The GOP of 2014 is a radically different beast than the party of Lincoln. The original GOP was wealthy Northern interests + freedmen and their descendants. Thus, what used to be cool is no longer cool. For example, the presidential Republicans of the 1920s were relatively pro-Black. Not pro-integration in the modern sense, but they did believe that Blacks should have access to Federal jobs, education, and other resources. Also, the GOP wasn’t populist in the Palin/Cruz sense. You had some effective but insanely boring people like Dwight Eisenhower, who was popular at the time but now forgotten among the masses.

So, then, what’s the deal with Reagan? I think Reagan combines two traits: some genuine policy triumphs (e.g., nuclear disarmament) and he was willing to be populist. He also benefited from a historical accident. He happened to be president during the end of communism, an event he shaped but certainly didn’t cause. Thus, in the GOP’s collective memory, he comes off as a successful warrior and a populist.

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Written by fabiorojas

April 28, 2014 at 2:27 am

3 Responses

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  1. I think I found a rare picture of Reagan from that era: http://goo.gl/GFSaB

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    JD

    April 28, 2014 at 4:12 am

  2. So Republicans forget their clunkers and do-nothings. And Democrats remember theirs as flattering misapprehensions (see Carter, Clinton, Kennedy).

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    Randy

    April 28, 2014 at 2:24 pm

  3. Hmm. I know the 80s was a long time ago, but I’m pretty sure there is something else they remember Reagan for that you have neglected to mention…

    Like

    TR

    April 28, 2014 at 2:53 pm


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