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Demosthenes's avatar

Why do modern Republicans reference the Democratic party's past conservatism as if it's a point for them?

Asked by Demosthenes (4698points) February 22nd, 2018

The Democratic party used to be more ideologically conservative/Right-wing until the poles began to shift with FDR. Southern conservatives remained largely Democratic until the Republican party won them over in the 60s and 70s as the Democrats increasingly supported Civil Rights. By the time of Reagan, the Democratic party was associated with liberalism/progressivism and the Republican party with conservatism, as they are today. This was quite the opposite from the situation in the late 19th/early 20th century. Teddy Roosevelt (who founded the Progressive party) was a Republican who stood for larger government and liberal policies (as defined at the time)—an ideology that would now be associated with the Democrats.

Obviously that’s a condensed and simplified history, and I’m not implying that the early 20th century political climate was an exact mirror image of the current one, but my point is that I often come across Republicans online who note the early Democrats’ support for segregation and the KKK as signs that the Republican party is somehow morally superior, when all they’re doing is shooting themselves in the foot by condemning the stances of early conservatism/reactionism, thus implying that conservatives were on the wrong side of history then (and what does that say about modern conservatism?)

Yes, I realize this is more of a rant than a question, but I’m trying to spread the word about a really piss-poor argument (or have some light shed on it if there’s something I’m missing).

Disclaimer: I’m not a Democrat nor am I overtly liberal.

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14 Answers

elbanditoroso's avatar

Quick answer: Republicans think that people are stupid.

Longer answer: They mention Democratic conservatism in the past as a theoretical justification for their own conservatism today, as if to say “look, they changed and we didn’t”, which is of course, not true. Republicans in 1960 are far different from Republicans in 1988 or 2018.

Their use of this method is really an insult to people who know and understand history. The problem is that most people just listen to sound bites.

Mariah's avatar

A pet peeve of mine as well. I’ve learned more than ever this year that a lot of politics is about making barely-true disparaging statements about your opponent and hoping that people don’t follow up with fact-checking. I’ve become a pretty dedicated fact-checker this year and it’s illuminating as fuck.

Zaku's avatar

I think this is a really interesting question.

My theory is that those people think differently about politics.

I don’t think there is an accurate label, I don’t like labeling people, and I think using a party name is an even worse mistake (for instance, because they can change policies, as this question illustrates), so I’m going to choose the label “Conservatives”, also because theories/books have been published which IIRC choose that label to describe that type of thinking (or a set of values, or whatever).

I haven’t read all the books that get into it – I’ve made some brief efforts but found them a bit challenging to absorb and I didn’t agree with all of it after reading a bit, but I think it’s one of the better attempts I’ve seen to make sense of the chasm between people’s political thinking.

My own condensed answer would be that I don’t know exactly by my theory is that “Conservative” people (those who aren’t just fools or behaving like trolls) both have different values they hold important (including tradition and authority) and that they tend to align themselves to a group identity (such as an idea of “the way the USA was in the 1940’s” or just “the way things used to be, back in the good old days” or “white middle-class working American Christians” or something like any of those), and that they like certain patterns of thought that they hope/believe that if most everyone agreed and went along with them, things would work out – ideas such as everyone should work to earn their keep, Christian morality is what the world needs, traditional gender roles make for a good moral society, we can trust strong traditional white male leaders who seem like good guys to lead our country, economic theory is how the world works and if we just do X, Y and Z (e.g. make it easy for big business to make scads of money) then the economy will prosper and hard-working people will get by just fine as long as we don’t do W, Q, or F (e.g. taxes, welfare, regulations), our “free” way of life needs armed strength to defend it from “them” so guns and military and cowboy diplomacy are good, and good white countries are being contaminated by dark-skinned “foreign” non-Christian people who breed like flies and take jobs and want welfare and do crimes and want to take our womenfolk and cross-breed them so their children become like them, and those stupid Hollywood liberal types are weak and want to erode our good old culture and annoy us with political correctness and SJW and bleeding-heart tree-hugging hippie atheist LGBTQ bathroom-sharing gay marriage etc etc etc.

They don’t seem to engage those ideas so much as rational ideas but more as emotional tribal wishing that if we just sign up with Republican and Christian leadership things will go in the right direction.

So at a surface level, it looks like a win for their side to post “Read some history: Republicans voted to repeal slavery and Democrats voted against that!”

gorillapaws's avatar

It’s capitalizing on people with little information/education and very strong opinions.

kritiper's avatar

They’re trying to make the Democrats look bad in the eyes of the voters so the Republicans can have a much easier time of getting reelected and thus dominating the political picture.

KNOWITALL's avatar

There is a lot of hypocrisy on both sides, and they love to point it out, simple as that. I won’t claim either party as neither represent my views.

Jaxk's avatar

I’ll try to make a couple of points. First I think you are confusing Republican with conservative and Democrat with liberal. They’re not interchangeable. When the democrats tried to filibuster the civil rights legislation, that didn’t make them conservative and when the republicans pushed that legislation through it didn’t make them liberal. Race, Gender, sexual orientation have nothing to do with conservatism. I’m not liberal so I’ll let you decide whether they have anything to do with liberalism. Conservatism is more a matter of rugged individualism, smaller government, and individual responsibility.

You are trying to show that because it was Democrats that fought for slavery and against civil rights that they have changed. Unfortunately you haven’t shown anything that proves they did. Lincoln was a Republican. it was democrats that fought against the civil rights legislation. These are facts. Maybe ugly facts but facts nonetheless. Every time I’ve heard this come up it is in response to some democrat, trying to disown their history, just as you’re doing.

Demosthenes's avatar

@Jaxk And every time I come across someone trying to portray the Republicans as more “moral” because of their association with Lincoln, it’s from a Republican who doesn’t understand history, just as you clearly don’t. Your entire position comes from the idea that Republicans = good, Democrats = bad, a simplistic, self-serving and inaccurate way of looking at history. It’s also interesting that you call me a “Democrat” as an insult, when I made it clear in my question that I’m not a Democrat. But someone like yourself can’t see past your own myopia, and you must label people and put them in boxes so you can dismiss their arguments without having to engage them. I’m someone trying to see past the dichotomous political BS and I get treated like shit for it by people like you, people who embody “the problem”.

The modern Republicans and Democrats have little to do with their 19th century and early 20th century precedents, that’s exactly the point I’m trying to make. Republicans in the early 20th century stood for larger government and progressive policies, stances that would now be associated with the Democrats. As I said, this began to change with FDR, who was a “big government” Democrat, and as the Democrats increasingly supported Civil Rights in the 1960s and the Republicans opposed it, the association of the Democrats with liberalism and the Republicans with conservatism was largely cemented.

My exact point was that they’re not interchangeable, that the Democrats once supported policies that would be considered “conservative” (segregation, opposition to Civil Rights) and the Republicans once supported policies that would be considered “liberal”; the poles shifted. That modern Republicans appealing to 19th century Republicans is useless because modern Republicans have almost nothing to do with their 19th century counterparts. If he were alive today, Lincoln would not be a member of the modern Republican party. He wouldn’t be a Democrat either, I’m sure.

Jaxk's avatar

Unfortunately I think that is where you go completely off the track. No one is ‘morally’ superior. Maybe if you could let that go you might better understand. Segregation is not a conservative principle. nor is civil rights a liberal one.

Demosthenes's avatar

I would disagree with that partially. I think that fundamentally, civil rights is a form of social liberalism. Opposition to expanding civil rights (to include LGBT people, for example) is a common position of modern conservatism. Segregation itself is not a conservative principle, true, but support of segregation was a position of conservatism as it involved maintaining traditional social structures (which is a conservative principle).

gorillapaws's avatar

@Jaxk “Conservatism is more a matter of rugged individualism, smaller government, and individual responsibility.”

Do you honestly believe this shit? Have you seen what the Republicans have done to the budget? What about invasive laws about women’s reproductive rights? Or Anti-drug laws? Or expanding the Prison industry?

KNOWITALL's avatar

@gorillapaws Uh oh, you said the magic words tsk tsk.

Personal responsibility has everything to do with womens reproductive rights, in that some women manage to live lives without harming another living being, by taking personal reponsibility for their nether regions and contraception and how those work together to create a ‘unwanted tissue problem’ aka child.

gorillapaws's avatar

@KNOWITALL Or being raped, or medical condition? How about having a severely deformed fetus? I don’t think it’s “small government” to get involved in those decisions.

You can label things “child” all you want, but that doesn’t make them one. Sorry but all “living beings” aren’t equal—You massacre millions of “living beings” whenever you wash your hands. You’re abusing definitions: see Fallacies of Definition.

I’d love to hear your definition of “child.”

As far as “personal responsibility” goes, can you explain how polluting the shared resources of a community is taking personal responsibility? Shouldn’t conservatives advocate for carbon taxes if they thought people should take responsibility for their own messes? What about the trillions of dollars squandered on wars for oil? What about all of the bankers that get free passes when it comes to white-collar crime? Or the dismantling of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau?

KNOWITALL's avatar

@gorillapaws Rape and incest are less than 2% of all procedures. Fact.

Any decision that is life-altering due to a medical condition should be left to a woman and her doctor. The definition of such is debatable. Is Downs something we should correct or is that a viable human being? That is a questionable situation like many and not the majority of procedures either.

I’m not going to defend the entire party throughout time, but the Democratic party itself is not flawless in it’s actions either.

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