The current conflict involving Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Republican attempts to prevent collective union bargaining is a resumption of a practice that has been long associated with the Republican right.
The Democratic president associated with nurturing America's labor movement was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. By developing a partnership between labor and the New Deal the crafty president developed, an association was in place between the union movement and the Democratic Party.
It not only enabled Roosevelt to secure four presidential victories, but sowed the seeds for successes beyond Roosevelt's lifetime for liberal Democratic chief executives extending from Harry Truman's Fair Deal, to John Kennedy's New Frontier, and culminating with Lyndon Johnson's Great Society to the end of the sixties.
Roosevelt, who was elected in 1932 on a platform of balancing the budget, one conservative enough that Barry Goldwater later remarked that he would have been comfortable running on it, began experimenting with Keynesian economics and therein forged a Democratic Party surge.
The Democrats dominated the national scene from Roosevelt's first election to the end of Johnson's tenure in the same manner that Republicans had been dominant nationally from Abraham Lincoln's first election in 1860 until FDR's dramatic thirties' upheaval. The Civil War ushered in the Republican era commenced by Lincoln while the Roosevelt generated progressive Democratic movement occurred during another pivotal period of U.S. history, that of the Great Depression.
With the Great Depression plaguing America and the call for action in the wake of a traditional Harding-Coolidge-Hoover trickle down economics approach, many sought radical approaches such as that advanced by the American Communist Party. Scores of progressives that later abandoned such an approach after learning about gulags and repression in Stalinist Soviet Russia flirted with Communism as a remedy to America's ills in the face of economic tragedy.
Accordingly, after Roosevelt extended his Depression fighting tactics to new areas opposed by big business, the American Liberty League tenaciously fought FDR's New Deal. The League launched a propaganda assault depicting the patrician from the Hudson Valley, New York aristocratic family as a traitor to his class. The American Liberty League sought to create a correlation between Roosevelt's Keynesian economic approach to policies being advanced in the Soviet Union.
After Roosevelt's death his successor Truman, confronted with a majority Republican Eightieth Congress, vetoed the Taft-Hartley Act. It surmounted Truman's veto and became law. The bill, enacted in June 1947, amended the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, also known as the Wagner Act, and prohibited certain types of labor strikes while also taking aim on the closed union shop element of the legislation. It was championed by the man then known as "Mr. Republican", Ohio Senator Robert Taft.
While many other reasons have been cited for Truman's upset victory over Thomas Dewey in the presidential election one year later, the solidarity effort on the part of an organized labor front catalyzed by opposition to the Taft-Hartley Act might have been the ultimate spark that produced triumph.
A disagreement between Taft and General Dwight Eisenhower, soon to become Taft's opponent for the 1952 Republican presidential nomination, highlighted economic differences between the so-called party "Old Guard" wing led by Taft and the moderates led by Dewey. The Dewey wing would embrace Eisenhower's successful candidacy.
A debate raged during the period of the Eightieth Congress and the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act over how long to maintain price controls imposed during the war. Taft, as the party's spokesperson of its conservative wing, believed that controls imposed by Truman's Office of Economic Stabilization should be promptly lifted.
Eisenhower took a different view, stating that companies should be willing in the national interest to sacrifice some immediate profits to curtail a potential inflationary spiral.
Despite warnings from Truman and price stabilization director Chester Bowles, the Eightieth Congress held sway and controls were lifted. When the predicted surge of inflation resulted the Republican right would later disingenuously blame this result on the Truman Administration.
Eisenhower's role in the price control debate is significant in view of what transpired shortly thereafter as well as in the evolution of the Republican Party from the fifties onward. Eisenhower became one of the most popular Republican presidents in history with two impressive victories in 1952 and 1956. Long before the term Reagan Democrats existed that of Eisenhower Democrats was frequently used to demonstrate the strong hold that the popular war time general held within the ranks of many Democratic voters.
Strategically, while adhering to a traditional Republican position in basic economic philosophy with an emphasis toward putting business-oriented conservatives in major policy positions, Ike strongly opposed any efforts from the party's right wing to curtail or scale back New Deal or Fair Deal programs. He scoffed that such efforts were detrimental to building a majority in the name of what Eisenhower termed "Modern Republicanism."
It is easy to see why today's neoconservative Republican right has dismissed Eisenhower from its lexicon just as it has another two term president, Lincoln, who famously coined the phrase, "With malice toward none, with charity for all," hardly an operating credo for the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck. In the most famous speech Eisenhower ever delivered, one of the nation's most notable generals warned Americans against the "unwarranted influence of the military-industrial complex."
1 | 2