NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

January 23, 2014

Remember the Mugwumps

As I See It
Robert Campbell

---- — Paul Krugman’s editorial in The New York Times, Nov.1, entitled “A War on the Poor” with another subhead, “What happened to the Republican Party?,” brought to the fore many thoughts of where the party had come from and laid rumbling earthquake-like tremors of where it was heading.

Krugman takes us back to 1936 when Alf Landon received the Republican nomination for president. His acceptance speech provided themes taken up by modern conservatives: “the incompleteness of economic recovery, persistence of high unemployment and the economy’s lingering weakness to excessive government intervention and the uncertainty it created.” Landon went on to say, “out of the Depression has come, not only the problem of recovery, but also the equally grave problem of caring for the unemployed until recovery is attained ... Their relief at all times is a matter of plain duty.”

Quite a difference in perspective, 1936-2013, since it appears common knowledge the party views the unemployed as having it too easy, coddled by unemployment insurance and food stamps. There is a move within the GOP, however, to select less extreme candidates that are causing damaging tactics such as the government shutdown.

So, where, when and how did this train derail? Krugman relates the results of focus groups held with members of various Republican factions. They found the Republican base “very conscious of being white in a country that is increasingly minority and seeing the social safety net both as something that helps ‘Those People,’ not people like themselves and binds the rising non-white population to the Democratic Party. And, the Medicaid expansion many states are rejecting would disproportionately have helped poor blacks.” Krugman’s conclusion: “There is indeed a war on the poor and that war is now the critical defining issue of American politics.”

How else can this be viewed other than by the Republican attack on everything from Obama personally to the hold on appointments such as the head of FEMA and other local and regional judges?

Their latest boon-doggle effective Nov. 1, a $40 billion cut in food stamps from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which affects nearly 48 million recipients. How many on stamps have the luxury of a government gym to exercise from dinners sponsored by fat cats of the tea party? What choices have the poor among heating their homes, taking medication or buying food?

I doubt if many Republicans feel slighted by the “slings and arrows” of the press or outrage by the poor for cutting their life support. If they are in doubt about their presence, I would refer them to the Bible, which has in my edition, 66 references: “The poor you will always have” (Matt. 26:11); “Who oppresses the poor shows contempt” (Proverbs 14:31); “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3); “Yet for your sakes he became poor” (2 Cor. 8:9). Why is it that the Republican Party wars on the poor, women and minorities? The poor shall always be with us, but I have doubts about the GOP’s longevity!

George Washington was elected president in 1789 without benefit of a political party. John Adams disdained his Federalist Party, but elected him anyway in 1797. In 1856, the Know-Nothing Party ran former President Millard Fillmore on a platform calling for uniting the North and South in a common crusade against foreigners and aliens. (Sound familiar?) James Buchanan, a Democrat, won. In 1884, the Mugwumps helped elect Grover Cleveland. The term originated within the Algonquin Nation, meaning “big chief,” and was applied to those who deserted Republican ranks to vote for Cleveland’s policy of Civil Service reform. Theodore Roosevelt rallied for the formation of state organizations to send delegates to support his Bull Moose Party, but William Taft won the election.

Just as we shouted popular themes years ago: Remember the Maine and Remember Pearl Harbor, how about Remember the Mugwumps?

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Robert D. Campbell, an essayist who lives in Newburyport, believes that a sense of humor is essential.