This may seem odd coming from a Democrat who lives in the city that led the Confederate Rebellion, but one thing is very clear from the Republican presidential primary – our state and nation desperately needs to see the return of the party of Lincoln. It will be good for Republicans and Democrats, and most importantly, good for our state and country as a whole.
As with so many things in our state, first a little history. Most people think that Lincoln was the first Republican Party candidate for President; in fact, it was John C. Fremont, who first ran on the Republican Party label in 1856. Born in Savannah, Fremont was the bastard son of a socially prominent Virginia planter family.
He spent much of his early life in Charleston and was thrown out of the College of Charleston in 1831 shortly before he was due to graduate. Fremont ‘went west’ and became an explorer, early California politician and an ardent abolitionist.
After Fremont’s failure in the 1856 election, the Republicans nominated Lincoln for the 1860 campaign, largely due to his moderate views on the issues of slavery. He urged a pragmatic domestic policy of more ‘internal improvements’ – i.e. government public works projects, and as one born in a log cabin of humble origins, above all else he was for the common man.
Once elected, Lincoln reached out to his political opponents and created a ‘Team of Rivals,’ as noted by the title of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 2005 book. Lincoln knew that in a divided federal government in a divided country, he had to engage all sides to forge solutions to complex and difficult problems.
Lincoln was pragmatic. Throughout his five years as President, he was not driven by a rigid ideology; he was willing to compromise on political tactics and strategies while never losing sight of his overall goal of preserving the Union.
On a personal level, Lincoln is best remembered for his great compassion for his fellow human beings. ‘With malice toward none, with charity for all…’ Lincoln sought to bind up the wounds of a deeply divided and broken country.
Above all, Lincoln was driven by his sense of national purpose – to preserve the Union above all else. He was willing to make political compromises, endure personal insults and attacks and make any necessary sacrifice of blood and treasure, to ensure the Union prevailed.
How different is the Republican Party today, both nationally and in South Carolina.
Today their presidential candidates are almost all lacking in any serious leadership capacity. Instead of articulating real policy solutions, they fall all over each other trying to get to the most extreme right wing position to appeal to their Party’s ideological base – see immigration, abortion and no tax pledges.
If one of today’s contenders dared to use candidate George W. Bush’s phrase ‘compassionate conservative,’ he would be eaten alive by the likes of Fox News, Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh.
And what of the Republican Party in South Carolina? The very idea of working across party lines to solve difficult issues is simply anathema to many Republicans.
And a ‘team of rivals’ – not hardly. The very idea of Gov. Haley ever appointing a Democrat to a significant position is laughable – see Darla Moore and the whole DHEC Board she fired.
Today, the Republicans’ biggest preoccupation seems to be hunting RINOs, or Republicans in Name Only. Any time a Republican in the state house begins to seriously talk with a Democrat to fashion a sensible solution to difficult issues, like education, they are immediately condemned as sellouts and thus become fair game for the RINO hunters.
And a sense of higher purpose for the good of all – forget it. In both Washington and Columbia, special interest groups with their political action committees and campaign contributions dictate the political agenda. As a result, our government is broken and our politics is corrupt.
Nationally we see this with the dysfunctional debt limit and ‘super committee’ fights and in the next few months we will see this played out here in the statehouse battle over tax reform. In South Carolina, there are countless special tax exemptions and loopholes in our current law that cost taxpayers billions of dollars each and every year. Watch closely and see who prevails – our state’s larger interest or the narrow special interest.
Where is Honest Abe and his Republican Party when we need them?