In their convention acceptance speeches, both Bob Dole and Jack Kemp declared that the Republican Party is the party of Lincoln. But just what is the connection between the Republican Party of 1860 and that of 1996?
The essence of slavery, Lincoln said, was expressed in the proposition "You work; I'll eat." Upon his election as president, he was besieged by office seekers who drove him to distraction. Lincoln was blunt in his judgment of the great majority of them: They wanted to eat without working. Lincoln saw the demand for the protection of slavery and the demand for government sinecures to be at bottom one and the same. The origin of all constitutional rights, according to Lincoln, was the right that a man had to own himself, and therefore to own the product of his own labor. Government exists to protect that right, and to regulate property only to make it more valuable to its possessors.
Today, the pro-slavery impulse still governs the Democratic Party, the party of government sinecures. It is the party that wants to use political power to tax us not for any common good, but to eat while we work. Consider the Great Society and its legacy.
In the fall of 1964, I was on the speech-writing staff of the Goldwater campaign. In September and October I went on a number of forays to college campuses, where I debated spokesmen for our opponents. My argument always started from here: In 1964 the economy — thanks to the Kennedy tax cuts — was growing at the remarkable annual rate of four percent. But federal revenues were growing at 20 percent: five times as fast.
The real issue in the election, I said, was what was to happen to that cornucopia of revenue. Barry Goldwater would use it to reduce the deficit and to further reduce taxes; Lyndon Johnson would use it to start vast new federal programs. At that point I could not say what programs, but I knew that the real purpose of them would be to create a new class of dependents upon the Democratic Party. The ink was hardly dry on the election returns before Johnson invented the war on poverty — and proved my prediction correct.
One did not need to be cynical to see that the poor were not a reason for the expansion of bureaucracy; the expansion of bureaucracy was a reason for the poor. Every failure to reduce poverty was always represented as another reason to increase expenditures on the poor. The ultimate beneficiary was the Democratic Party. Every federal bureaucrat became in effect a precinct captain, delivering the votes of his constituents. His job was to enlarge the pool of constituents. But every increase in that pool meant a diminution of our property and our freedom.
The recently passed law to "end welfare as we know it" came about because a lethargic public has been aroused at last, not by the failure of the welfare system but by its success. The public indignation, however, would have been of no effect had we not elected a Republican Congress. No Democratic Congress would ever have passed such a law.
Just as welfare reform may help end the poverty industry, the California Civil Rights Initiative on the November ballot may lead to the demise of another 1960s product, the racism and sexism industry. The 1964 Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination based upon race, sex, color, religion or ethnic origin. The act was based on the premise that the only race to which a person must belong is the human race. With respect to God-given natural rights, "all men are created equal."
The civil rights establishment, led by the NAACP, fought the good fight that led to the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 and the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965. They fought that fight under the banner of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, which reflected the equality proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence.
The classic statement of this principle is to be found in Justice John Marshall Harlan's dissenting opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson, the infamous 1896 decision that enshrined "separate but equal" into constitutional law for more than half a century: "In view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior dominant ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our Constitution is color blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved."
Everyone knows that Hubert Humphrey, one of the chief authors and sponsors of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, had declared that under Title VII no discrimination on the basis of race or color was to be lawful. He explicitly said that this meant no discrimination of white against black, and no discrimination of black against white.
Suddenly, however, remedies for something called "racism" became the order of the day. (The word itself — like "sexism" — is of recent coinage and will not be found in any older dictionaries.) The civil rights movement, premised upon individual rights, suddenly became the black power movement, premised upon group rights. "Affirmative action" became a euphemism for the baldest kind of racial discrimination. That whites had long enjoyed preference over blacks was now taken to be a justification for blacks having preference over whites. What was lost sight of was that the evil of the past — whether of slavery or of Jim Crow — was evil not because it was done by whites to blacks, but because it was done by some human beings to other human beings. The purpose of the law was to end evil acts, not continue them in the guise of "affirmative action."
Affirmative action, rightly understood, would justify a wide variety of outreach programs for those whose lives have been stultified by poverty, broken families, bad schools, and neighborhoods filled with drugs, crime and gangs. One can heartily commend a program for tutoring young blacks, or young whites, who had never had a genuine teacher in a real classroom. One cannot, however, commend a program of raising the grades of young blacks — but not young whites — without having raised their skills. And what possible justification can there be there for giving scholarship assistance to the child of a black middle-class family, while denying it to a poor white? Can one imagine a more crass disregard for the genuine meaning of the Equal Protection Clause?
The priests of this new religion of "affirmative action" are not without material interests. Hundreds of millions of corporate dollars are spent annually on "sensitivity training." Within the universities, centers for black, brown and women's (i.e., feminist) studies are being established, with vast amount of patronage bestowed upon them. Traditional courses in Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Shakespeare and the Bible continue to appear in the catalogs, but they are increasingly taught by "deconstructionists," who have no interest in the texts, but only in subjective reactions to the texts.
Abraham Lincoln was self-educated. His curriculum included Shakespeare, the Bible, Euclid and the Declaration of Independence — the monuments to the freedom of the human soul, the possession not of Western man, but of a humanity compounded of all colors and every condition. In Independence Hall on Feb. 22, 1861, Lincoln asked what it was, above all else, that went forth to the world on July 4, 1776. It was not, he said, the mere matter of the separation of the colonies from the motherland; but something in that Declaration giving hope to the world for all future time. The Declaration gave promise that in due time the weights would be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all would have an equal chance. These are the principles upon which the Republican Party must stand, in 1996 no less than in 1860.