A cautionary tale

Some Republicans want to pass a comprehensive immigration bill and some voted to do so in the Senate.  And now two of them, Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham, will likely have challengers from the Tea Party wing.  Which brings me to the cautionary tale.  They should read some history and look at what happened to the Federalist Party.  They could begin by reading the very interesting piece in yesterday’s New York Times by James Traub.

Tea Partyers often style themselves as disciples of Thomas Jefferson, the high apostle of limited government. But by taking the ramparts against immigration, the movement is following a trajectory that looks less like the glorious arc of Jefferson’s Republican Party than the suicidal path of Jefferson’s great rivals, the long-forgotten Federalists, who also refused to accept the inexorable changes of American demography.

The Federalists began as the faction that supported the new Constitution, with its “federal” framework, rather than the existing model of a loose “confederation” of states. They were the national party, claiming to represent the interests of the entire country.

Culturally, however, they were identified with the ancient stock of New England and the mid-Atlantic, as the other major party at the time, the Jeffersonian Republicans (no relation to today’s Republicans), were with the South.

John Quincy Adams portrait. "John Quincy ...

John Quincy Adams portrait. “John Quincy Adams”. Metropolitan Museum of Art . . Retrieved September 4, 2009 . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And then came the Louisiana Purchase.

“The people of the East can not reconcile their habits, views and interests with those of the South and West,” declared Thomas Pickering, a leading Massachusetts Federalist.

Every Federalist in Congress save John Quincy Adams voted against the Louisiana Purchase. Adams, too, saw that New England, the cradle of the revolution, had become a small part of a new nation. Change “being found in nature,” he wrote stoically, “cannot be resisted.”

But resist is precisely what the Federalists did. Fearing that Irish, English and German newcomers would vote for the Jeffersonian Republicans, they argued — unsuccessfully — for excluding immigrants from voting or holding office, and pushed to extend the period of naturalization from 5 to 14 years.

They even thought about separating New England from the rest of the country.

,,,in the fall of 1814, the Federalists convened the Hartford Convention to vote on whether to stay in or out of the Union. By then even the hotheads realized how little support they had, and the movement collapsed. And the Federalists, now scorned as an anti-national party, collapsed as well.

Contrast that defiance with Jefferson’s Republicans, who stood for decentralized government and the interests of yeoman farmers, primarily in the coastal South.

They ruled the country from 1801 to 1825, when they were unseated by Adams — who, after splitting with the Federalists, had joined with a breakaway Republican faction.

In response, Jefferson’s descendants, known as the Old Radicals, did exactly what the Federalists would not do: they joined up with the new Americans, many of them immigrants, who were settling the country opened up by the Louisiana Purchase.

Their standard-bearer in 1828, Andrew Jackson, favored tariffs and “internal improvements” like roads and canals, the big-government programs of the day. The new party, known first as the Democratic-Republicans, and then simply as the Democrats, thrashed Adams that year. (Adams’s party, the National Republicans, gave way to the Whigs, which in turn evolved into the modern Republican Party.)

Will the Republicans disappear like the Federalists?  Traub doesn’t think so.  But hey are, like the Federalists, on the wrong side of history.

More nails in the Republican coffin?

For a number of years now, I have watched part of the Republican party that has as its main, if not sole, purpose, to dismantle government.  They called the Democrats bluff with the sequester which so far has appeared to have little effect.  Who cares if a military base can’t afford fireworks or if the Blue Angels can’t afford to do a fly over?  In the big scheme of things, those are pretty unimportant.  But now more and more federal workers are being furloughed.  For example, local HUD (Housing and Urban Development) offices are closing for five Fridays in July and August.  That is 5 Fridays that staff will not be paid.  This is money that won’t be spent on a vacation or for car repairs or for food and clothing – all things that add to the economy.  (Here is an interesting website that tracks furloughs.)  And while a number of agencies have figured out ways to avoid furloughs, many workers will still be affected – still more if Congress can’t manage to pass a budget for the fiscal year that begins in October.  The loss of incomes will slowly begin to mount.

But it isn’t just the failure to produce a budget.  A recent New York Times editorial summed up the issue quite neatly.  They called it a refusal to govern.

On two crucial issues this week, the extremists who dominate the Republican majority in the House of Representatives made it clear how little interest they have in the future prosperity of their country, or its reputation for fairness and decency.

The two issues are immigration reform and the removal of the food stamp program for the House agriculture bill.

These actions show how far the House has retreated from the national mainstream into a cave of indifference and ignorance. House members don’t want to know that millions of Americans remain hungry (in an economy held back by their own austerity ideology), and they don’t want to deal with the desperation of immigrant families who want nothing more than a chance to work and feed themselves without fear of deportation.

On both issues, in fact, many House Republicans are proudly asserting that they will stand in the way of any attempts to conduct a conference with the Senate. That might, after all, lead to a compromise.

And it isn’t just in the House.

Few things sum up the attitude of the current crop of Republicans in Washington than their loathing of conference committees. On issue after issue, they have passed radical bills and then refused to negotiate. On Thursday, for example, Senate Republicans refused for the 16th time to allow the Democratic Senate budget to be negotiated with its dangerously stingy counterpart in the House.

On immigration, House members fear a conference with the Senate would add back the pathway to citizenship that they consider a giveaway to undesirable non-English speakers. The eventual House border bills “should not be handed to a conference committee so that they can be reconciled with the Senate bill,” wrote Representative Tom Cotton of Arkansas in The Wall Street Journal on Thursday. Instead, he and others say, the Senate should be forced to take up whatever the House produces.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell may believe that ending the filibuster with a majority vote will spell the end of the Senate and cause Harry Reid to be remembered “as the worst leader of the Senate ever”, but in my opinion, the continuous use of the filibuster has already come close to destroying the Senate.  Everything should not require 60 votes.

The New York Times editorial ends with this

A refusal to even to sit at a bargaining table is another way of refusing to govern. The nation’s founders created two chambers for a reason, but Republicans, in their blind fury to harm the least fortunate, are forgetting even those fundamental national values.

From left, Representatives Tim Murphy, Mark Sanford, Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Sean P. Duffy, all Republicans, after the House approved an agriculture bill.

From left, Representatives Tim Murphy, Mark Sanford, Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Sean P. Duffy, all Republicans, after the House approved an agriculture bill.

This is why the most recent Quinnipiac poll shows that while 53% felt the President was doing too little to compromise with Congress, a whopping 68% felt the Republicans leaders in Congress were doing to little to compromise with the President.  And everyone thinks Congress is dysfunctional blaming both parties.

There is something called the greater good and I think many in Congress, particularly Republicans, have forgotten that ideal.

Photograph: Christopher Gregory/The New York Times