Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Let's Play "Name That Candidate!"

The following passage comes from a major address by the nominee for president of a major political party:
Whatever progress has been made we all accept.... there are certain principles that are accepted by substantially all of the American people. They cannot be treated as partisan principles. They are national policies. For instance, the policy of providing the farmer with a fair share of the national income is a national policy.... We say to you workers that the right of collective bargaining by labor's own free choice is not a partisan right. It is a national policy. The principle of setting a floor under wages is likewise an established principle. That floor should be raised as rapidly as our increasing prosperity permits... It is national policy to set a limit to the hours of labor. Whenever those hours are exceeded, overtime must be paid at the rate of time and a half. Social Security is a national policy. And so are old age pensions. Nobody has a patent on them. It is national policy to care for the unemployed.... It is national policy to care for the aged, the sick, the physically handicapped, the blind, and others who need our help.
I admit, this isn't an easy one. He did not go on to become president, so he's less well-known. So how about this question instead: which political party does he belong to, the Democratic or Republican?

Answer: The Republican Party.

This is from Wendell Willkie's final speech of the 1940 campaign, given over the radio, originating from a campaign rally in Madison Square Garden in New York City.

I came across this speech doing some research, and was somewhat dumbfounded when I read it. Even allowing for the real possibility that Willkie's support for all of these "national policies" might have been more rhetorical than real (after all, Paul Ryan today has the chutzpah to claim that his plan to end Medicare is really meant to "save" it), this is remarkable.

My first thought was the rather obvious one: can anyone imagine the Republican nominee in 2012 full-throatedly supporting all of these policies that were enthusiastically embraced by the Republican nominee 72 years ago in 1940?

To be fair, Willkie also said things that could easily have come from Romney's mouth in this campaign: "We believe ... that in order to protect [these benefits] and to extend them it is necessary to have a government that is financially sound."

In fact, Willkie's defense policy statement is almost exactly the same as Romney's: "All of us believe in the need for a powerful national defense. But our administration ... would have it so powerful that no aggressor would ever dare or seek to strike."

Romney has repeatedly said in this campaign: "I will insist on a military so powerful no one would ever think of challenging it."

Those similarities notwithstanding, it is remarkable to see how different the rhetoric is.

Willkie supported collective bargaining, while Romney has praised Gov. Walker's and Gov. Kasich's efforts to limit collective bargaining in Wisconsin and Ohio.

Willkie supported not only the concept of a minimum wage, but anticipated increasing it, while Romney is against an increase and in the past has proposed at most indexing it to inflation (which would have the effect of never increasing it in fact). Some Republicans (e.g., Ron Paul and Tea Party leader and former congressman Dick Armey) even favor abolishing it.

Willkie talks about caring for the unemployed, while Romney has opposed extending unemployment benefits and has even said he'd like to see "reform of our unemployment system, to allow people to have a personal account which they're able to draw from as opposed to having endless unemployment benefits." In other words, he would privatize it and end any government responsibility for the unemployed.

Willkie says it is "national policy" to care for the sick, but Romney would repeal the Affordable Care Act and has proposed no national policy to advance the cause of providing health insurance for the uninsured.

Willkie supported Social Security and old age pensions, while Romney would increase the eligibility age for both Social Security and Medicare.

The unavoidable conclusion is how far to the right the Republican Party (and, to some extent, the Democratic Party) has moved over the last 70 years, with most of that rightward movement having taken place in the last twenty years.

It has become commonplace to note that Ronald Reagan, the nominee in 1980, and Richard Nixon, the nominee in 1968, would be too liberal for today's Republican  Party. Turns out, Wendell Willkie in 1940 would be, too.

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