In its origins the Republican Party in the US was the party of Abraham Lincoln, it is the second largest Party in the USA, founded in 1854 to oppose the Kansas- Nebraska Act that wanted to extend slavery into other territories and also to promote a more modern and aggressive economic development. Even though from the outset the Republican Party was pro-business, banks, high gold standards, railroads, and heavy industry early Republicans had within this framework a certain social conscience and understood the value of education and wellbeing necessary to performing an active nationhood and it was this that made the US the envy of the world well into the 80s.
The party was mainly composed of white protestant businessmen and professionals that were enlisted mostly from the Whigs and the Free Soil Democrats, but also had a very substantial electoral base within the blue collar working class factory worker and the Northern African American. In fact the election of Abraham Lincoln as the first Republican President in 1860, his winning of the Civil War with the consequent unification of the Union, and the abolition of slavery had no doubt a serious political and social impact on US society well into the 1930s.
Men like McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt saw the need of an extraterritorial expansion as a means not only to extend American influence abroad but as a way to strengthen American industry and exports. In fact the Party which became known as the GOP (Grand Old Party) was a political force roughly till 1932, when failing to reverse the “Great Depression” lost to the Grand Coalition of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. From 1933 to 1960 the GOP was basically an opposition Party, but up to 1968 its core beliefs in democracy and social justice were more or less intact.
What happened then to make this Grand Old decline to the point of no return?
One could quote many factors into this, however two main one come up for immediate scrutiny. One would be the two-tier economic development between the Northern and Southern United States, where most of the industry is located in the Northern States, the gross economy of the South is mainly rural and agricultural. The latter in fact carries in itself many psychological and economic implications, as most rural societies are less exposed to the cosmopolitanism of industry and therefore tend to be more close-knit and conservative social structures less open to new ideas and with a restricted vision of the world. It is hardly surprising, if in this contest the rise of Christian Evangelism started in the Southern States of the USA; and this Christian Evangelism mind-set found fertile ground more in the Republican Party which it identified as a Conservative political force more than in the Democrats who were seen as Liberals and leftist. Of course special interest groups in the US were very quick to see this religious mind-set as powerful political tool to be used for political gain. In fact from 1968 onwards the base support of the GOP came more from the Evangelical South than from the Industrialized North.
Another key factor is the industrial reconversion of American heavy manufacturing industry from civil to military production that after 1945 left a massive military industrial complex with a class of elitist industrialist that had no intention of down grading their already massive profit margins just because WW 2 was over and done with, these “Captains of Industry” quickly realized that in order to keep the Status Quo of their industries they had to able to influence and direct political decisions. To control the political decision one has to be able to control Government. In this respect the Conservative mind-set of Republicans was certainly a more fertile ground in which to develop powerful lobbies and special interest groups and therefore since 1968 the Republican Party has won 7 out of the 10 Presidential Elections held in the USA.
The period that we all identify as the “Cold War” was the panacea of the Defence Industrial Complex. Powerful lobbies made sure that politicians towed the “party line” and defence spending exponentially increased from Republican Administration to the other. The Historian D.W. Brogan suggested already in 1944 that “war is a business and not an art….and the US is a great, great Corporation”. After all one has to realize that the Second World War saw a gigantic industrial explosion in the USA, with manufacturing output doubling between 1940 and 1943. Arms production increased eightfold between 1941 and 1943 and to a level that even surpassed Britain, Russia and Germany combined. This saw also an increasing proportion of national resources diverted to the military and favoured closeness between the Federal Government and Corporate America. This closeness has given the whole Military Industrial Complex a life of its own in influencing public policy and at the same time exerting a very damaging influence on the concept of separation of powers. This has had the inevitable effect of producing a symbiosis between the executive branch and corporate America in which each simultaneously shelters and protects the other, producing a climate of decreased transparency, lack of accountability and ultimately of unchecked executive powers. A climate of systematic reduction of the Democratic process that no Administration be it Republican or Democrat has been able to successfully tackle.
In this contest it is easy to why the GOP was considered a more fertile ground politically than the liberal and socially conscious Democratic Party. The end of what we commonly define as the “Cold War was a watershed for the Defence Industry, and saw a certain exposure of the excesses of the Reagan era, which came to a climax with the indictment of Colonel Oliver North and his associates all in the name of that very Anglo-Saxon concept that we have in both England and America of the law, “where justice has to be seen to be done” when in effect no such thing happens as Oliver North was the smallest fish in a very large barrel. And saw also the collapse of big corporates such as Enron, Worldcom and others and this gave the illusion to Liberals worldwide that big corporations are not invulnerable, while in reality big corporations collapse because other big corporations decide they have too.
The beginning of the 90s also saw an apparent fall in military spending and procurement as in the words of the then Chief of Staff General Colin Powell:” America was running out of enemies”. But that too in the light of the present day situation resulted into a smoke screen. Big defence corporates used this time to consolidate and transform themselves into truly global players. Let’s take as an example Lockheed who used the opportunity to consolidate and restructure itself through a series of mergers and acquisitions, the most significant one being with Martin Marietta in 1995, that created Lockheed Martin therefore becoming the largest weapons manufacturer in the world. The figure of its CEO Norm Augustine is a typical example on how tenuous is the line between the political executive and corporate America.
In 1996 Augustine paid $.9.1bn for the defence electronic company Loral Corporation. The main company that year after year topped the list of Pentagon financed companies and that became the Nr.1 recipient of NASA, Nr.2 on the Department of Energy’s list of nuclear weapons contractors and also a major supplier of goods and services to IRS and the US Postal Services.
Under his leadership Lockheed Martin intensified lobbying in Washington to unparalleled heights. Norm Augustine was not only extremely well connected in Washington but for much of his career was one of the handful of people that drew up the blueprints for the Defence policy of the USA. Moreover in addition to running the largest Defence Contractor in the world he also served in the Defence Policy Advisory Committee (DPACT) one of those obscure organizations that often outranks Congress in their influence over the size of the Defence Budgets and provides confidential advice on arms export policy to the Secretary of Defence. To top the latter, Norm Augustine sat also on the Defence Science Board, a Pentagon advisory panel with the power to approve or reject nascent weapons programmes and lastly was president of the Association of the US Army, made up of retired army personnel and defence contractors. When his personal friend George H. Walker Bush asked him to serve as Secretary of Defence he refused, but pushed the candidacy of William Perry a long-time friend and business partner and John Deutch who later became Secretary of Defence and Director of the CIA respectively in the Clinton Administration.
Now to believe that such men have no influence on the political executive is at best naïve at worst suicidal and very, very blind. Both Bush Senior and Bush Junior not only during their Presidency re-established America’s enemy but also made sure that the lines between corporate America and the political executive became more and more blurred. To the point that what we are witnessing today in the political spectrum of the USA is the backing of a Republican CEO as future president of the USA, Mick Romney; a man that yesterday in a political speech declared that it is time to reduce the police, the fire brigade and the teachers.
One thing is for sure, the Republicans of today do not remotely resemble their predecessors, they have used religious fundamentalism to their advantage in the South feeding on the ignorance of people, subsequent Republican administrations have been knowingly and systematically allowed at least a generation of Americans to be under educated by systematically reducing public education budgets in favour of dubious Evangelical Christian schools that teach absurd subjects like creationism and revised history, all the while the American Elites make sure that their children go to private schools and universities both in the US and abroad thus creating the future ruling classes of the nation.
Continuing on this road it is quite possible that American Democracy will soon be a very distant dream for most Americans and their beautiful Constitution and Bill of Rights will be accumulating dust in a museum.