I saw Michael Zak, author of Back to Basics for the Republican Party, speak Friday night. I went to the dinner because I wanted to meet the host, but found myself intrigued by this author. Most Republicans know we are the party of Lincoln, the man who freed the slaves. Less known is that the Republican Congress overwhelmingly passed legislation freeing the slaves and that legislation was attached to the Proclamation.
I was at Antietam Battlefield in April. Antietam, the bloodiest day in US history, was, according to the explanatory documentaries, the impetus for the Emancipation Proclamation. No one mentioned any legislative involvement.
Zak suggested that this focus on Lincoln is purposeful by non-Republican authors in order to deify Lincoln and diminish the broad-based support of civil rights within the Republican party. I am not sure I’d go that far but I know that the Republican reputation for the white Christian party does not match the experience I have had since I became a Republican in the last decade. This book gives the objective evidence that matches my own subjective experience, meeting black Republicans, gay Republicans and Latino Republicans in a state that does not make it easy to be Republican.
Zak takes the history of the Republican party through the next 150 years. I was most interested in the last 40 years, the time I lived through and am the most familiar with. The federal government, under Republican Eisenhower, was on the side of desegregation and Eisenhower himself rewrote the federal government’s brief asking that it be implemented immediately. Republicans in Congress supported the Civil Rights Act in greater percentage than Democrats did. The story of Martin Luther King Jr endorsing Nixon over Kennedy and how that direct endorsement was overshadowed by the indirect endorsement of Kennedy by King’s father which seemed to be from MLK Jr., leading the black vote to the Democratic nominee, is fascinating.
The book acknowledges but dismisses Republican shortcomings. Barry Goldwater is portrayed as an embarrassing exception to the majority of Republicans. Watergate and Iran-Contra are mentioned, but the implication is that they were not as bad as other Democratic scandals. In the latter point, he may be right and others have said the same thing, but he does not provide enough of an argument to assess the point.
The phrasing of the title, Back to Basics for the Republican Party, is instructive. Democrats will be offended by this book, not because of its lauding of Republicans, but because it trashes the Democrats in most partisan fashion. A mere few pages in, Zak claims:
The slave system, the very opposite of the free-market society our Republican Party advocated, required a vast regulatory and enforcement infrastructure to keep people enchained for the benefit of others, just as the socialist policies of the Democratic Party do today. Trapped in the role once filled by slaves before the war and then afterward by poor blacks during the Jim Crow era, an underclass today maintains the political and economic power of the Democratic Party elite and those in their employ, if indirectly, in the government bureaucracy.
Despite the demagoguery, Back to the Basics is filled with good historical information. The bibliography spans ten pages. For those genuinely interested in Republican history, this is a must-have book.