One thing ought to be clear to most, and that is the fact that institutions change over time. In the case of the Republican party, that change seems to have been a complete reversal of what it used to stand for, which was equality for everyone. In the present, that no longer seems to be the case. Still, there are some people who believe that this change has not happened, that the party is as egalitarian as it ever was. Alas, the Republican party is not like it used to be.
In a short, rather irritated opinion on Republicans, a degree holding student of American history tried to justify the record by pointing out some history. He like many others today, was trying to refute the claim that the GOP is the party of bigoted, intolerant, white men. Abraham Lincoln was a Republican and he ended slavery. The Civil Rights Act was supported by 1950s Republicans. Theodore Roosevelt, with his soft voice and big stick, invited Booker T. Washington to be the first black man to be invited to the White House as an entity other than the butler or staff. All these examples are meant to show that the GOP is the party of equality and inclusion, while negative examples of Democrats, of which there are a few, are meant to show that they do not care about equality in contrast.
The history presented is entirely accurate. Lincoln was a Republican, as were many supporters of civil rights and so was Theodore Roosevelt. What is wrong with this opinion is not the facts, but how they are used without reference to the nature of institutional change. These Republican leaders of bygone years might not actually recognize their modern counterparts. The passing of time has seen modern Republicans become less interested in equality and more interested in winning elections and de-regulating the free market. Looking at the Republican party today does not give the impression that they really care about equality for everyone.
People only have to look at the Republican dismantling of the Voting Rights Act to see that. The Voting Rights Act, which was enacted in the 1960s by a large majority of Republicans, stopped discriminatory voting laws which unfairly prevented minorities from being able to vote. Recently, however, Republicans on the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of that law which has allowed Republicans in states like Texas and North Carolina to pass voter suppression laws which make it more difficult for minorities, who tend to vote Democrat, to vote in those states. If today’s Republicans really cared about equality, they would not be dismantling the laws that protected racial equality in the first place.
The story of how the Republican party is not the “grand old party” it used to be goes on in the fight over LGBT equality. Republicans have been opponents of gay marriage from day one, saying that marriage is between one man and one woman. They even want to bring a constitutional amendment that would make that definition explicit, because the wording of the Constitution right now is not clear and could allow gay marriage its valuable protection. There is no reason, either logically or in the Constitution, for gay marriage not be protected by law in the United States. But instead of supporting equality, Republicans have done everything they possibly can to stop it.
In fact, their record on LGBT equality is positively abysmal. Republicans overwhelmingly have not supported anti-discrimination laws that would protect LGBT individuals, either in public or in the workplace. They did the exact opposite in Arizona where they tried to give businesses the right to deny services to gay people just for being gay. The ranking Republican, Speaker John Boehner, even called an anti-discrimination bill “unnecessary,” as if gay people were not afraid of losing their jobs or being the victims of hate crimes. Meanwhile, stories of discrimination towards LGBT persons abound, both in physical abuse and in loss of livelihood. The argument that LGBT people do not need protection from discrimination simply does not hold water when faced with the cold, hard facts these people face every day.
It is not just racial and LGBT equality that the Republican party is failing at. Equality for women is a huge problem for them, especially when it comes to workplace equality. Lily Ledbetter, who had the Lily Ledbetter Act of 2009 named after her, was paid less than her male counterparts and when she realized it many years after it had been going on, she was unable to get restitution. There were no legal protections for her, so she lobbied to make sure there would be protections for women coming after her. She won, but Republicans didn’t make it easy. Then in 2012 when Democrats introduced a bill to strengthen existing equal pay laws, Republicans voted against it. The “Paycheck Fairness Act” was meant to bolster what was already in the 2009 act and was generally deemed a good thing by supporters of equality. Still, Republicans said no and split the vote along party lines, with Democrats all voting in favor.
History is important to understanding the context of institutions but when it comes right down to it, but that is all it is; history. The present and people’s actions in it is more important to how a party should be perceived than what happened many years ago. Republicans are not the party of equality any longer. They have proved that time and time again as they try to dismantle and prevent equality today. Political parties change over time and the GOP is no exception to that rule of history. So, yes, historically Republicans have been the party of equality, but inferring that just because that is how it used to be means it still is that way is simply dishonest. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but looking at the facts and what is happening now, it is terribly clear that the Republican party is not the same party of equality as it used to be in the good old days of history.
Opinion By Lydia Webb