When Republicans were conservative

The Republican Party has so slowly and incrementally abandoned conservatism and become a party of nihilist vandals that I occasionally wonder if they have any idea how un-conservative they actually are nowadays.

First, a serviceable definition that hearkens back to Edmund Burke: Conservatives … conserve, protect what is good and useful, even as they prepare for the future with pragmatic, forward-looking realism.

Teddy Roosevelt, anticipating the growth of industry and well-acquainted with the rapacity of moneyed interests, created the National Park Service, conserving America’s natural resources while supporting commercial use of timber and mineral resources. Our national parks are a treasure — and now endangered by Republicans.

Dwight Eisenhower created NASA — insisting, over loud protests, that it be under civilian control — and began construction of the Interstate Highway System. Today, the Interstates are falling apart and NASA is driving-off climate scientists. He also funded and strongly promoted research into computing, and DARPA was created during his administration. Richard Nixon oversaw the creation of OSHA and the EPA. and both are now in Republican crosshairs. He gave us, too, the Earned Income Tax Credit, intended to help the working poor — and today’s Republicans are shifting the cost of government to the poorest among us.

These were all conservative acts, acts which aimed to protect something valuable while making realistic preparations for the future. Republicans, once upon a time, were strong supporters of education; today, they are strangling university funding, replacing their ideologically impure boards of governors, and demanding that Creationism be taught in grade school.

Even the Affordable Care Act, which originated in (formerly) conservative think tanks, and was successfully implemented by a Republican governor in Massachusetts, built upon the pre-existing and functioning insurance markets while attempting to anticipate and short-circuit the looming disaster of health care costs. But, though it is inherently conservative in nature, Republicans have worked nonstop to cripple the Act’s operation because they are no longer conservatives who believe in preserving what works even as they prepare for the future.

The Republicans have become angry and baffled vandals with no aim but to destroy a world which has left them behind, and it’s difficult to imagine the great Republican leaders of times past regarding them with anything but contempt.

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