Originally formed in 1852 as the party of freedom, from the graft and corruption during the Civil War and Reconstruction period, the Republican Party quickly became the party of wealth and privilege. But this new status presented one major problem: this super-affluent contingency together didn’t command enough votes to elect a dogcatcher. Votes from other, often disparate, groups had to be attracted to win elections

In the era immediately following the Civil War the GOP was able to dominate U.S. politics by “waving the bloody shirt.” This was an open appeal to voters who had remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War. They were continually reminded that it was the southern Democrats who seceded from the Union to preserve slavery and later resisted Republican efforts to restore the Union. By this strategy the Republicans were able to effectively control U.S. politics from Reconstruction times to the end of the 19th century and beyond. During this era the Democrats elected only one president, Grover Cleveland, for two separate terms, 1885-89 and 1893-97. And other than the two-term administration of Woodrow Wilson (1913-21) the GOP dominated the White House up until New Deal times. But that’s only half the story.

Shortly after the Civil War an informal coalition was formed, known as the “Unholy Alliance,” of northern conservative Republicans and southern segregationist Democrats. By unspoken agreement the southerners would vote with the Republicans on fiscal, economic and labor issues. In turn the Republicans would either vote with the southern Democrats on legislation involving racial segregation or absent themselves when such issues came to a vote. This cozy arrangement lasted until the 1960s and the passage of the civil and voter rights acts.

The passage of President Lyndon Johnson’s 1960s civil rights bills caused a wholesale defection of southern Democrats to the Republican Party. But the net effect of this “Big Switcheroo” was hardly noticed politically since the southern “Dixiecrats” had been mostly voting with the GOP for almost a century anyway.

To retain control Republican strategists have been able to influence southerners and Pennsylvania and Midwestern blue-collar folks with religious and social concerns rather than purely pocketbook issues. Many Americans who have been political allies in the past are fierce rivals today. Recent studies show these people to be more concerned with race, immigration, abortion and other sexual identification issues than the ever-widening income gap between the nation’s rich and poor, the federal deficit, or the emerging tariff war.

To maintain their recently-gained control over the blue-collar voters the GOP has promised a reversal of the Roe v Wade Supreme Court abortion decision, the restoral of the right to conduct religious activities on public facilities and the reversal of gay and lesbian rights laws and court decisions.

But here are the facts.

From recent court decisions the separation of church and state has, if anything, gained new strength and acceptance and has become more inclusive. The Roe v Wade abortion decision is still on the books despite new state laws to the contrary and state legislature representatives playing to their base. And judging from recent news releases, gays and lesbians seem to be gaining new rights and acceptance almost daily. What does this all mean? It means somebody’s been had. I wonder who?

George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at reed1600@bellsouth.net.

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