Commentary: Party of No’s forgotten legacy of yes


By Dan Carpenter

INDIANAPOLIS – Back in the day, a Republican president pleased tree-huggers, poor folks and the elderly by helping give us food stamps and the Environmental Protection Agency and by advocating national health insurance.

Dan Carpenter is a columnist for and the author of "Indiana Out Loud."

Dan Carpenter is a columnist for and the author of “Indiana Out Loud.”

Commentary button in JPG - no shadowBack in the day, a Republican Indiana governor pleased the teachers’ union by building school reform not on testing and privatization but on lowered class size.

Back in the day, a Republican Indianapolis mayor displeased the Reagan administration by fighting for affirmative action in public safety hiring, inviting derision from Reagan’s black civil rights chief.

Imagine that today – bold, big-government action, requiring heavy public investment, venturing partnership with powerful rival forces, risking alienation from natural allies, and placing pragmatic need ahead of partisan posturing and ideological regimentation.

From the Party of No?

For the landmark efforts of Richard Nixon, Robert Orr and William Hudnut, I’m hearing a big Hell No.

For the record, I voted for none of these men and I harbor especially scant love for Tricky Dick, perpetrator of protracted and secret wars in Southeast Asia, saboteur of Latin American democracy, strategic stoker of racial hatred in the United States, arch-villain of Watergate and the political prostitution of government that it represented.

But when he was good, he was astonishing. Nixon, on his occasional breaks from screwing real and perceived personal enemies, showed a remarkably bias-free ability to take a managerial idea and run with it – or at least to recognize its momentum and get on board.

The EPA came along when writers such as Rachel Carson were telling apocalyptic truth and urban rivers were catching fire; bad for babies, bad for business. Food stamps were a farm subsidy as well as a no-brainer weapon in the new and compelling war on poverty. Medicare, that demon of socialized medicine, had quickly shape-shifted into a guardian angel of the elderly, a boon to doctors, a crackerjack Republican problem-solver.

You can say today that the essentials haven’t changed. The daring thinking has been vindicated, the justifications remain, the man on the right was right.

It’s true as well of Orr’s A-Plus program, which tackled the 800-pound gorilla of too many kids with too many needs in our classrooms. It’s true of diversity in city hiring, which Hudnut and his visionary predecessor Richard Lugar knew to be vital to Uni-Gov’s world-class aspirations as well as a matter of simple justice.

Republicans. Who does these things any more? Food stamps? A partisan weapon wielded with appalling indifference to the human collateral damage. National health care? They pray it won’t go, and pour sand in the gas tank to make sure. Government oversight of air, water and soil quality? Economics and health are the bottom-line reasons for the EPA, yet the GOP can only chant of “job-killing regulation.”

Class size? Today’s corporate-owned GOP (and Democrat) “reformers” won’t even let you go there. An “excuse.” Like poverty. Like any issue in education that might imply the need for spending by the world’s wealthiest nation.

More minority and female police and firefighters? What police and firefighters? In defense of Greg Ballard, this Republican mayor gets precious little help from his friends in the Statehouse – financially, that is. Politically, they aggrandize him every chance they get. So it goes, a long way from back in the day.

To borrow from Ronald Reagan, who pretty much started the turnaround that all of us, Republican and Democrat and Otherwise, have to live with, let us ask: Are you better off?

Dan Carpenter is a freelance writer, contributor to Indianapolis Business Journal and the author of “Indiana Out Loud.”


  1. Back in the day our nation wasn’t running a $1.5 trillion “investment.” Back in the day the part you liked about Nixon is the part creating that “investment.” Back in the day Reagan ended Carter’s hostage crisis and stagflation. Back in the day the idea was to help people off food stamps not increase the number depending on them.

    • Reagan ended “Carter’s” crisis by trading weapons with terrorists. A real hero.

      • Did he? I don’t remember him being convicted of that. The hostages were released because the terrorist feared Reagan. Of course he should have handled it like Obama handled Benghazi, sleep through it.

        • Turn off the Fox News and let Benghazi go! You had probably never even heard of the place before the embassy attack.

          • What does Fox News have to do with Benghazi? Anyone who says let it go is a Democrat shill, a fool, or, worse, a heartless Ostrich.

          • I don’t watch FOX or listen Rush. I don’t even have cable. Turn off MSNBC and demand accountability. You probably never heard of it either until our embassy was attacked.

          • Was Bush held responsible for the 30 Americans dead at embassies during his presidency? Look buddy, there’s enough hate for Obama that if there were a Benghaxi smoking gun they would’ve used it.

          • West Texas Chemical Explosion

            16 Dead ZERO House investigations by Issa, Zero indictments. ZERO outrage by the RW media. Even GOP state reps in Texas told to stand down regarding their demands for an investigation.

            Why?? Rich white corporate republicans were involved. Obama and Hillary can’t have conspiracy theories thrown at them.

            RW selective outrage on display for all the world to see.

            IT’S ALL POLITICAL.

            The don’t give a tinker’s damn about the four at Benghazi.

          • @ Ghost, did Bush decline sending aid and go to bed?

            @ Brains, was Bush warned that the chemical plant was exploding?

            “The don’t give a tinker’s damn about the four at Benghazi.”

            If you gave a “thinkers damn” you would care about Benghazi…or if it had been a republican administration

          • So what news channel “should” we watch that would be acceptable to you? I know, anything but them I’m sure especially if its MSNBC or CNN or, or.

            The sad part of your comment is the willingness to put the death of American citizens below where a person gets their news.

          • Yep, terrorism is ok with republicans as long as it’s done in the name of corporate profits. I’d be interested to hear what’s happened with the families of those killed at that plant. I’m sure they were quickly given some hush money and intimidated into not talking to the media, like anyone would cover it. The liberal media is a myth.

      • He then essentially pled senility, an appropriate response in his case, to escape penalty for his administration’s gun running.

        The Republicans of a few years ago are not like what’s running around screeching now. The current crop are all RINOs when compared with some of the GOP statesmen of the past.

  2. The EPA did a lot of good in the first 20 years. But since then it’s has traded that good with a typical bureaucratic power grab and is now hurting good people as much as stopping the bad guys. Today, it’s just another tool to stop people from using their property in pursuit of a progressive dream of no new economic development.

    • Translation. I don’t like them actually enforcing the law on our corporate friends.

  3. @ Ghost ” Look buddy, there’s enough hate for Obama that if there were a Benghazi smoking gun they would’ve used it.”

    Look buddy, Obama was elected in a wave of popularity which has evaporated so much that if it was water it would not fill a cat’s dish for a day. So did the majority of voters suddenly become bigots, or is his unpopularity due to his failures like Benghazi?

    • Purely bunk reasoning. Obama has no failures because it is or was Bush’s fault, all the Republican presidents prior and Congress. Why else would he threaten to violate the Constitution saying in effect he has a pen and executive orders? That’s tyranny by the way. You see a Democrat President cannot fail, ever. Any disagreement results in being called a racist, bible thump-er, gun nut, anti this and anti that.

      Frankly, yeah. There have been past Republican presidents making some less than constitutional decisions and other questionable acts. But I don’t live in that past and only use it as a guide. We cannot undo many of those actions but there are some than can be undone, like laws and executive orders.

      Obama had and still has the opportunity for such actions like pressing for the repeal of the Patriot Act, some thing he railed against as a Senator and placed the blame on Bush. But what has he done? Expanded it.

      As for the cat’s dish, that’s about as much honest discussion you can have before the pro-Obama’s resort to deflection-ary (I know its not a word but sounds good) tactics. Obama’s evaporated popularity is well deserved. Its so sad that it had to take this long.

      • Yeah, and my reason for pointing that out was that if there were any substance to the Benghazi conspiracy theories there’d be more than just fringe radicals calling for impeachment. So let it go.

        • Then you have not been paying attention to attempts by Congress to get answers; being stonewalled by the executive branch, various people pleading the 5th and stymied much of the way helps Obama and his lot hide that smoking gun.

      • +1 I have had to create many new words to describe the assaults by the liberal utopia seekers.

  4. Just another “Back to Dewey” post from someone who wouldn’t vote for the “Democrat light” brand of Republicans he is telling us all to remember. We’ve tried that “Dewey” brand of candidate the last two presidential elections and its done us loads of good.

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