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Not Your Grandfather’s Democratic Party

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By Mark Hendrickson

I wonder how many voters under, say, 40, realize how far removed from traditional American political values today’s Democrats are?

Those listening to this week’s third round of debates between aspirants to the Democratic presidential nomination are unlikely to hear anything remotely similar to ideas that leaders of both parties used to believe in.

Below, you can read a collection of ten statements—some of them undoubtedly familiar to you—made by leading political figures in U.S. history. The values embodied in these statements were not really expressions of Republican values or Democratic values; they were simply American values. They were shared and cherished by overwhelming majorities of Americans of both parties over the span of many generations.

If you find yourself tending to recoil from the ideas expressed in the statements cited next, then you have been taught contrary values, or you are, at the very least, unfamiliar with the political and ethical values that they describe. You should be aware, though, that if your grandparents or great-grandparents had already immigrated to the United States, chances are, these were their values.

Here they are:

  1. “I think … that we have more machinery of government than is necessary, too many parasites living on the labor of the industrious.”
  2. “If we can but prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people, under the pretence [sic] of taking care of them, they must become happy.”
  3. “Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth cannot be produced by human institutions.”
  4. “The less government interferes with private pursuits, the better for general prosperity.”
  5. “Though the people support the Government, the Government should not support the people.”
  6. “High rates of income and profits taxes discourage energy, remove the incentive to new enterprise, encourage extravagant expenditures, and produce industrial stagnation with consequent unemployment and other attendant evils.”
  7. “We are spending altogether too much money for government services which are neither practical nor necessary. In addition to this, we are attempting too many functions.”
  8. “Democracy is, first and foremost, a spiritual force, it is built upon a spiritual basis—and on a belief in God and an observance of moral principle. And in the long run only the church can provide that basis.” “Our religious faith gives us the answer to the false beliefs of Communism [including socialism].”
  9. “The rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.”
  10. “The federal government’s most useful role is not to rush into a program of excessive increases in public expenditures, but to expand the incentives and opportunities for private expenditures.”

The themes of limited government, individual rights, and faith in deity run through these statements. By the way, I wrote above that all of the statements I was going to quote were made by famous Americans. Indeed, they were famous. All were former presidents of the United States. And not only were they all presidents, they were all Democrats.

The first two, which warned of a large and intrusive government, came from Thomas Jefferson when the federal government was only a minuscule fraction of its current size.

Andrew Jackson was the author of the third, in which he rejected the egalitarian error common on the left today that “justice” means material “equality.”

The fourth was Martin Van Buren’s warning about government interference in the economy.

The fifth was from a famous veto issued by Grover Cleveland, who repeatedly vetoed progressive bills that bestowed privileges on select citizens at the expense of the rule of law.

The sixth—sounding so very much like Ronald Reagan’s supply-side economic philosophy—belongs to Woodrow Wilson. Indeed, it seems out of character considering the way Wilson governed, but at least he acknowledged an important economic truth.

The seventh, with its warnings about government waste and government attempting to do more than it is capable of doing, was uttered by none other than Franklin Roosevelt.

The eighth came from the famously blunt Harry Truman, who would never be mistaken for a right-wing evangelical Christian. This statement simply reflected the dominant belief that in the battle with secular ideologies, faith in deity would prevail over atheistic belief systems such as communism and its economic component, socialism.

The last two—reiterating the primacy of our God-given rights and the superiority of the private sector, consisting of free individuals, over government control over economic activity—are statements of John F. Kennedy.

Somehow, I don’t think any of those former Democratic presidents would be welcome in today’s Democratic Party, much less stand a chance of being the party’s presidential nominee.

In stark contrast to these traditional American precepts, today’s Democratic presidential candidates call for a massive expansion of government power and spending. They want a powerful paternal state to be in charge of jobs, health care, standards of living, and major industries—an overtly socialistic agenda.

For today’s Democrats, faith in government has supplanted faith in God. They believe that government should wage a war against nature and make us all more equal to each other in the name of “progress.”

Ladies and gentlemen, what you will see and hear in the Sept. 12 debate is in no way, shape, or form your grandfather’s Democratic Party.

Mark Hendrickson, an economist, recently retired from the faculty of Grove City College, where he remains a fellow for economic and social policy at the Institute for Faith & Freedom.

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