Sharp Right Turn

The Republican Party was founded this day 1854 at a schoolhouse in Ripon, Wisconsin, where “a small group of dedicated abolitionists gathered to fight the expansion of slavery, and they gave birth to a Party dedicated to freedom and equal opportunity” (quoted from the GOP website). In The Party Is Over (2012), longtime Republican congressional staffer Mike Lofgren argues that after a century and a half the GOP has suddenly turned against itself and its first, best principles:

After the 2008 election, Republican politicians became more and more intransigently dogmatic. They doubled down on advancing policies that transparently favored the top 1 percent of earners in this country while obstructing measures such as the extension of unemployment insurance. They seemed to want to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted in the middle of the worst economic meltdown in eighty years.…. I watched with a mixture of fascination and foreboding as my party was hijacked by a new crop of opportunists and true believers hell-bent on dragging the country into their jerry-built New Jerusalem: an upside-down utopia in which corporations rule; the Constitution, like science, is faith-based; and war is the first, not the last, resort in foreign policy.

But true to his subtitle, “How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted,” Lofgren is bipartisan in his criticism:

Do Democrats offer a sane alternative? The explanation is more complicated, but the answer is, finally, no. They have not become an extremist party like the GOP — their politicians do not match the current crop of zanies who infest the Republican Party — but their problem lies in the opposite direction. It is not that they are fanatics or zealots; it is that most do not appear to believe in anything very strongly.

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at