Paul R. Pillar: Radical Republicans, Then and Now





Paul R. Pillar is director of graduate studies at Georgetown University's Security Studies Program and a former national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia.  He is a contributing editor to The National Interest where he writes a daily blog.
 
President Obama's ripping into Republicans earlier this month for trying to impose a “radical” program on the country drew criticism as being strident and intensely partisan. Whatever one thinks of the president's tone, however, there is no denying that the Republican Party, especially over the past couple of decades, has moved toward the Far Right. We see this in the serial political deaths, disillusionment or marginalization of that endangered species known as the moderate Republican. The next specimen in danger of being shoved aside is Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, facing a challenger in the Republican primary with Tea Party support. The departure of Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, would be a significant loss to well-reasoned Congressional consideration of foreign policy.
 
The New York Times highlights for us a different sort of challenge, but with the same underlying cause, facing presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. As Romney shakes his Etch A Sketch and draws up positions for the general-election campaign, Republicans in the House of Representatives are putting him on notice that they would be uncomfortable with any of that moving-to-the-center stuff. And the House Republicans are making it clear they will assert themselves. “We're not a cheerleading squad,” says Representative Jeff Landry of Louisiana. “We're the conductor. We're supposed to drive the train.”
 
There once were Republicans who welcomed the label "Radical" and applied it to themselves. They first distinguished themselves as being the most ardently antislavery faction of the party. During the Civil War, they became dissatisfied with a president of their own party—Abraham Lincoln—for moving too slowly toward abolition of slavery. The Radicals' center of power was the House of Representatives, where they were led by Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania.
 
The Radicals' real heyday came after the war—especially after the election of 1866, when Radical-dominated Republicans achieved veto-proof majorities in both houses of Congress...


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