John Feehery: Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Hamilton and the Republican Party's Woes





[John Feehery worked for the House Republican leadership from 1989 to 2005. He is the founder of The Feehery Group, a strategic advocacy firm, and blogs at www.thefeeherytheory.com.]

Thomas Jefferson, a gentleman farmer, disliked the hustle and bustle of the big cities, distrusted the moneyed interests and New York financiers, and favored the revolutionary spirit of France. Alexander Hamilton, a New Yorker through and through, saw debt as necessary to financial expansion, and in his heart of hearts, appreciated the monarchism of England. Jefferson and Hamilton hated each other, and their antipathy has carried through the ages.

As America matured, the battle lines became more complicated. Proponents of Mr. Hamilton’s love of capitalism moved from the cities to the leafy suburbs. Those who shared Mr. Jefferson’s distrust of financiers often stayed in the country.

Through the years, the states of Virginia and New York assumed the personalities of these two founding fathers. The Old Dominion remained solidly socially conservative throughout the 20th century, first in the Democratic Party, and later in the Republican Party, with Jefferson’s agrarian sensibilities. The Empire State, birthplace of Rockefeller Republicans and Tammany Hall, became much more moderate on social issues and much more oriented to Wall Street.

This past election saw a rare occurrence. Virginia and New York agreed that Republicans were not worthy of their support. Not only did both states vote for Barack Obama. Both states are now dominated by the Democratic Party. Their Senators are all Democrats. Both of their governors are Democrats. Their Congressional delegations have Democratic majorities.

Why did this happen?

My theory is not that the new Democratic Party is so great for either the Hamiltonian financiers or the Jeffersonian populists.

My theory is that Republicans, in their attempts to curry favor with both groups, alienated both instead.

Republicans promoted a free-market philosophy meant to appeal to big business interests. Their economic philosophy is pure Hamilton.

But while trying to stay true to their Hamiltonian roots, they also sought to curry favor with rural America — the Jeffersonians among us. In their efforts to do so, they promoted a socially conservative agenda that alienated many Hamiltonians who now live in the suburbs of both New York and Washington, D.C.

It is not that Republicans have not been responsive to their base constituencies. Indeed, they have been too responsive to their constituencies.

New Yorkers see Republicans and can’t get past their pandering to the religious right. So they voted against their economic interests and supported the Democrats.

Virginians see Republicans and can’t get past their embrace of free-market ideology and their antipathy to building more roads and infrastructure....


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