Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Gilded Age Republicans, Mugwumps and the sheer manliness of Vladimir Putin

Ugh. Humidity and insane World Cup fans have been cutting into my sleeping. Daytime constuction keeps me from catching up, so I might as well jump in and do some more reading.


So, two more essays from The Gilded Age. The first one, "The Workers' Search for Power" by Herbert G. Gutman, is informative, but not really necessary in the revisionist sense that this collection originally had. His main argument is that workers and unions made great strides and were victorious across the country in the rural, small town areas. Local residents and law enforcement would give striking workers support that they couldn't get in the large cities. Apparently, when this was written, the popular view was that of Union workers constantly being squashed by the powerful business owners. Perhaps it still is, and I've just read too much history on Wobblies and such.

The next essay, "Reform Thought and the Genteel Tradition" by Geoffrey Blodgett, I found more informative. It's an interesting overview of the leading reformers of that generation. They had joined the Republican party full of optimism and ideas, but weren't very good at being politicians.
In a roistering, muscular age which vaunted rugged manliness, the reformers' insistence on propriety stamped them as the "third sex" of American politics. Party spokesmen dismissed them as "political hermaphrodites," "eunuchs," "man-milliners," and "miss-Nancys." The smirking phrases sustained a vicious insult: the liberal reformers became the gelded men of the Gilded Age.
Nothing has really changed after a hundred years or so. The current President is often called out for not being a "strong leader" without the "stomach" for politics while the Republican leaders fight to be perceived as Alpha as possible, even to the point where they hold Vladimir Putin up as an example of the ideal leader.

Manly! (Daily Mail)

Of course, the reformers were faced with a generation of young Republicans that weren't as idealistic or hesitant about getting their hands dirty. The anti-intellectual Mugwumps would set up their own rival machines to the Democratic ones, and even vote for Cleveland when they thought he would advance their policy. Today's young GOPers, of course, tend to call themselves Tea Party members, again building local voting machines, chastising "liberal intellectuals" while siding in some ways with Democrats more than Republicans. It remains to be seen, however, if right-wing grassroots activists would go so far as to abandon their own presidential candidate entirely.

What seemed like an abrupt convergence of the grass-roots revolution in political leadership with the revolution of priorities in national politics deeply disturbed the cosmopolitan elite. Congress faced a critical new era innocent of expertise or relevant knowledge of the past. "The class from which our public men are drawn, " [Edwin] Godkin lamented, "are perhaps less given to study or reflection than any other in the community. They are generally men of quick sympathies, fond of crowds, fond of moving audiences, and to whom readiness of tongue is the highest of gifts."

Amen. Remember kids, read your history or end up repeating it!

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