Lincoln Would Weep

By E.J. Dionne - May 16, 2011

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In a rational deficit debate, Republicans would call for more spending cuts than Democrats want and also some form of a consumption tax to avoid hikes in levies in income and capital gains. Democrats would insist on fewer cuts and tax increases on income, capital gains and dividends. We'd fight it out, and maybe even find ground for compromise. But as only a few brave Republicans publicly acknowledge, taking all revenues off the table is not a serious position.

This goes to the biggest problem of all. Today's Republicans have totally broken with the party's long commitment to innovative national action: the land-grant colleges, national parks, food and drug regulation, interstate highways and government student loans. The creation of the income tax itself was supported by a good conservative Republican president, William Howard Taft.

Today's GOP is committed to one proposition above all others: Reducing the size of the federal government. In this, Republicans resemble no group so much as conservative Democrats from the 1850s -- minus, it must be said quickly and with gratitude, the shameful position such Democrats took on slavery. Even nullification and secession talk is now in vogue among some Republicans.

Imagine what would happen today to a Republican who said this: "Having never been States, either in substance or in name, outside of the Union, whence this magical omnipotence of ‘State rights' . ... Much is said about the ‘sovereignty' of the States; but the word, even, is not in the national Constitution. ... " Abraham Lincoln spoke those words on July 4, 1861, and believed so much in the national government that he waged a bloody war to save it. Can you imagine any Republican quoting Lincoln on states' rights during the 2012 debates?

What this nation most needs right now is a Republican Party that believes again in its own best traditions. It would be lovely if at least one of the party's presidential candidates stood up for them.

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Copyright 2011, Washington Post Writers Group

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