We like Ike or “Mommy, What’s a Republican?”

Kudos to Pat LaMarche for reminding us, in her latest book, Daddy, What’s the Middle Class, that Republicans once cared about something other than wealth. LaMarche quotes from a speech President Dwight D.  Eisenhower delivered, early in his first term, to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Washington, D.C. and the nation (through radio and television) entitled, “The Chance for Peace.” Written as the genocidal, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin lay dying, the speech aimed for the hearts and minds of people living behind the Iron Curtain and in the United States. Ike hoped to convince both groups that his administration welcomed a thawing of the Cold War so that nations could spend less on guns and more on butter.

Eisenhower said: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed…This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”

Contrast Eisenhower’s comments on poverty with his Republican descendants:

Maine Governor Paul LePage: Speaking to fellow Republicans in support of his plan to kick as many as 25,000 unemployed Mainers without children off food stamps, the governor reportedly roared, “To all you able-bodied people out there, get off the couch and get yourself a job.” On child labor he said, “I’m all for not allowing a 12-year old to work 40 hours. But a 12-year old working eight to ten hours a week or a 14-year old working twelve to fifteen hours a week is not bad.”

Ronald Reagan: “Whereas once the problem was just welfare queens and strapping young bucks, now it’s the entire middle and lower classes, the lazy union members, the credit card deadbeats, the unemployed so content with their benefits that they don’t look for work.”

George W. Bush: (to a minister working against poverty) “I don’t understand how poor people think.” When Texas officials reported that the Lone Star State again ranked near the top in the number of hungry people, then Governor Bush accused somebody of conspiring with the Clintons to make Texas look bad and hurt his presidential campaign: “I saw the report that children in Texas are going hungry. Where? No children are going to go hungry in this state. You’d think the governor would have heard if there are pockets of hunger in Texas.”

Paul Ryan (Tea party presidential hopeful): “Some say the problem is income inequality. The more the rich make, the less there is for the rest of us–and the harder it is to get ahead. It’s a compelling argument; the only problem is, it’s not true. There’s plenty of evidence that income inequality has little to do with upward mobility. According to the Census Bureau, single parenthood is a key correlate with poverty.”

Mike Lee, Tea Party U.S. Senator (Utah): Only the enabling power of a free-market economy, aided by a civic voluntary sector, higher rates of marriage, and more considered spending, will improve social mobility.”

Mitt Romney (presidential candidate): In a secretly taped private fund-raising session: “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it…These are people who pay no income tax.”

Marco Rubio, U.S. Senate (Florida): “…what’s needed is a plan to help Americans acquire the skills they need to lift themselves out of poverty and to pursue the American Dream [see post: The American Dream was still-born].”

Stephen Fincher, U.S. Representative (Tennessee): Fincher considers welfare programs to feed poor children theft that  goes against the teachings of Jesus. On the floor of the House he said:”One unwilling to work will not eat.” He reminded his fellow representatives of their fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers. “This is other people’s money that Washington is appropriating. [Note: Fincher’s family farm has accepted $3.5 million in farm subsidies over the years.] He voted to cut food stamps.

Note also: Pew and CBS polls show that far more Republicans than Democrats think government should do nothing to reduce income inequality. Jonathan Chait elaborates:  [The Republican agenda] “continues to be premised on the ideas that there is, if anything, too much downward redistribution of wealth, that government shouldn’t interfere in the market by, say, raising the minimum wage, and that safety net programs lull people into dependency.”

That’s what Republicans are saying today. I wonder what Ike would have thought of these folks?



  1. Tom Kelley · November 13, 2014

    These are amazing quotes – but the one I am most fascinated by is Eisenhower’s. Wow. I would love to know what the political response was to this statement. Do you know? Was everyone on board with this? Or were there politicians out there who immediately brought up the Second Amendment and the Free Market and all of that?

    I realize it was quite a different time. It makes me think that if going to war still meant needing massive quantities of bodies and huge death tolls – maybe we’d still have that kind of thinking. I wonder if the sense of coming together and feeling united as a people regardless of “class” that would have been felt after WWII contributed to his thinking. The last time we had that sense of unity was after 9/11, I think, and instead of bringing us together, our President told us to shop. So…there’s a difference.


    • Mark Kelley · November 13, 2014

      I think the social concern was lost as the Soviets geared up for the Cold War and Eisenhower got to work on the post-war strategy of nuclear deterrent. But he apparently didn’t forget what he’d said eight years earlier, given his warning, in his valedictory address to the nation, about the damage that would be done to American society if the military-industrial complex wasn’t reined in. Ike grew up relatively poor. I think he understood the struggles of common people. His biggest gift to the nation was the interstate highway system, but it’s kind of hard to eat or sleep on asphalt. Thanks for your thoughts, my son.


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