Friday, December 02, 2005

Invasion of the body-snatchers

I was going to write something about the moral disintegration of the Republican Party, the astonishing spectacle of the party of Lincoln becoming, in the past 40 years, an unholy alliance of political Stalinists, greed-maddened looters, crypto-racists, and religious bottom-feeders who seem to be in equal parts inspired by Elmer Gantry, John Calvin, and Rasputin; all of whom in their daily work of destroying America owe more to Joseph Goebbels and Leni Riefenstahl than to the author of the Gettysburg address or to Teddy Roosevelt's square deal or Dwight Eisenhower's straight-arrow concerns about a military-industrial complex.

It's like some kind of cheesy horror movie where main-street citizens are eaten from the inside by aliens, becoming a ghastly and menacing semblance of their former selves.

So--just to refresh my memory of what Republicanism used to be--I was looking at some of the words of Teddy Roosevelt, which, if they were were served up without attribution to your average Republican today, would be as well received as the opening lines of the Communist Manifesto.

But I got sidetracked by actually listening to TR's voice. Some of his speeches were in fact recorded. I had never heard them. It's almost shocking to hear a voice from 90 or 95 years ago, words normally available only from the written page. I got really fascinated by his accent, which would be unplaceable today. TR was raised in New York City, and the only way you can hear that in his recorded words is in the way he pronounced words like "first" and "turned" as foist and toined. But otherwise his speech is really impossible to place among present-day American regional accents. He often rolled his r's like a lowland Scot, and some of his diphthongs sounded more British than American. (If you go to the web page I linked to, beware of the "transcriptions" of these speeches--the transcriber was even more perplexed by the sounds he was hearing than I was.)

But thank god speech does not get transformed as rapidly as ideology, or we would not be able to understand, or even recognize, a syllable of his remarks.

This is what Republicans used to stand for.

As a people we cannot afford to let any group of citizens or any individual citizen live or labor under conditions which are injurious to the common welfare. Industry, therefore, must submit to such public regulation as will make it a means of life and health, not of death or inefficiency. We must protect the crushable elements at the base of our present industrial structure.
We stand for a living wage. Wages are subnormal if they fail to provide a living for those who devote their time and energy to industrial occupations. The monetary equivalent of a living wage varies according to local conditions, but must include enough to secure the elements of a normal standard of living--a standard high enough to make morality possible, to provide for education and recreation, to care for immature members of the family, to maintain the family during periods of sickness, and to permit a reasonable saving for old age.
Hours are excessive if they fail to afford the worker sufficient time to recuperate and return to his work thoroughly refreshed.
We wish to control big business so as to secure among other things good wages for the wage-workers and reasonable prices for the consumers. We will not submit to the prosperity that is obtained by lowering the wages of working men and charging an excessive price to consumers, nor to that other kind of prosperity obtained by swindling investors or getting unfair advantages over business rivals.

--Theodore Roosevelt, various speeches

Imagine George Bush uttering these words. But you can't imagine that, can you?

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