Drehle quoted Gettysburg College professor and Lincoln scholar Gabor Boritt, who has focused heavily on Lincoln’s economic views from the time he was in the Illinois state legislatures to his time as president, in what Borritt called Lincoln’s belief in the “right to rise,” similar to the modern conservative view of upward mobility.
Zak argues in his book that the modern welfare state undermines individual initiative to the point it essentially creates a “permanent underclass.” Even some Democrats – namely former President Bill Clinton – have conceded Democratic welfare programs became a trap for the poor.
“Property is the fruit of labor -- property is desirable -- is a positive good in the world,” President Lincoln said in a March 21, 1864 letter. “That some should be rich, shows that others may become rich, and hence is just encouragement to industry and enterprise.”
Someone who would be a Democrat today almost certainly wouldn’t make such a statement.
Nor would a Democrat today say, “I take it that it is best for all to leave each man free to acquire property as fast as he can. Some will get wealthy. I don’t believe in a law to prevent a man from getting rich; it would do more harm than good. So while we do not propose any war upon capital, we do wish to allow the humblest man an equal chance to get rich with everybody else.” Yet Lincoln said this before he was president during a March 6, 1860 speech in New Haven, Conn.
This basic philosophy about freedom and free markets is ignored by partisan historians, Zak said.
“Historians such as Doris Kearns Goodwin are acting as partisan Democrats when they claim that the parties have switched,” Zak said in an interview. “They can’t defend decades of Democrat villainy, so instead they smash and grab Republican achievements. I resent just as strongly Republican willingness to let Democrats get away with it.”
Republican revisionism doesn’t end with Lincoln. Last year was filled with liberal commentators and even a few establishment Republicans – Jeb Bush included – declaring that Ronald Reagan would never be nominated in today’s Republican Party. This is an indication that Reagan’s standing in history is no longer a matter of partisan dispute. It’s also a likely intermediary to the media and academia one day declaring “Reagan would be a Democrat today.”
“Ronald Reagan’s greatest strength, even more than his communications ability, was understanding that in their quest for power, Democrats would say anything,” Zak said. “Just as Democrats are trying to claim Lincoln as one of their own, it would be no surprise for them one day to claim Reagan too.”
Applying current circumstances to the past is tricky. For instance, would the founders who favored a Constitution (with a functional federal government) over the Articles of Confederation (with virtually no federal government) thus favor the massive federal leviathan of today? Doubtful.
Of course there is no way to know absolutely if Lincoln – or for that matter Reagan – would be Republicans today any more than we can know if the tax-cutting, hawkish John F. Kennedy would be a Democrat today. We can only make a logical deduction about political affiliations. But as long as the left keeps insisting every successful president was one of theirs, it’s fair for the right to respond with inconvenient history.