The name the “Radical Republicans” has been taken and is now retired like the No. 42 that baseball legend Jackie Robinson wore. The radicals were noble politicians, who pushed valiantly before and after the Civil War for full civil rights for black people.
Sadly, the nation failed to heed these prophets crying in the desert of racial oppression. If it had, the gains the 1960s civil rights movement made would have come a century earlier. Still, the radicals’ vision haunted the nation and helped inspire the 1960s movement.
No, “Radical Republicans” is too honored a name to describe the current crop of "hell-no" Republicans in Congress. A more apt term for politicians eager to plunge the nation into financial ruin if they don't get their way without compromise: "Crazy Republicans."
Maybe, crazy is what you get when you court folk who despise the Radicals' vision, as the Republican Party did in a pact it made with the devil.
The Democratic Party had a fateful choice to make in the 1960s. Would it side with the civil rights movement or the resistance to civil rights, with its Negro base or its white Southern base? Jack Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson came down on the side of equality for all, alienating white supremacists, South and North.
The Republican Party went after those disenchanted voters with a passion, promising – in code, of course – to keep black people in their place. This "Southern strategy" turned the South from solid Democratic to solid Republican and enabled the GOP to form majorities to win elections.
Now the party is paying the price for selling its soul. It dangled intolerance and fear to draw new voters. So, not surprisingly, intolerance and fear are now a major part of the Republican base, which had fits when a black man was elected president.
The base staged tantrums and demanded its country back and called itself the Tea Party. It lashed out at President Obama, calling him simultaneously and contradictorily a Muslim and the disciple of a mad Christian preacher; a Communist and a Nazi. The base questioned the president's citizenship, pooh-poohing even notices of his birth in Honolulu newspapers at the time he was born.
The Republican base's vitriol, born of the Southern strategy, also shows in its opposition to immigration, gay rights and "big government."
The problem for the party is that the Southern strategy is not the winner it once was. It used to be that the strategy gained far more in white votes than it lost in black votes. No longer. The white share of the electorate is shrinking; the non-white share is expanding.
Karl Rove (President Bush's brain) recognized that fact and tried to push comprehensive immigration reform to woo Hispanics. But the GOP base blocked that move. And Hispanic support for the Republican Party dropped.
Not that the base cares. The vituperative base views any compromise as betrayal, whatever the consequences.So presidential candidate Mitt Romney is forced to downplay his singular achievement as Massachusetts governor: health care reform. And Republicans in Congress are barred from making concessions that would raise taxes on the rich just modestly even though that's what the country wants.
The GOP finds itself in a policy straitjacket that will hamper the party in winning elections – a straitjacket the party weaved for itself out of intolerance and fear.