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Eric Rauchway, professor of American history at the University of California, Davis, pins the transition to the turn of the 20th century, when a highly influential Democrat named William Jennings Bryan blurred party lines by emphasizing the government's role in ensuring social justice through expansions of federal power — traditionally, a Republican stance.
Republicans didn't immediately adopt the opposite position of favoring limited government. "Instead, for a couple of decades, both parties are promising an augmented federal government devoted in various ways to the cause of social justice," Rauchway wrote in a 2010 blog post for the Chronicles of Higher Education. Only gradually did Republican rhetoric drift to the counterarguments. The party's small-government platform cemented in the 1930s with its heated opposition to the New Deal.
But why did Bryan and other turn-of-the-century Democrats start advocating for big government? According to Rauchway, they, like Republicans, were trying to win the West. The admission of new western states to the union in the post-Civil War era created a new voting bloc, and both parties were vying for its attention.
Democrats seized upon a way of ingratiating themselves to western voters: Republican federal expansions in the 1860s and 1870s had turned out favorable to big businesses based in the northeast, such as banks, railroads and manufacturers, while small-time farmers like those who had gone west received very little. Both parties tried to exploit the discontent this generated, by promising the little guy some of the federal largesse that had hitherto gone to the business sector. From this point on, Democrats stuck with this stance — favoring federally funded social programs and benefits — while Republicans were gradually driven to the counterposition of hands-off government.
Rauchway credits the Democrats’ ideological shift to their ambitions to win the Western votes that were up for grabs in the post-Civil-War era. Much of the Republican federal expansions of the late 1800s had benefited interests in the Northeast—railroad companies, banks,and other big businesses—while small-time farmers in the West received little attention. Republicans and Democrats alike tried to woo Western voters with federal support, but Democrats ultimately stuck to a platform of helping out the “little guy,” while Republicans eventually transitioned to a non-interventionist approach that favored big business.
originally posted by: Gothmog
Not likely. Now the 2 parties are basically known as Conservative and Progressive Liberal . The days of the Good Ol Republicans and the blue collar Democrats that both built this country together are sadly gone and almost forgotten....