After Lyndon B. Johnson’s landslide victory in 1964 and during the rush of progressive legislation that followed, Republicans decided they needed to respond with some proposals of their own. It was the high tide of Great Society liberalism, and Johnson had created a vogue for legislative creativity and for national solutions to public problems. Republicans did not want to be left out, and they hoped that some of their ideas might moderate and ultimately stop LBJ’s juggernaut.
Thus arose the movement for Constructive Republican Alternatives. Liberals have always claimed that the original idea was for “Constructive Republican Alternative Policies,” until someone realized how unfortunate the acronym would be. But in truth, the conservative, moderate, and liberal Republicans (there were liberal Republicans then) who put their minds to formulating new policies were a creative bunch. From the liberals at the Ripon Society to the libertarian wing of Young Americans for Freedom to mainstream members of Congress such as Al Quie, Mel Laird, Mac Mathias, and Bob Ellsworth came a torrent of ideas, including a volunteer military; the establishment of revenue sharing with the states, an idea that can be traced back to Henry Clay and the Whigs; the negative income tax, broached early by the conservative economist Milton Friedman; block-granting programs to the states, still popular on the right; and the vogue for tax credits as an alternative to direct government spending, a method Bill Clinton freely applied when the era of big government had supposedly ended. Republicans were also essential to the enactment of the great civil rights and voting rights acts.