Posted by: JanF | September 14, 2010

‘Reasonable Republican’ Wasn’t Always an Oxymoron

Today’s post is from the way-back machine. Circa 1950 to be specific (oh, wait, “circa” means “kinda sorta”…hardly specific. Sorry).

A fascinating story out of New Hampshire caught my eye over the weekend:

Republican Senate candidate Bill Binnie entered the New Hampshire senate race to “add my voice to economic challenges” as a self-described fiscal conservative who believes in a woman’s right to choose. According to Binnie, his pro-choice stance invited “over 1,000 pieces of mail” and threatening phone calls to his home. “We don’t answer our phone anymore,” he said.

In defending his pro-choice stance, he said, “I believe that the individual has the final say, not the government, in terms of how we live our lives.” He added, “There is a fight in my party for individual rights and what it means to be a Republican.” But as the GOP shifts towards a more radical stance, he says “it is a challenge” to “stand in a Republican primary” when the party “has morphed into parts that I don’t recognize”.

What Rip Van Winkle Mr. Binnie fails to recognize is that this morphing has been happening for about 60 years and has finally reached critical mass with the ascendancy of the Tea Party movement. The moderate wing of the Republican party is now two Senators from Maine and one endangered congressman from Delaware and there is no one left to keep the Republican party from toppling off the right-edge of the precipice they are standing on.

A few weeks ago, blogger DBunn made this outstanding comment in reply to a fellow blogger who announced that he had been asked by the president of the local Democratic Club to join a brunch panel discussing “why we are Democrats”:

My dentist surprised me by announcing during my last visit that he had been a Republican his whole life, but no more. I believe he used the words “Those people are crazy now.”

[…] this suggests a new reason for why we are Democrats– and why every reasonable, well-balanced person should be. I’m wondering how it might sound coming from a panelist such as yourself. Of course, you’d have to use somewhat moderate language, but I think the point could still be made. I’m imagining a statement something like this:

“I’ve been a Democrat my whole life, for the usual reasons: I wanted to carry on the traditions of FDR and JFK, to stand up for the little guy, to give everyone a fair shot regardless of the circumstance of their birth, and yes, to provide an adequate safety net for when we get old, get sick, or get knocked down by economic turbulence, all while keeping America prosperous and strong. During most of my life, I felt that Republicans wanted those things too– maybe not quite as much (laugh line), maybe they’d try to do it a little different way, but basically we were working together on the same project. Republicans and Democrats were both seeing mostly the same problems, were both sincere in wanting to solve them, and were both in general agreement that solutions needed to come from the realm of reality. Those were the days when bi-partisanship was actually possible on occasion, and government worked pretty well for the people and the country as a whole.

What changed?

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry to have to say this, but what’s different today is that over the last 15 years or so the Republican Party at the national level, and in many states and localities as well, and especially in its latest “Tea Party” incarnation, has run completely off the rails. It has been shocking and deeply disturbing to watch. The change has been so radical, and so profoundly irrational, that one feels almost rude to mention it, to call it by name. But we have come to the point where it would be irresponsible not to do so.

Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t want to be impolite, I want to be respectful, but it must be said: the Republican Party of today has seriously lost its way. I know this pains many lifelong Republicans, pains them deeply. I feel their pain (laugh line), and I share it, I truly do. I feel that we Democrats have lost our governing partner. We have lost our long-time, responsible debate opponent, with whom we had disagreements to be sure, but who loved this country as much as we do, believed in American values and governing traditions as much as we do, and was willing to work with us to make a better life possible for all Americans, regardless of which party was in the lead.

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s take an honest look at the Republican Party of today. What is important to them? What do they believe, and not believe? In this age of global warming and the looming climate crisis, they deny that it is even happening, but instead seek more giveaways for their friends in Big Oil and Big Coal. In the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, they want to cut off unemployment benefits to honest, hardworking American families. In the wake of the financial crash caused by weak regulation and feeble oversight, they want even less regulation and less oversight. In a time of the greatest wealth and income inequality in the entire history of our nation, they want even more tax breaks for the richest one-tenth of one percent, to be paid for by cuts to Social Security, education, health care, and all the other services that might possibly be of use to ordinary Americans. As our health care system crumbles around us, every single Republican in the Senate voted against a rather moderate health care reform bill. With the economy in ruins, all the Republican Party seems to want to talk about is Obama’s birth certificate and some mosque at Ground Zero– which by the way isn’t really a mosque, isn’t really at Ground Zero, but is entirely within the boundaries of settled law and the proudest American traditions, including First Amendment rights, property rights, religious tolerance, and embrace of diversity.

I could go on to recite the whole list, but you get the idea. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to tell you that today’s Republican Party apparently has no idea of what problems we need to work on, much less any clue as to how to solve them. Gay marriage did not cause your job to move to China. A woman’s right to control her own reproduction is not why tens of millions of our fellow citizens have lost their homes to bank foreclosures. Latino immigration is not the cause of our over-dependence on imported oil. Smaller government and more guns will not help us one bit in the fight against global warming.

We live in a great country, the greatest ever in my opinion, and I couldn’t be prouder to be an American. But we need more than pride, more than love of country. We need clear minds, a positive attitude, a bit of good will, and we need to be honest about what’s really happening in the world and what we really need to do in order to avoid the pitfalls and seize the opportunities. Change is in the air, we can all feel it– but what kind of change is not yet clear. That is in the future, a future we must create, and government will have an important role to play. Not government as today’s Republican Party would have us picture it– as some kind of Big Daddy telling us what to do, or alternatively an Indulgent Mommy spoiling us and making us weak– but government as We the People working together, pooling our strength, coordinating our energies, so that we can solve together, as a united body politic, a whole class of problems that can’t and won’t be solved solely by individual choice and disparate actions. For that, we need leaders in government who are capable, aware, and willing to work together for individual opportunity within a context of the general welfare, the common good, and the betterment of the nation.

And for that kind of leadership, ladies and gentlemen, I respectfully submit that in today’s political scene, the Democratic Party is the only realistic and responsible choice. That is why I am a Democrat. And that is why I am asking all of you to join me, to join with each other, to elect more Democrats and better Democrats. ”

[Used by permission. Emphasis is mine.]

I had been one of those “reasonable Republicans” for many years (the Republican due to being born into a Republican household…the reasonable… well, because I am!) so I understand what DBunn was talking about. I am also aware that for some of those under 30 years old is it possible to have lived your entire lifetime without ever encountering a reasonable Republican.

The same week that DBunn’s dentist was wondering what happened to his party, a column by Timothy Egan bemoaned the creation of a nation of Know Nothings:

It’s not just that 46 percent of Republicans believe the lie that Obama is a Muslim, or that 27 percent in the party doubt that the president of the United States is a citizen. But fully half of them believe falsely that the big bailout of banks and insurance companies under TARP was enacted by Obama, and not by President Bush.

Take a look at Tuesday night’s box score in the baseball game between New York and Toronto. The Yankees won, 11-5. Now look at the weather summary, showing a high of 71 for New York. The score and temperature are not subject to debate.

Yet a president’s birthday or whether he was even in the White House on the day TARP was passed are apparently open questions. A growing segment of the party poised to take control of Congress has bought into denial of the basic truths of Barack Obama’s life. What’s more, this astonishing level of willful ignorance has come about largely by design, and has been aided by a press afraid to call out the primary architects of the lies.

And in a moment of perfect synchronicity, more evidence of the existence of reasonable Republicans came by way of a historical reminder.

Monday was the anniversary of Margaret Chase Smith’s election as the first woman US Senator and that event sent me to my Googles. While there, I was reminded that this is not the first time that crazy people hijacked the Republican party.

It turns out that Margaret Chase Smith is also famous for a speech she gave called the “Declaration of Conscience” about the “tone” of the Republican party during the height of McCarthyism. She was, above all, a Republican as she called for a Republican victory in the 1950 elections but added this:

… to displace it with a Republican regime embracing a philosophy that lacks political integrity or intellectual honesty would prove equally disastrous to this nation. The nation sorely needs a Republican victory. But I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny — Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear.

I doubt if the Republican Party could — simply because I don’t believe the American people will uphold any political party that puts political exploitation above national interest“.

Wow. She could have been talking about today’s Tea Party GOP. And, like Bill Binnie, she would probably not have recognized what the current Republican party has morphed into. But I am afraid that in these times her hopeful phrase “I don’t believe the American people will uphold any political party that puts political exploitation above national interest“ has been proven to be a very old-fashioned sentiment.

History repeated itself in the early 1960’s when the John Birch Society tried to align itself more closely with the GOP. But then, as now, they ran completely off the rails with beliefs like this by the founder, Robert Welch:

He said Dwight D. Eisenhower was a “dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy,” and that the government of the United States was “under operational control of the Communist party.” It was, he said in the summer of 1961, “50-70 percent” Communist-controlled. He added: “With regard to … Eisenhower, it is difficult to avoid raising the question of deliberate treason.”

It was only by virtue of the intervention of William F. Buckley, who recognized crazy when he saw it, that they were not able to take control of the Republican party. That speed bump now appears to simply have delayed the inevitable as the Tea Party and the Birchers do not seem to have much daylight between them and actually appear to have many of the same sponsors.

I wonder if it might not be time to reach out to whatever is left of the Margaret Chase Smith Republican party and say “Hey, you guys, have you thought about joining with us to get rid of the scourge of the Tea Party movement and the parts of your party that seem to careen out of control and head to the right ditch every few generations? Do you have enough respect for the traditions of your party (Rockefeller Republicans, Eisenhower Republicans) to turn away from the new McCarthyism and John Birchism?

Our common nation, in the throes of a Great Recession, could benefit from all of its citizens recommitting to the American values as outlined in DBunn’s speech.

Perhaps this is a good time for Republicans to reflect on why their party keeps going back to the same themes…Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear. And to turn away from it once and for all so that it can’t keep coming back and hijacking that which is sensible in American political discourse.

I don’t expect that to be possible given the last 40 years of me-firstism that the Republican party personifies. But I would hope they take a moment to stop and reflect because there is something larger at stake here.

Reasonable Republicans need to stop the crazy train known as the Tea Party and, like DBunn’s dentist, send them a message. No, you can’t be crazy and expect to get my vote. No, you can’t be hateful and expect to get my vote. I am going to vote Democratic to send the Tea Party GOP a message: if you want a two party system, act like a political party and not a clown car or (to include all forms of transportation in my metaphor frappe) a kamikaze pilot with his plane aimed right at the ship of state.


(A version of this was originally posted on 09/14/2010 at BPI Campus)

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