Current Issues

Attacking all Republicans?

Posted on October 1, 2014

A couple of readers of my blog objected to something I recently wrote.  The offending passage was:

As our country becomes more Latino, we see institutional racism at work there too and particularly in the immigration debate. We now see some of the worst racist and xenophobic tendencies this country has ever exhibited, especially from Republican and Tea Party zealots who pander to those far right sensibilities in order to win primary elections.

Someone claimed I was offending 50% of the country and I feel I should clarify.  When I used “zealots,” I really did mean “zealots.”  That is, the far right and extreme wing of the Republican Party, that wing that panders to the Tea Party for support.  This is the group with whom Karl Rove (hardly a centrist Republican) has been doing battle.  This is the group that John Boehner (actually more of a centrist in his best days) has battled, usually in the fights with then Majority Leader Cantor and other self-dubbed Young Guns.

These are Republicans who were willing to let the United States go into default on our debt.  Who were willing to let the country go bankrupt in a fight over Obamacare.  This is the segment of the party to whom Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said, “stop being the stupid party” around social issues and immigration.

Because primary races demand politicians play to the far wings of the party, the extremism of the Republican right has pulled the whole party in that direction.  It hasn’t always been so.  For example, Richard Nixon supported The Clean Air Act, affirmative action, and an expansion of Social Security.  He proposed a health care plan that looked a lot like Obamacare and later another Republican, Mitt Romney, implemented a version of it in Massachusetts.  Polls show that Democratic voters have roughly stayed the same in terms of their positions across an array of key issues since the 1980s, but that Republican voters have swung decidely to the right.

It makes me miss some of the great Republicans leaders I’ve known through the years, people like NH Governor Walt Peterson and VT Senator Jim Jeffords (I was in a meeting with him in DC the day he left the party on a matter of principle — another story for another day).  I always admired Richard Lugar on foreign policy. I still admire the Olympia Snowes of the Party, but there is little room left for them.  On some issues, like education, I often find Sen. Lamar Alexander quite forward thinking.

I’ve never asked and haven’t done a head count, but I guess that a majority of my Board is Republican and all of my Board Chairs have been, if the amount of teasing I get over my politics is any indication.  They, in many ways, still reflect values that I long associated with Republicans: fiscal smarts and prudence, a belief in entreprenuerialism, staying out of people’s personal lives, being good managers, a belief in science and in progress.  What many would call New England Republicanism.

They stand in sharp contrast to the Party zealots who seem to dominate today.  The far end of the party, and the Tea Party leaders they cuddle up to for support, would rather close down government than manage it well.  They deny science at every turn.  Their hatred of the President feels too irrational not be rooted in some other, darker motive.  They would play political games with the US economy and thus the world economy.  They are reckless and they have wrecked a once great party.

It took me a long time to get to a place where I could write that last line, but I do believe the country is healthiest when it has a strong and wise Republican Party finding consensus with a strong and wise Deomocratic Party.  My own party sometimes feels neither strong nor wise, but the Republican Party is not even recognizable to me today.  I know a lot of Republicans who feel the same way.



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