Sandberg: Searching for ‘decent Chuck Percys’
By Amy Sandberg
The Republican Party has a long and venerable tradition. It produced Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan. It was founded by anti-slavery activists, and promotes free markets, personal responsibility, and a no-nonsense foreign policy.
Many moons ago, I worked for a Republican U.S. senator from Illinois, Charles Percy, who represented everything that was good about his party. He was a man of devout faith, a pragmatist and a capitalist. He was not, however, a zealot. During his years in the Senate, Percy supported tighter gun control, housing subsidies for the poor, and opposed two of Richard Nixon’s Supreme Court nominees. In 1973, Percy called for an independent prosecutor to investigate Watergate. The novelist Richard Ford, coined a phrase “decent Chuck Percy Republicans,” referring to Republicans who were consensus builders and did what was right for their country rather than always doing what was politically expedient.
Republicans today are a different breed. They take issue with any positions they see as smacking of socialism even if — as in the case of the individual mandate — the idea was originally theirs. They make pledges to false idols not to raise taxes and have adopted an aggressive we-are-number-one militaristic posture as the sine qua non of conservative foreign policy. Once the party of isolationism and protectionism, Neocons launch pre-emptive wars, and defend a military budget that is greater than the combined spending of the next 14 largest nations.
And if one of them were to say something like the following? “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.” They would be branded a socialist and condemned for being dangerously naive and unpatriotic. Which is interesting, because the quote above is from Republican president Dwight D. Eisenhower. Hard to believe how much the Republican Party has changed in the past half-century, isn’t it?
With the rise of the tea party, Republican politics has become a zero-sum game. It is no longer about bringing two points of view together and blending the best of both in the interests of the American people, as was Chuck Percy’s style. It’s become about winning, at all costs and trying to demolish the other side. A respectful debate that acknowledges some value in the other side’s point of view has disappeared. Science, which has over the past few centuries gained a certain amount of credibility in the world, is trumped by ideology and ironically is dismissed as biased and self-serving. The propaganda of Big Money has convinced the little guy that government is their enemy. The little guy doesn’t see that the only thing standing between him and Big Money eating him up is that a strong government serves to protect him and take care of the interests of the whole country, not simply the entitled few.
And that’s not the worst of it. Theo-cons have accumulated so much influence over the party that the major legislative issues in recent years have not been job creation, but rather the criminalization of abortion, opposition to legalized same-sex marriage, and eliminating low-income women’s access to contraception and basic health care. For a party that wants government out of our lives, it certainly spends a lot of time telling us what to do.
And so my question to Dick Lyles is “Where have all the Dwight Eisenhowers and ‘decent Chuck Percy Republicans’ gone?” For that matter, where have Richard Nixon (who signed the Voting Rights Act of 1970 and supported hiring quotas for minorities) and Ronald Reagan (who saved Social Security in 1983, and repeatedly ignored the fundamental conservative dogma that taxes should never be raised) gone? Stated otherwise, what has the Republican Party done with its tradition of pragmatism and consensus building??
Reach Sandberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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