If you regard yourself as a moderate (or are just someone who is disgusted with the current state of American politics), a good place to start engaging is to explore the Republican Party’s liberal heritage. If the words “Liberal Republican” sound like an oxymoron to you, you are in for a real surprise if you do an Internet search for “Nelson Rockefeller,” “Margaret Chase Smith,” “George Romney,” “Edward Brooke,” “Mark Hatfield,” and “Jacob Javits.”
Resurrecting a Liberal Republican branch of the Republican Party is necessary if America is to revert to consensus-driven politics. Just a handful or two of Liberal Republicans in Congress could provide the means for our return to practical, productive politics.
Liberal Republicanism will not re-emerge, however, until people who believe in its values and policies are willing to get into the political arena and duke it out with their more conservative Republican brethren. Conservative Republicans did not take over the Republican Party by being nice.
As described by Geoffrey Kabaservice in his book “Rule and Ruin: The End of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party”, conservatives captured the Republican Party by using ruthless political tactics adopted from those used by…believe it or not…Vladimir Lenin, the founder of Communist Russia. One conservative organizer, Marvin Liebman, “felt nostalgic for my Young Communist League days,” as he felt that the young conservatives were “exactly like” the Red Guards of the ‘30’s, “with the same anger and the same passion.”
Conservatives first put these strategies to work successfully at the national level to nominate the arch-conservative Senator Barry Goldwater at the 1964 Republican Convention. Former Republican President Dwight Eisenhower, less than four years out of the White House, “felt [such strategies were] unpardonable – – and a complete negation of the spirit of democracy. I was bitterly ashamed.” Former baseball star Jackie Robinson, one of the most prominent African-Americans in the convention audience, felt that he was witnessing white supremacy in action. “I know now how it felt to be a Jew in Hitler’s Germany.”
It is no wonder that today’s Republican Party is so uncompromising, and that national politics have become so uncivil. The roots of the modern Republican Party are in Vladimir Lenin’s “take no prisoners” politics.
The decline of Liberal Republicanism continues to reverberate in our politics today. Governor Jeb Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, and his grandfather, Senator Prescott Bush, were liberal to moderate Republicans. Secretary Hillary Clinton’s politics actually evolved TO moderate Republicanism from her political start as a “Goldwater girl”, before she abandoned Republicanism entirely for the emerging moderate wing of the Democratic Party. According to Kabaservice, “A symbolic indication of youthful disaffection with moderate Republicanism occurred when Massachusetts Senator Edward Brooke addressed the Wellesley College commencement in late May 1969. Brooke, one of the Senate’s most progressive Republicans as well as its lone African-American, tried to persuade his restive audience that change within the system was still possible, as demonstrated by the poverty rate’s having fallen from 22 percent of Americans in 1959 to 13.3 percent in 1967. [This was an incredible reduction in poverty by the standards then, as it would be today.] Brooke was followed on the speaker’s platform by the student government president, Hillary Rodham. [She tore] into Brooke for his alleged indifference to poverty. ‘What does it mean that 13.3 percent of Americans are poor?’ she demanded. ‘How about talking about the humans, not the statistics?’”
It is certainly easy for people today, especially young people, to conclude that our politics are such a mess that their efforts should be directed elsewhere. One only needs to look to Secretary Clinton’s evolving politics in her youth to understand the complexity of forming political opinions. But abandoning politics will not help end the poisonous politics we face today, and moderates can no longer afford to do so. In the words of the late David Foster Wallace, in his essay “The Weasel, Twelve Monkeys and the Shrub: Seven Days in the Life of the Late, Great, John McCain”:
“By all means stay home if you want, but don’t bullshit yourself that you’re not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.”