What This Blog Is About

Notwithstanding the terrible news that dominates global headlines these days, if John F. Kennedy, Vladimir Lenin, Mao Tse-Tung and Winston Churchill were to walk together down the streets of Beijing, Mumbai, Sao Paulo, Bangkok or Istanbul today, they would not argue for a nanosecond about who “won” the ideological political battles that they waged. The world has become overwhelmingly a planet of people aspiring to live materially rich middle class lives, where substantial personal liberty if not democracy is the norm, and where more and more people realistically believe that working hard will likely lead to a better future for them and their children.  These benefits have occurred on America’s global watch, and many of these benefits have come from ideas and policies of which America has been the chief proponent.

So why does almost no one in America, neither conservative Republicans nor liberal Democrats, feel like we have “won” anything in the last couple of decades? In America things have flatlined economically for many during the last several decades, while for others the perception that America’s power is in decline and it’s infrastructure crumbling provokes anxiety.

Part of our troubles are attributable to the fact that today we live in a country where infighting has become the principal activity of the people who govern us. Compromise is viewed as weakness or betrayal.  Sure, we are muddling through, but this constant political infighting is wearing us down and making us poorer. Just as constant infighting weakens families, sports teams, religious congregations and businesses, the constant infighting and gridlock that characterizes our Federal government today weakens America.

Resurrecting a Liberal Republican branch of the Republican Party (call it the moderate branch if you must) would be a means to return to cross-party, consensus-driven, pragmatic politics. While Americans today do not self-identify as Liberal Republicans, a large number adhere to what are basically Liberal Republican beliefs. This is the space where Americans have a decent chance of finding common political ground.‎

For our children’s and grandchildren’s sakes, it’s time we began the decade or two-long task of rebuilding this wing of the Republican Party. It took decades for people like Clif White to use Communist Party “take no prisoner’s” tactics to turn the Republican Party into the political party it is today. (See Chapter 6, Political Reform, for that story [here].) It isn’t going to be turned back without a lot of hard work.

Of course, especially if you are in your Forties or younger, you are unlikely to know how diverse the politics of the Republican Party were when your parents and grandparents were young. In fact, you may be flabbergasted by how many prominent liberal Republicans there were and for what they stood.  While the Party always included conservatives, conservatives did not dominate the Republican Party, let alone control it.

Progressive and moderate Republicans had an even greater voice in the Republican Party than conservatives. These Republicans aligned with like-minded Democrats on an issue-by-issue basis to enact major civil rights laws, major infrastructure legislation and laws and policies that underpinned America’s foreign policy in defense of democracy and liberty around the world. For example, the two Twentieth Century landmark civil rights laws, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and ‎the Voting Rights Act of 1965, were supported by a greater proportion of Republican Congresspersons and Senators than Democratic ones.  These liberal Republicans included Nelson Rockefeller, Margaret Chase Smith, George Romney (Mitt’s father), Edward Brooke, Mark Hatfield, William Scranton, Charles Percy and Jacob Javits.  Google them or take a look at Chapter 2 on this website [here].  You will be astonished by their politics.  And there were dozens more like them.

When Republicans today accuse Republicans they regard as too liberal of being RINO’s (“Republicans in Name Only”), they ignore history. It is important for the American people, especially young people whose involvement in politics will increasingly determine America’s future, not to ignore political history and cede control of the Republican Party to its conservative members. As many young people who have recently become familiar with the Republican Party’s liberal heritage recognize, it should be easier to bring Liberal Republican politics back than it would be to invent it. And there are many of us here to help.

Restoring Balance to the Republican Party

As many of the 2016 Republican Presidential candidates careen into ever more dangerous spaces, it’s time for the thirty-four percent of Americans who identify themselves as moderates to engage politically.

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.”

 

Using the Example of George Washington to Restore the Primacy of Public Service in Washington

The balance that Federal legislators strike today between their reelection and actual public service ‎has drastically careened towards ensuring their re-election, at increasing cost to the public interest. Our politicians must again view their primary function in Washington as public service, not as the perpetuation of their own political ambitions.

Fortunately, to find a model for how our elected officials should act, we need look no further than to our founding father, George Washington. Washington was a hero to his contemporaries and, as Garry Wills ‎explains in his book Cincinnatus: George Washington and the Enlightenment, “like the Roman Cincinnatus (the famous Roman general who resigned from a position of near absolute dictatorial authority and returned to his farm and family), Washington perfected the art of getting power by giving it away. He did this when he resigned as Commander in Chief of the Revolutionary Army, and again when he declined to run for a third term as President.‎”

Wills relates a story of a conversation during the Revolutionary War between the British King George III and the artist Benjamin West, who knew both the King and Washington. Asked by the King what General Washington would do if he prevailed, West told the King he thought that Washington would return to his farm. “If he does that,” the King is supposed to have remarked, “He will be the greatest man in the world.”

How has the culture in Congress evolved so far away from Washington’s values? How did we get to a place where many things our legislators agree would be good for America do not get enacted because of partisan politics or for reasons related to generating continuing political contributions? Our elected officials’ job is to move this nation forward, regardless of whether doing so means they are putting their own reelection at risk.  As my colleague Jasmine Davis has stated, we need more Washington in Washington.