Often that is a question asked of me by Democrats. Forty-four years in the GOP, I’m qualified to answer that question. I know thousands of Republicans across the nation. The short answer is not all are mean spirited people.
We are are seeing the mean-wing play itself out in the US Senate on Healthcare Policy today. There has been a major change in the party in my lifetime. It appears to me that the mean-wing is now the majority in GOP Land. They have a cruel, selfish streak.
The GOP Once Upon A Time
There is another group within the GOP, the Neo-conservatives, or Neocons as they are known. They had another name; the Rockefeller Republicans. Richard Nixon was a Neocon as was President Eisenhower, President George H. W. Bush, as well as Senator Everett Dirksen from my home state of Illinois. I was one as well. We are a breed that is no longer welcome in the GOP.
Neocons are conservatives but they recognize there is a role for Government to play in our lives. They don't view all government regulation as something evil. Californian Richard Nixon had lived in smoggy Southern California and was aware the air quality was harming America. He wrote a note to Congress telling them he was planning on creating two new agencies, The Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The EPA was to study air quality, and NOAA was to study the atmosphere and oceans with an eye to protecting both. The two agencies were given the power to propose regulations to protect our air and our oceans.
That is not a very Republican idea by today’s standards. This Neocon idea of Nixon’s in the late 1960’s is why you can now see the mountains around Los Angeles during the day. They used to be a smoggy smudge on the horizon. It is why the Great Lakes no longer are in danger of catching on fire or dying. Currently, Conservatives are trying to reverse all this progress.
I guess they like breathing polluted air and don’t mind Lakes and Rivers being cesspools and health hazards? Their argument is the Government has gone too far. I would believe them if it wasn’t for the fact they propose eliminating the EPA.
President Eisenhower built our Interstate Highway System based on Germany’s Autobahn. That was another triumph of Neoconservatism. These were conservative solutions to national problems. What was conservative about building a national highway system? Local contractors bid on completion of the system in their areas. That is about as big of a Federalist move I can think of. Use the local talent rather than a single national contractor.
Neoconservatives believe in working with the Democrats in a bipartisan manner. None of the achievements I listed above could have happened in today’s political atmosphere. Ike had to work with the Democrats to get the highway system built. Nixon had to work with the Democrats to find a way to give authorization to the EPA.
Nixon did view the Clean Water Act as too extreme and vetoed the bill. Congress overrode his veto and Nixon accepted the reality and moved to implement the law. Can you imagine that happening now? There was no stonewalling. There was no obstructionism in Congress. To override the President, it took a lot of Republicans to reach across the aisle and vote with the Democrats. Can you imagine that happening today?
When I first came to Washington, I got friendly with the Illinois and California Congressional Delegations. In the 1980s, the Illinois Delegation had a luncheon every Wednesday to discuss legislation coming up and how it could be shaped to help Illinois. There were no Republicans and Democrats in the room. Only Illinoisans were at the seat working to help the state.
There was a spirit of working together in those days that is now gone.
Enter Ronald Reagan stage-right
The Reagan era is not when it changed. It changed with the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the flood of narrow minds that ran into the open arms of the GOP. It was the Reagan Era that things started to accelerate in the GOP.
Reagan was ushered in because the Democratic Party had moved very far left. Few people remember Ted Kennedy’s Primary run against Jimmy Carter in 1980. The challenge by Kennedy was that Carter was too conservative for the Party. He was too much a centrist. The Party nominated Carter but the damage was done. It was a self-inflicted wound.
The battle was bruising and the Democratic Convention was a rancorous affair. Ted Kennedy’s speech to the convention was not an endorsement of President Carter. The Party was divided and that division would not be fixed until Bill Clinton 12 years later. Ideology worked against the Democrats just as it is working against the GOP today.
Ronald Reagan had always talked a good game about Conservatism. A lot of it was talk. He increased taxes 7 of his 8 years as President. In fact, he raised taxes four times in two years. He made a total of 11 tax increases during his term in office.
As Governor of California, he signed into law the largest tax increase in the State’s history as of that period in time. He was never afraid to raise taxes just as he was never afraid to cut them.
Remember when Reagan said the nine most terrifying words in the English Language are “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help?”
He grew the Bureaucracy. He added the Department of Veterans Affairs which now is the second largest Federal Agency. He came into office promising to do away with the Department of Energy and Interior and drastically reduce the size of the Government. He sent Don Hodel to both agencies as the hatchet man. Hodel grew both agencies.
Ronald Reagan was a Neoconservative too.
Things have changed
Things changed during George W. Bush. Even though President Bush was the force behind Homeland Security, a behemoth of paperwork and duplication, things changed in his Administration. The move toward the right was largely rhetorical before Bush.
During the Bush years is when the Christian Right, which in my opinion is neither Christian or Right, really took hold in the GOP.
The failure of trickle-down economics is obvious to all thinking Republicans. The hard right ignores data that shows the income disparity is growing and not narrowing. I listed the things that caused me to leave the GOP in my article “44 Years a Republican, 1 Year an Independent, today I’m Joining the Democratic Party.” You can read that article by clicking here.
There are good people in the GOP. Not all are evil, mean people who want to hurt the poor, the sick, and the elderly. The problem is they aren’t in charge. A bunch of Libertarian minded people who don’t believe in government is in charge. The Religious Right is in Charge. The Neoconservatives are out.
Many, like me, have found a good home in the Democratic Party. The Democrats aren’t perfect but they will hear you out.
What will it take for the GOP to toss the rascals out? That is up to the voters. If they lose the House and Senate there should be some soul searching. Donald Trump needs to lose the nomination in 2020 to a primary challenger. That would send a message to the nation that the GOP recognizes they have gone too far.
It will take a charismatic leader like the Democrats found in Bill Clinton to turn the tide coupled with some election losses.
Will that happen? We’ll see. In the meantime, I’ve joined the Democratic Party and I am dedicated to helping throw the lunatic right out of office.
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