As the 2012 campaign season gets cranked up, political labels are flying again. One that I hear tossed about – sometimes in libelous ways – is the term “Right-wing Republican.” It is often used “…slighting-like, in a way that could raise a man’s blood…” (as Peter Ustinov put it in Blackbeard’s Ghost).
Leaving piratical reactions aside, I thought we might elevate the level of political discourse if we examined this label a little. Part of our problem, to start with, is public confusion over what a “right-wing Republican” thinks or stands for. Is the public view a media-caricature that paints all conservative people as racists and mean-spirited troglodytes who want to kill old people, deny children educations and “lynch” blacks (as one Democratic representative recently claimed)? If this is what people imagine about Republicans – right-wing or otherwise – it is certainly inaccurate. Very few (normal) people think this way anymore, although within my lifetime such thinking was not uncommon.
When I was a boy, billboards along the highway read, “Impeach Earl Warren.” What was that about? Earl Warren was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court when it struck down “separate but equal” schools for black students in the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling. A far-right group called the John Birch Society sponsored those billboards because they abhorred that decision – at least partly on racial grounds. Were they “Republicans?” Not hardly. In those days, the real racists were Southern Democrats. Republicans were still thought of as the Party of Lincoln that freed the slaves. People like Condoleeza Rice grew up Republican because the GOP allowed southern blacks to vote.
Senate Democrats filibustered the 1964 Civil Rights Bill for 57 days before Republicans, led by Everett Dirksen, helped to break the filibuster so the law could be enacted. Southern Democrats like Al Gore, Sr., Russell Long and Robert Byrd, filibustered and voted against this landmark legislation. (Al Gore, Jr., had amnesia about where his father stood on this, when he ran for president in 2000. He counted on the fact that only a few people would remember what really went down, back in the day.)
Notwithstanding this racist history – by an amazing feat of legerdemain, with much media assistance – Democrats have cloaked themselves in Civil Rights garments and pose as champions of minorities ever since. With the born-again civil rights champion LBJ in the presidency, Democrats got credit for the 1964 Civil Rights Act, despite the fact that Southern Democrats tried to scuttle it and Republicans actually helped to pass it. This admirable feat of revisionist history brings to mind a famous quote from Marion Barry, the estimable former mayor of Washington, who has supplied endless material for this writer:
“I read a funny story about how the Republicans freed the slaves. The Republicans are the ones who created slavery by law in the 1600's. Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves and he was not a Republican.”
I align with Republicans – not because I think every Republican candidate is top-drawer or because I “hate” anybody – but because I can’t possibly vote for people who are committed to unlimited spending on an unlimited vision for government, with no real intention or plan for bringing it under control. Mr. Obama presents a charming “everyman” image that you can’t help but like – and the media agree he is the smartest guy who ever lived – but he is cut from the same cloth as most Democrats. They have spent us into such a debt-hole that we’ll have the devil’s own job getting out of it.
The “rich” people Mr. Obama loves to talk about don’t have enough wealth, let alone enough income, to fund even a full year of federal expenditures. Something has to give, but higher taxes cannot be the way. We are maxed out on this; people cannot pay more – certainly not in a recession where 15-20 million people are unemployed or under-employed. We must cut spending, and not just hokey “cuts” supposedly spread over ten years. As things stand, I don’t see anyone but Republicans stepping up to that task.
Today there is a duality of political vision for where we are going, as a country. One vision is for higher taxes, more spending, and more government control over our our lives. You’re not supposed to say the word in polite company, but this is the “socialist” vision. The “free market” vision is for lower taxes, lower spending, and fewer regulations on business and everyday life. I choose the latter. I want my children and their children to have a future. All of them are businesspeople, as I was and am.
But it is not all about money. I am keenly aware of how important education has been to my life, having grown up in a family of very limited means. My pop was a mechanic who had his own business. Socially, we were nobody and we had no money. Any chance I had for a future was going to depend entirely on my mind, my ambition to become something, and my will to get it done. Fortunately, I had a good mind, and I received a first-class public school education. I worked my way through a very fine liberal arts college, and I earned a graduate degree at an Ivy League university. I made the most of what I had, and I built a career that suited my abilities well. Today, as a trustee of that same small college, I want to help it to continue offering to students what it gave me.
I believe every child in America has the right to the same opportunities I had. The poorest black kid deserves a fine public education. Notwithstanding the smears hurled by liberals, conservatives believe in that right, too, but they know many schools aren’t furnishing it. Republicans also want accountability, quality control, and husbandry of resources. They want the job to get done. Only Public Education – alone among professional fields of endeavor – routinely expects more money for a poor or mediocre result.
This outrageous expectation splits the political parties on education. It is why many educators think Republicans are the “enemies” of education. We aren’t, but we do insist on a better result. The public schools of Washington, DC, for instance, are a disgrace. They spend the most money per pupil in the country, with the poorest results. Whenever they get a superintendent who wants to clean things up, staff and teachers band together get rid of him/her, or they work to elect a mayor who will. The latest episode with Michelle Rhee is a case in point.
In a sense, Republicans today have become what progressives were a century ago. These were the people who got children out of the factories and put them in school, where they could build a future. Progressives were champions of the weak and the oppressed. They helped people to better their lives. Today, many religious people are Republicans. They also want to help people. But they don’t believe government can be the universal means for furnishing that help.
I can’t cover the whole waterfront of conservative thought here, but these comments should furnish some insight into where I and many others are coming from. I don’t think liberal people are stupid or that their thinking is incomprehensible, but I do think they are mistaken about what government can do or how much of it there can be. There are limits to everything – even good intentions. The problem, as Margaret Thatcher once said, “…is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”
Mrs. Thatcher and Marion Barry, amazing to say, were actually on the same page, when Hizzoner said, “What right does Congress have to go around making laws just because they deem it necessary?”
Could he have been a closet Right-wing Republican?