Sunday, October 26, 2008
"Republican for a reason"
We were driving on a street adjacent to ours when my wife noticed a man standing by his lawn sign. "Republican for a reason," she quoted. "Hmm. We ought to stop and ask the guy what his reason is."
I have written before about how Republican Utah is, for seemingly no reason except that some people feel they have to be. (See here.)
My mom and dad were staunch Republicans. My dad gave money to the party, attended money-raising dinners for a local congressman, and hated the Democrats.
If you asked my Mom and Dad why they hated Democrats they'd say, "They always get us into a war." If you asked why they loved Republicans they'd say, "They keep us out of war." If you consider Woodrow Wilson and World War I, FDR and World War II, Truman and the Korean War and Lyndon Johnson with the Vietnam War, that seemed to be the case. That was before Republican George W. Bush and the Iraq War (and does anyone call it Operation Enduring Freedom anymore?) As far as World War II went, there was that little thing called Pearl Harbor.
My parents might also have complained, "Democrats tax and spend," which is a Republican mantra. The difference is, of course, that our Republican generation spends and doesn't tax, just puts it on the tab "for later."
My father was a Goldwater Republican, very conservative, and if you mentioned Franklin Roosevelt you'd get a lecture on "those goddam government giveaways." Along with being Republican Dad was racist. He thought black people were all siphoning welfare money and using it to drink, take drugs, impregnate teenage girls and play craps. I'm sure Mom went along with that viewpoint. They were born in the early 1920s and were purely products of their generation and upbringing. I can hardly blame them if all they ever heard about other races was bad. It was what it was, an era of intense race prejudice.
What always struck me was that Mom and Dad, each coming from different rural towns in the center of Utah, where the Depression hit very hard, were so anti-Roosevelt and his government programs. I think I know why, because Mom and Dad came from successful families and had more than the people who were struggling. My dad's father died in 1932, before Social Security, and his widow, who never worked, and children got through the Depression just fine. Dad went to a private school and an exclusive college, so Grandpa must've had some good insurance. Even so, could they not see what was going on around them, the poverty, the bank failures, the near-anarchy that raged before Roosevelt got into office and implemented programs to bring back American confidence?
Lately there are some revisionist histories of the Depression, that laissez-faire economics could have eventually saved us. That was the platform of the Republicans at the time, and it's why they got booted from office in 1932. The Depression claimed the jobs of 25% of the population. As some historians have noted, America was very close to revolution. Maybe laissez-faire economics might have saved the system, if there had been time for it to work. However, we are talking about events that happened nearly 80 years ago. Someone can point a finger and say it didn't have to happen that way but it's immaterial because it did happen.
I'm sure that lurking in the minds of our modern politicians who pushed through the 700-billion dollar bailout were thoughts of the Depression and Roosevelt's New Deal. Bush and Company would want to be thought of in the same way, that they were the white knights who rode in and saved the economy.
When the time comes, everybody, conservative or liberal, signs up for Social Security, a Roosevelt-era program. They love Medicare, a Great Society program from Democrat Lyndon Johnson. No one wants to give up the social safety net those programs provide, and when George W. Bush tried to sell the idea of privatizing Social Security his sales job fell on deaf ears. Even Republicans claimed not to be home when he came to call with that proposal.
I don't believe the Republican party my parents belonged to is the same Republican party that exists today. Barry Goldwater was a thinking man's conservative, a pragmatist who was still able to work with Democrats. Today's Republicans have been co-opted by radical religious types, unthinkable forty years ago. They don't want to work with anybody, just dictate. Dad wasn't religious and he would have been appalled by their takeover of the GOP. The spending the Republicans now do would have disgusted him.
I'd hope that Dad, who died in 1967, a year of racial and civil turmoil, would have been educated over the years and would have realized that this is a different world than the one in which he grew up. I'd hope he'd have left those prejudices somewhere in his past and embraced the new era, where an African-American can actually be leading in the polls in the race for President of the U.S.
And, oh yeah. I was once also a Republican. My first vote in 1968 went to Richard Nixon because I believed him when he said he had a plan to win the war. By 1972 I was a Democrat and have never looked back.