The Death of a Proud Tradition
I’m just back to my computer after a trip to Ireland. While I was there, I chatted with a number of friends and family members. All of them were most interested in our election and hungered for assurance that Romney would not win. They have experienced with great pain the contractionary policies the Republicans are planning to enact in America. If we copy Europe, we will make any kind of recovery here and there more difficult.
The down side of pleasant weeks in Ireland is a long, dull airplane trip home. On the plus side of hours spent crunched into a small space and uncomfortable seat, I had a lot of time for contemplation. Most of that thinking was centered on a puzzling and distressing change that came after the 2008 election. Let me share with you my thinking as it formed up by the time my Aer Lingus flight began its approach to Boston.
I have lived through a number of shattering episodes of national crisis. The attack on our country on 9/11 is just one example. We have always come together as one nation, as a united people at such dire times. No matter which party controlled the government in Washington, the opposition party and its supporters always joined with the majority to face the problems with the strength of a unified country.
When the election took place in November 2008, our country was facing one of the worst challenges of my lifetime. Our financial system was in collapse. Hundreds of thousands of middle class workers were suddenly losing their jobs every month. Families, used to a life style where a house, a vacation, education for their children were not impossible achievements, were discovering these goals had become wild fantasies. Too many of them had lost their homes and began living in their cars. Children went to bed hungry. If ever our tradition of unity was needed, this was clearly the time.
But this time was different. This time the Republicans decided that something was more important than uniting to help our struggling citizens and strengthening our country. They would ignore their absolute ethical obligation to help repair the economic disaster their policies had created. The radical right Republicans had such a hunger for power that our suffering people and endangered country did not matter.
Tossing aside this critical tradition seemed of no importance to many members of this party. They were deeply shocked that the majority of American people would ever vote to elect a black man with a foreign sounding name President of the United States. Disbelief was followed quickly by fury. It was totally unacceptable to them that a black family should occupy the White House. So President Obama must fail no matter the cost to our country. These racists were new Republicans, refugees from the segregationist Democrats of my childhood.
At this critical moment, I expected Republican leaders would come forward to help these new members overcome their historic intolerance. Instead, the leaders of the Republican party fell silent, and then fell in line. There would be no leaders in the party to bring these new outliers of the party back to reality.
These words are painful for me to write of the party I have always supported. But the intense efforts of Congress to defeat every action of the President, no matter the extent of the suffering of so many of our fellow citizens, are well documented. They opposed measures they had always supported, great ideas that came from an earlier version of their own party. All Lincoln Republicans must face reality.
Now we are facing the most critical election of my lifetime. The Republicans are running on one issue, that the President has failed. They bleat endlessly about the failure of the President’s policies, policies that they made sure would never be enacted. They tell us little about what they would do if the voters fall for this line. They recognize that if voters knew what they planned, they would lose the election. So all we know is that they will cut taxes on the rich, free the powerful from regulations, and increase spending for defense. This was the platform they ran on in 1980 and enacted when they gained power. These were the years when our national debt began to get out of hand.
These ideas didn’t work any better in the first decade of this new century. Republicans enacted tax cuts, reduced regulations, increased military spending as they promised. But they turned a budget surplus into a huge deficit, and vastly increased the national debt in the process. And worst of all, their policies produced our terrible financial crisis. Now they are trying to win on the notion that this time their principles will produce millions of jobs and prosperity for all.
These are the actions of a Party not fit to lead in good times, never mind ones that are so dangerous. These people truly believe that government is the enemy, so shrinking its ability to act on our behalf is a good thing. They want to ruin the government that the efforts of millions of Americans over many centuries have created.
In the last two years since the radical Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives, we have gotten a clear picture of what our future would be like if they win control in Washington in November. By violating all the norms of good governing, they have frozen government in place. They have discovered that a gridlocked government is almost as useful as one they actually run. Compromise is the life-blood of a democracy. Yet, the radical right Republicans view compromise as an unproductive weakness. No government can function when either party believes this extreme idea.
This election, voters must reunite to send a clear message to this new radical party, “We reject you and your ruinous plans. We need a functioning government that will act for the middle class, not one that serves only the rich and powerful.”
To achieve this, we must vote in historic numbers, and we must vote to remove these Republicans from office. The next election may be too late.