Like it or not, for any entity to remain vital for some indefinite period into a future it requires a governor the same way an internal combustion engine needs one; something that will reign in its natural tendency to run wild into exhaustion. For a democracy, that’s a functioning strong opposition; be it one opposition or more. Factions within the same party simply are too weak. And history has shown repeatedly that having more than one opposition party works to weak governance — “governance,” which after all is the purpose of the scheme — because of the need to constantly build coalitions that had little in common other than “the enemy of my enemy . . ..”
By both definition and subtraction, that leaves the most effective model as a strong 2-party system. To have that, however, requires what today we have not: a strong second party. Moving through the bowel of logic, to have a strong second party requires one with the essential ingredients for strength: It’s under-girding principles and the articulation of those principles have got to make sense to a sufficiently large part of the population.
But today’s Republican Party has become both an embarrassment to and a parody of itself.
Make no mistake, the GOP has always been the party of business. And the bigger the business, the more of it that it was. For, if the administration of William McKinley can be remembered for anything it was the facilitation of the robber baron trusts that the immediately succeeding president, also a Republican, Theodore Roosevelt broke up. What the GOP has never been has been populist, for the common folk.
Being the mouth — and arms and legs — of business, large and small, is not by necessity a bad thing. It only becomes bad — for a democracy — when such is the exclusive role it dons and when it pursues those ends with a blind, wholly doctrinaire avidity.
Here are the original principles of the Republican Party: being fiscally prudent; restricting the role of government to the basics of defense of the nation and defense of civil rights and the defense of individual initiative. Pretty basic stuff that I doubt many can fault, as far as basics go. (If only the party had been able to stick to the basics.)
I’m drifting off a bit into the rough, but those principles are every bit as idealistic, as unachievable of realization as are those of the Democratic Party. I won’t enumerate the underlying principles of the Party of Jackson because this epistle does not concern itself with the Democratic Party.
The reason they are unachievable is because they completely ignore the human drive to control the environment in which it operates by all means that might come to be seen as necessary. Fair means soon enough devolve into the utterly corrupt. Were it possible to genuinely trust humans to always be rational and to ever act prudently in their own self interest there would never have been a need for Hammurabi to compose his “Code,” or for the hundreds of Commandments in the Old Testament, or for any of the laws and the remedies that accompanied their breach since.
But as I said, that was a drift into the rough; not the theme noted.
Without embarking on a question whether he was a good or great president or not, Eisenhower was a reasonable president. His principles were those I mentioned above. Doctrine did not block the road of governance. Nor did it blind him to the fact that alternate perspectives could and should be respected, not disparaged. Or that those with alternate views were to be ridiculed, let alone ostracized as un-American.
I remember Ev Dirksen; the senior senator from Illinois; a genteel fellow who sought to work for the common good with those he disagreed with. Same thing with Ed Brooke of Massachusetts and Chuck Percy of Illinois. In the same breath and of the same cut of fabric were House Minority Leader — and ultimately, president — Gerald Ford and New York Governor — and ultimately, Gerald Ford’s vice-president — Nelson Rockefeller. And there were others, so many others . . . then!
We, as in you and I who compose the us in the US, needed them, and we need those types now; perhaps more than ever before.
With all due respect and with some uncanny preciseness, I recall when the Republican Party began to slip from the moorings of managerial governance to doctrinaire chasing politics.
I liked Barry Goldwater. I respected Barry Goldwater. He had earned respect and he commanded it, with or without his US Air Force Major General stars. I didn’t have to want him as my president, however if he had defeated LBJ and had become my president, I was fully confident he’d be a president who’d hold my respect, and would do nothing to diminish it. (Remember, Mr. Arch-conservative Goldwater was ardently and highly vocally opposed to the hypocritical bigotry that was and remains the Christian Right, and to opponents of a woman’s reproductive rights, and was an open supporter of “You don’t have to be straight to shoot straight” gay rights.) That I disagreed with his policy positions would never have amended the proposition, as one soldier to another, I’d have been damned proud to salute him.
I used to revel, listening to the extraordinary breadth of acerbic dexterity and the depth of the arguments — skillfully, if not thinly, disguised as erudite questions put to his guests — articulated by William F. Buckley, Jr. on his PBS Firing Line television program. (Yes! I do recall his 1968 Gore Vidal faux pas rejoinder, “Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I will sock you in your goddamn face.” But that does not erase the joy of listening to someone with a surfeit of brilliant oratorical acumen.)
I was never in consonance with any of Buckley’s positions, but it was the intoxicating aura that was cast by his intellect and intellectualism that brought me back, and that soon led to the anti-intellectual sewer in which the GOP descended. The Party became enamored of the marketing without bothering to consider the product being marketed.