Those with a debilitating chemical dependency often have to sink to the lowest level of despair before they recognize the destructive nature of their actions and become receptive to treatment and cure.
On February 28 of this year, the three-term Republican senator from Maine, Olympia J. Snowe, announced that she would not seek re-election this year. She made this despite being heavily favored to be re-elected, having received almost 75 percent of the vote the last time she ran for re-election in 2006. Unfortunately for the Republican Party and America, when Senator Snowe departs, you can virtually turn out the lights on any responsible, right-centrist leadership from the Republicans in Congress.
In comments made after the announcement of retirement, Senator Snowe expressed frustration with the current state of national governance and Republican political posturing that turns every vote into a take-it-or-leave-it showdown and test of political purity. “In a politically diverse nation,” said Snowe, “only by finding that common ground can we achieve results for the common good. That is not happening today and, frankly, I do not see it happening in the near future.”
In fairness, this purposeful avoidance to find common ground is true for both Republicans and Democrats, but the Republicans have raised this philosophy of “our way or the highway” to the level of a blood sport. It has reached the point that Republicans view compromise and bipartisanship as a sign of betrayal and weakness.
The only chance the Republican Party has to correct this problem is for the Party to nominate Rick Santorum for president in 2012. It may be difficult for some to accept, but Santorum is the only medicine available to revive the long-term health of the Republican Party. And, here is why.
A Government of the People
The history of the Grand Old Party of the Republic (GOP) is a grand one. Founded in 1854 by joining together anti-slavery groups, it was considered the “Liberty” party and with this as its mantra, the Republican Party was able to elect its first president – Abraham Lincoln – just six years later. From that time onward until the election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, the Republican Party dominated the White House, and most often Congress. The Republican Party achieved this domination because it was identified as favoring a “government of the people.” The lineage for this “GOP” philosophy can be traced all the way back to the ideas and thinking that Alexander Hamilton espoused at the dawn of the Republic.
Hamilton believed that individual freedom was created and preserved through the efforts of a strong federal government; and without a strong central government, he was convinced that individual freedom would be threatened by the powerful exploiting the weak. It was he, who proposed a national bank, the formation of a permanent, professional military to protect national security. He also supported federal patent and copyright laws, a national currency, government subsidies and loans to stimulate business growth. He also championed high tariffs to shelter domestic manufacturers and – maybe most important – Hamilton believed in the ultimate primacy of the federal constitution and government over the actions and power of states.
The Republican Party adopted many, if not all these ideas, as the core tenets of its platform, including the supremacy of the federal government. After all, it was the first Republican president, Lincoln, who used the power of the federal government to annul actions of state governments attempting to withdraw from the Union. The Republican Party was based on northern white Protestants, businessmen, professionals and wealthier farmers. It was pro-business, supported a national bank, the gold standard, federal subsidies for railroads and other infrastructure development, and high tariffs to protect heavy industry.
The Republicans also believed in using the power of the federal government as the best way to protect individual rights and opportunity. It was the Republican Party that passed the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and created the Interstate Commerce Commission. (It was Nixon, a Republican, who created the Consumer Protection Agency and George Bush who pushed for the “No Child Left Behind” federal program.) It was Republican Teddy Roosevelt who used the power of the federal government to check the exploitations of big corporations against individuals with “trust-busting” federal lawsuits, regulation and legislation. This action made the GOP a hero by protecting and providing opportunity to thousands of farmers and workers who had been abused by corporate titans.
It was this balanced philosophy – a strong central government to protect the security of the nation, encourage economic development and protect the rights of all individuals – that allowed the Republican Party to dominate the political discourse in America for almost a century. It is ironic that during this time it was the Democratic Party that argued most vociferously for states’ rights and for a smaller, less powerful federal government. (This can be traced to the philosophy of the genetic founder of the Democratic Party – Thomas Jefferson – who believed a strong central government was a threat to individual liberty.)
Unfortunately, the Republican Party has veered to the right of its traditional course and instead of being a party of “inclusion” it is becoming a party of “exclusion.” The GOP moniker has changed from being a “Government of the People” to be more a “Government of the Privileged.”
The current battle for the Republican nomination for president has exposed all the grit and grime that forms the philosophic “base” of the Republican Party. The “new” Repubican Party has lost its balance and along with it, its appeal to the mass of voters who seek middle-road-of-responsibility, cooperation and compromise. The Party favors tax cuts that clearly benefit the wealthy, while proposing spending cuts that clearly hurt the poor. The Party that professes to be passionate about “individual freedom and liberty” is aggressively leading the fight to enact new voting laws that will limit the ability of people to vote, especially among minorities and the poor. The Party that was the first to protect the rights and welfare of individuals against the abuses of businesses now proposes the elimination of regulation. For a party that puts itself up as a champion for individual liberty, rights and choice, the Republican Party is taking a very strange attitude toward the rights of women.
So what does all this have to do with the nomination of Rick Santorum to be the Republican candidate for president in 2012? Well, a lot.
A Santorum candidacy would put a spotlight on just how far the Republican Party had strayed from its traditional core values and beliefs. Santorum would be crushed in the election and the aftermath would force the Republican Party to re-examine and return to the philosophies that enabled it to dominate the American political landscape.
It is eerie how history can repeat itself and nominating Santorum would not be the first time this type of action benefited the long-term viability of the Republican Party. A classic case in point is a comparison of the 1964 election with what we are seeing today. Santorum is to the Republican Party of 2012 what Barry Goldwater was to the Republican Party in 1964. As with Santorum’s battle against Romney, Goldwater’s competition and the favorite for the nomination was a wealthy, aloof, moderate ex-governor from the East, Nelson Rockefeller. The “establishment” of the Republican Party heavily supported Rockefeller and felt that Goldwater would be a disaster for the Party if he were nominated. Goldwater was considered the “conscience of a conservative” who gave voice to the passions of the rising right of the Republican Party. Because Rockefeller could not “connect” with this wing of the Republican Party, both candidates arrived at the Republican Convention in San Francisco lacking enough delegates to secure the nomination.
The passion and blind conviction of the emerging right wing of the GOP allowed the group to hijack the convention and overpower the establishment of the Party to nominate Goldwater. (This is the reason why the Republican establishment is working hard not to have a “brokered” convention in 2012.) Goldwater’s nomination by the right wing of the Party gave him license to declare in his acceptance speech, “… extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice … and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
While it is likely that the moderate Rockefeller would also have lost the election to Lyndon Johnson (just as a moderate Republican may lose to Obama), the crushing obliteration of Goldwater and the Republican Party in the 1964 election (Johnson won 44 states and over 60 percent of the vote) forced the Republican Party to get back to the basics and reassess its future direction in an effort to reconnect with the people. This paved the way for the election of the conservative-leaning, but more moderate Richard Nixon and the ultimate rise of the iconic conservative hero of the Republican right, Ronald Reagan.
Fast-Forward to Today
Now, in 2012 the base of the Republican Party has veered even more sharply to the right and away from the balanced conservative principles that had allowed the Party to dominate American politics since 1854. The proof in the pudding is the generally accepted belief that if Ronald Reagan were running for the Republican presidential nomination today, he would be rejected. The purity of thought and actions demanded by the base of today’s Republican Party is a recipe for disaster.
Even if Romney wins the nomination it will only exacerbate the divide in the Republican Party. If Romney wins the presidency, he will likely be a moderate and govern in a fashion not too different from Obama. This will anger the right wing of the Party and lessen his power to govern. If Romney loses, it will embolden the right wing to be even more strident and uncompromising in 2016, preventing such right-centrist leaders as Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and Mitch Daniels to emerge as viable party leaders. The only action that can save the Republican Party from itself is to let the “crazies” repeat the carnage of 1964 by nominating Santorum and then rise from the ashes by moving back to the center-right which is the true base and strength of Republicans.
And the Moral of the Story …
History has proven that the true Republican Party connects best with the beliefs, aspirations and desires of a majority of Americans. It views a strong central government not as an enemy, but as a tool to assure the rights, liberties and opportunities of individuals and business to live, create and prosper. Unfortunately, the fundamental principles of the Republican Party have again become infected, corrupted and hijacked by an extreme, fringe element that hides behind religion to espouse “social values” which more often than not is a code-phrase for racism and bigotry. The Party of Lincoln that prevailed based on individual liberty and opportunity for all, now seems to believe these concepts belong to the few.
It is this philosophy of exclusion, the essence of purity of thought, the rejection of compromise and reasonable discourse that has driven people like Olympia Snowe and millions of others – including myself – away from the Republican Party. But like the alcoholic who has “hit bottom” and finally sunk to the lowest level of despair and self-destruction, the nomination of Santorum will allow the Party to find the cure it needs to once again provide the leadership needed by this country.