WASHINGTON: Our current political life is far different from anything we have experienced before. Whether impeachment lies ahead is not clear. Certainly, the allegations against the president are serious and deserve a thorough review. (Lt. Col Vindman questions the Commander in Chief’s foreign policy – CommDigiNews – Nov. 3, 2019) . As someone who has been involved in American politics for many years, I have worked in the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives, and the Office of the Vice President.
I have worked mainly for Republicans, although my first job in the Senate was with Sen. Thomas Dodd (D-CT).
Those were the years of the Cold War.
Sen. Dodd was a leading figure in taking a strong stand against the Soviet Union and the advance of Communism. Republicans and Democrats worked together in this effort. We understood who the enemy was. It was not members of the other party.
Later, time was spent working as an assistant to the economist Patrick Boarman, then chairman of the House Republican Study Committee. Dr. Boarman was a strong advocate of the free market, free trade and balanced budgets. I hate to think how he would characterize the Republican Party’s willingness to abandon all of these conservative positions.
“Party loyalty,’ if a party stands for nothing but following what one individual in power advocates, is without substance or meaning.
The leaders of the House Republican Study Committee at that time were Reps. Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, both of whom would later become President. I don’t remember either of them ever insulting their Democratic colleagues. Instead, they sought to convince them that the policies Republicans were developing were best for all Americans. They knew that our adversaries in Moscow and Peking, not their colleagues across the aisle, were the “enemy.”
The Republican Party in those days was indeed the party of Abraham Lincoln.
Republicans were the party opposing segregation and supporting equal rights for all Americans. It was the Democratic Party that provided a home for the advocates of segregation.
Another Republican for whom I worked was Rep. Jack Kemp (R-NY), who supported enterprise zones for minority neighborhoods, viewed immigrants as a positive contribution to the American melting pot, and understood that our diversity was a strength, not a weakness.
Yet another Republican with whom I worked was Rep. Phil Crane (R-Il), who opposed government interference in the economy and led the fight against “crony capitalism.” Crony capitalism found in the Interstate Commerce Commission and in government agencies which prevented the free market from regulating airfares.
The Bush goal to expand the Republican party
Spending one summer working as a reporter for The Houston Press, and through my good friend Marjorie Arsht, I first met George H.W. Bush. Bush was then chairman of the Harris County Republican Party. His goal was to expand the Republican Party to welcome minorities.
I remember a large reception for black leaders in Houston hosted by Bush and held at the Arsht home.
Later, under President Reagan, I served with my good friend J.A. Parker on the transition team at the Equal Employment Occupation Commission. Parker, one of the earliest and leading black conservatives, was an advocate of a genuinely color-blind American society.
Through The Lincoln Review, of which I was Associate Editor, we pointed out that free markets, a strong America and limited government, with respect for our Constitution and the limits placed on the power of the executive, served the interests of all Americans, especially minorities.
How can Republicans today embrace a presidential claim that, in effect, there are no limits on executive power? That a president could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue with no consequences?
Those of us who lived through the years of segregation, the assassination of President Kennedy, the murder of Martin Luther King, the riots of 1968 also saw the end of the Cold War, the passage of civil rights legislation, and the election of our first black president.
Ronald Reagan always found the diversity of American politics as one of our great strengths.
I cannot understand how an era such as ours, with no enemy threatening us and with financial growth and stability, has produced such divisiveness. Why, rather than recognizing America as unique for its diversity, do some find this a weakness?
Years ago, when I was a regular lecturer at Freedoms Foundation in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, I remember using the story of an international meeting in Japan. Rep. Spark Matsunaga (D-Hawaii) was ushered into the bus for Japanese delegates. Rep. Carl Albert (D-OK) ran up and said, “No, no, he’s one of ours.”
America was different. Something special. Not only a nation of immigrants but the face of the whole world.
American politics have always been characterized by a belief in the existence of “loyal opposition.” A society such as ours cannot work if we insist on characterizing those with whom we disagree as “traitors,” or as “human scum.”
In a free and democratic society, we should expect a difference of opinion about a variety of public policy questions. Denigrating those with whom we disagree rather than debating our differences is a dangerous retreat from what democracy requires.
I and many others remember when American politics worked.
It is sad to see our political life’s current retreat into narrowness and personal insult. Fortunately, American society has moved forward from difficult times in the past. Let us hope that Republicans and Democrats of principle, who put the interests of their country over that of their party, will prevail in the end.