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THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Location: Douglas, Coffee Co., The Other Georgia, United States

Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Monday, August 30, 2004

And the winner is . . . Jay Bookman -- A very timely column entitled "I, too, was abandoned by my party"

Hands down, no question about it. One of the best columns from this week and maybe the entire month came on Monday, 8-30-04, by Jay Bookman, deputy editorial page editor for the ajc. It is must reading. Posting excerpts will not do it justice. To wet your appetite, I'll give you one:

"The [Republican] party that had embraced Milton Friedman's common-sense warning that there's no such thing as a free lunch was telling taxpayers they could have a free lunch, dinner, dessert and after-dinner cigar as well."

You want more? The only way is to give it all to you. It follows:

I, too, was abandoned by my party

U.S. Sen. Zell Miller, a lifelong Democrat, says he feels abandoned by his party, which is why he'll be delivering the keynote address for the Republicans at their convention this week in New York City.

I have some sympathy for the senator. In fact, looking down the list of GOP speakers scheduled for primetime TV makes me downright nostalgic for the Republican Party of my youth and early adulthood, the party that might still draw my vote today had things gone differently. Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Arnold Schwarzenegger, New York Gov. George Pataki . . . almost every prominent remnant of the party's moderate wing will be up on stage for the national viewing audience, providing an image of reason for a party that otherwise treats them as illegitimate cousins.

If only that image were still real . . .

Growing up in a military family during Vietnam, I had little natural sympathy for the anti-war protests of that era; through my teenage years, it seemed to me that President Nixon was handling difficult times pretty well, at least until Watergate exposed his true character. But that was just one man's corruption, and in 1976 I proudly cast my first vote for Republican Jerry Ford over Democrat Jimmy Carter.

The GOP back then was still friendly to the environment; Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency and signed many of our landmark environmental laws. It still basked in its legacy of support for civil rights, and its strategy of wooing white Southern Democrats made bitter by their own party's role in ending segregation had not yet become evident. Its fiscal conservatism appealed to me as well. In my eyes, the Republican Party stood for competence and reason in a raucous era when neither was much evident.

But then came Ronald Reagan, who led the party to places I could not follow.

In the '80 campaign, I was startled by Reagan's contention that we could slash taxes and raise defense spending while still balancing the budget. It was an insult to basic intelligence. The party that had embraced Milton Friedman's common-sense warning that there's no such thing as a free lunch was telling taxpayers they could have a free lunch, dinner, dessert and after-dinner cigar as well. And from there it got worse.

Today, the modern Republican Party no longer has a plausible claim as the party of fiscal responsibility. That legacy began to crumble under the massive deficits created by Reagan, and it suffered another hit when it took Bill Clinton, a Democrat, to bring the budget under control and produce a surplus. But the truly fatal blow to that reputation -- the blow that has put it in the grave and tossed dirt on it -- came just in the last few years, as a Republican Congress and a Republican president approved the largest expansion of nondefense spending in the last 40 years, blithely dismissing the exploding deficit as somebody else's problem.

Well, I have two children, and they're that "somebody else."

Under Reagan, the party also began to woo conservative Christians with suggestions that by seizing political power, they could help save the soul of the American nation. Party leaders cynically calculated that they could milk the Christian movement for votes without ever really letting them have real power, but they were wrong. Today, the one-time party of limited government has mutated into a party that treats government as a legitimate tool for the cultural, moral and religious re-engineering of our nation.

Most of all, though, the Republican Party seems to have lost interest in competence. In economics, in foreign policy, on environmental and scientific issues, the voices of the competent have been silenced so the trumpets of the true believer can be heard. When practicality clashes with ideology or theology, practicality loses, particularly under the current administration.

In fact, "moderate" is about the worst thing that one Republican can call another Republican these days, which tells you a lot. The few moderates who remain have to fight for survival every day, until that magic moment once every four years when they are invited up to the podium, tokens of another, better time.

1 Comments:

Blogger rusty said...

You're right, Sid, that was an excellent column. A statement Barry Goldwater made comes to mind:

“They think I’ve turned liberal because I believe a woman has a right to an abortion. That’s a decision that’s up to the pregnant woman, not up to the pope or some do-gooders or the religious right. It’s not a conservative issue at all.”

I found that after somehow stumbling onto Goldwater's WaPo obituary. The contrast between that statement and now leads me to believe neither party has consistent ideology anymore. Republicans want to deregulate commerce and regulate morality, which makes them half conservative and half fascist. Democrats are the opposite, and all interests involved on both sides are mutually exclusive. It's crazy.

11:57 AM  

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