Since my mother passed away suddenly earlier this year, just 16 months after Dad, my siblings and I have been dealing with the painful process of clearing out her apartment for sale. Mom was both a packrat and the keeper of family history, so there is much to sort through — with a wealth of memories and emotions encountered in the process.
In 1979, my parents hosted a fundraiser to raise money for the presidential campaign of George H.W. Bush. I just found this thank you note from the late Malcolm “Mac” Baldrige, who was later appointed as Secretary of Commerce by President Reagan. I also found my father’s Republican Presidential Task Force pin, which I gave to my son, a political science major and avid observer of world affairs, to wear “ironically” because he often asks me how I could have ever been a Republican.
“Do you think Grandpa would still be a Republican?” he’s asked me more than once.
Even before Dad died, I wondered. We lost my father to Alzheimer’s, and thus were robbed of the intense political discussions, and sometimes vehement arguments, which helped form the woman I am today.
How would my father have reacted to hearing Lindsey Graham say, in the wake of the racially motivated shootings in Charleston, that the confederate flag “works” in South Carolina, or that he’s only seen this kind of hatred “in the Middle East.” One is forced to wonder if Sen. Graham wanders around in dark glasses and earplugs when he isn’t traveling to the Middle East.
I wonder what Dad would have made of Rand Paul telling the Faith and Freedom Coalition Conference that the shooting of people studying the bible in a church was due to “people not understanding where salvation comes from.”
Would Dad have struggled as I do with the hypocrisy of Sen. Ted Cruz, who makes the rounds of Orthodox synagogues proclaiming his undying support for Israel, while at the same time accepting campaign contributions from an noted racist and anti-Semite, Earl Holt III, of the Council of Concerned Citizens. (See also, Rick Santorum, Rand Paul, Senators Jeff Flake, Rob Portman, and Steve King, who have also taken Holt’s contributions).
My father was a reader and thinker — a man of action, while at the same time an intellectual. I cannot help but think he would have been horrified by the party’s embrace of anti-intellectualism. I wish I could ask Dad what he thinks about Bobby Jindal, the guy who, after the GOP’s 2012 electoral defeat, rightly called for the Republicans to “stop being the stupid party.” I agreed with the Bobby Jindal who said, “It is no secret we had a number of Republicans damage our brand this year with offensive, bizarre comments — enough of that . . . We’ve had enough of this dumbed-down conservatism. We need to stop being simplistic, we need to trust the intelligence of the American people and we need to stop insulting the intelligence of the voters.”
But in 2008, this same Bobby Jindal, a Rhodes Scholar and Ivy League pre-med, signed into law a science education policy written by the Louisiana Family Forum, in consultation with the Discovery Institute, a pro-intelligent-design think tank. When questioned on this at CPAC in 2014, Jindal used a familiar dodge: “I’m not an evolutionary biologist.” Then how about you leave evolutionary biology education to the biologists, and stop playing politics with the education of American children?
I’ve been talking to a fellow disillusioned-with-the-GOP friend, John Ford, who was raised in New York City as a Rockefeller Republican. He describes the kind of Republicanism of our fathers thusly:
“What that sort of Republicanism meant was a combination of self-reliance, a pro-business, pro-growth philosophy, the unquestioned assumption that everyone could share in the prosperity of the greatest nation on earth, and belief in a strong America, with the understanding that democracy carries with it a moral responsibility to help those who are, whether temporarily or permanently, unable to help themselves. Law and order, yes, but in the context of creating and maintaining dignity for people of all races and beliefs. Personally, I believe that government should be a model of efficiency (where perhaps it can take lessons from certain private industries), assist everyone who needs a helping hand, and perhaps more importantly, subsidize nobody who doesn’t. It should pay its own way during the good times, and spend what it needs to in order to help maintain a basic standard of living in the bad. Government is absolutely the answer to some problems, but by no means all of them.”
I started my political life as a Republican, became a Democrat, and am now unaffiliated. In the current polarized political environment, it’s hard to know where people like John and I can go. When John explained to a conservative friend that he is a small government liberal, it didn’t go well.
“The fact that he said that there could be no such thing was a sad pointer to so much of what is wrong with the political discourse in the country today. When did it become mandatory that a lean, efficient government had to go hand in hand with such terrible smallness of spirit? If it made Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt and Rocky wonder why they’d bothered, I’d understand, But a huge part of their greatness, in why we can hold them in such tremendous respect, lies in that they wouldn’t wonder for a second, because they were Republicans who stood for what was right — and not just on the right — whatever the cost. Where is that today?”
Good question, John. I so wish I could talk to Dad about it.
Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. A former securities analyst, she’s now an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU, and enjoys helping young people discover the power of finding their voice as an instructor at the Writopia Lab.
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