Friday, March 20, 2009

Whatever happened to my grandparents' GOP?

Governor Tom McCall
My grandparents, Bob and Gertrude Metzger, were lifelong Republicans. One of my earliest memories is of my mom and dad engaging Grandpa in a political discussion. It was 1968 and my parents were supporting Hubert Humphrey for president, but my grandparents were voting for Richard Nixon. I was too young to understand the arguments that were being put forth on each side, but I remember Dad making his case and Grandpa replying "If Nixon wins, it'll be different. If Nixon wins, it'll be different."

Of course, by 1974, Grandma and Grandpa both regretted their votes for Nixon and regarded him as a dishonest and corrupt man. When I was around 16 years old, I read Nixon's book, Six Crises, and I remember asking Grandma about something in it. I don't remember my question, but I remember how Grandma answered: "I think everything that man [Nixon] says is lies." They never forgave him.

And, even though I don't think either of them voted for another Republican in the last 10 years of their respective lives, they remained Republicans to the end of their days.

But it was a different party, back then. One of Oregon's most revered governors was a Republican named Tom McCall. Governor McCall served two terms, occupying the governor's mansion from 1967 to 1975. He was one of our most progressive governors, as well. He helped enact Oregon's ground-breaking Bottle Bill, pushed for and attained public ownership of the beaches along our incomparable Oregon coast, and oversaw the decriminalization of marijuana in the state.

And Governor McCall was hardly an aberration within the Republican party. Before the Reagan era gave birth to the modern "conservative" (read: authoritarian) movement, the party had plenty of moderates. Need examples? How about President Eisenhower? Or President Ford? Does anyone honestly think either of these men, with his progressive policies, would win a single primary were he to attempt to get the nomination in today's Republican party? (Eisenhower enlarged Social Security; Ford signed the Helsinki Accords to initiate détente with the Soviet Union.)

In today's GOP, Tom McCall, Dwight Eisenhower, and Gerald Ford would be booed off the stage. Recall how John McCain, a far more conservative politician than any of these men, was roundly booed at some reactionary political conference because his stand on immigration didn't meet with the accepted party line.

And while I have greatly enjoyed watching the Republicans being beaten and humiliated at the national polls, I recognize that it is ultimately destructive. It's like scratching a poison oak rash. It feels so good at the time, but it only prolongs the problem.

This country needs a strong two-party system. (Arguably a parliamentary system, with multiple parties would be even better!) But with the Republican party defining itself in such restrictive terms, to the point that even their own past leaders would no longer be welcome in their ranks, they isolate and alienate themselves.

Today's GOP
Well, if the trend continues, eventually the GOP will die. The Democratic party will then fracture into its component factions and form new parties. Nothing wrong with any of that. It's happened before with the Whigs and the Know-Nothings and the Bull Moose party.

But I wonder: is the Republican party of my grandparents gone forever?

2 comments:

Ken said...

Great post, Dade! You know my politics and I agree with you. The Republicans seem to be "lost in the woods" right now.

I like the idea of multiple parties but I would be happy with a strong two party systme.

Bradley Keller said...

IKE, in my opinion was our last authentically elected democratic president. Though the Immigration point listed above is a red herring. Eisenhower was the last president to enforce our emigration laws. Remember the Wet Back program.