I know it will come as something of a shock to younger readers of IBJ, but I spent 35-plus years as an active Republican. I was corporation counsel during Bill Hudnut’s administration, and I was the Republican nominee for Congress from Indiana’s then-11th District back in 1980. (I won a five-way primary but lost the general election because—this is true—I was considered too conservative.)
My political philosophy hasn’t changed, but the party I worked for so ardently for so long no longer exists.
Perhaps my memory is faulty, but the arguments I remember about policies to help the poor revolved around tactics; those of us who believed in free markets wanted to be sure the programs we devised did not interfere unduly with private enterprise or private charity. The arguments were about how to help, not whether we should.
The Republican Party I worked for believed in science—Richard Nixon created the EPA—and it didn’t sneer at intelligence; it valued it. That party saw wars as evidence of diplomatic failure, not as opportunities to engage in crusades. It elected legislators who understood they were supposed to solve problems, not to grandstand, obstruct and divide.
To that long-gone GOP, fiscal responsibility meant conducting the affairs of government in a prudent and businesslike fashion; it was understood that governments have to pay their bills (including bills for costly wars), and as a result, people have to pay taxes.
It was a party of grown-ups, and I miss it.
Here is a sample of what has replaced it.
• The Oregon Republican Party just elected a new chairman, Art Robinson. He wants to sprinkle radioactive waste from airplanes to build up our resistance to degenerative illnesses. Among his many “interesting” quotes is this gem: “Public education [tax-financed socialism] has become the most widespread and devastating form of child abuse and racism in the United States. Moreover, people who have been cut off at the knees by public education are so mentally handicapped that they cannot be responsible custodians of the energy technology base or other advanced accomplishments of our civilization.”
• At a town hall meeting in California, when a constituent asked Rep. Tom McClintock for his stance on Wall Street criminal activity, McClintock responded, “Well, first of all, for a criminal practice there has to be a gun. It’s pretty simple.”
• According to The State, a South Carolina newspaper, State Sen. Lee Bright announced his candidacy for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate by calling incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham “a community organizer for the Muslim Brotherhood.”
• Georgia Rep. Paul Broun videotaped remarks last year in which he charged that evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory are “lies straight from the pit of hell’ meant to convince people they do not need a savior. Broun is a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate.
If these were isolated cases, it would be different. But even when you throw in their own “challenged” legislators and creepy sexters like Anthony Weiner, Democratic crazies can’t compete with the likes of Louie Gohmert, whom Charles Pierce memorably called “perhaps the dumbest mammal to enter a legislative chamber since Caligula’s horse.” Or with Steve King. Or Michelle Bachmann. Or Texas Rep. Ted Yoho, who recently explained that Obamacare is racist, because it imposes a tax on tanning beds, and black people don’t need to use tanning beds.
I miss the party of Bill Hudnut and Dick Lugar.•
Kennedy is a professor of law and public policy at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI. She blogs regularly at www.sheilakennedy.net. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send comments on this column to email@example.com.