Archive for the ‘Republican Party’ Category

What it means to be a crunchy conservative

First published Oct. 3, 2016

There are many mansions in the American conservative house, and some of them are old and funky and smell like a pot of organic mustard greens cooking down on the stove.

— Rod Dreher, from “Crunchy Cons”

It wasn’t until I was 45 that I started to think of myself as a conservative.

At heart, I had always been one, even in my 20s, when I called myself a democratic socialist, traveled to Nicaragua, read Hunter Thompson and listened to Neil Young.

I still listen to Neil Young.

Like many of my contemporaries, I had the idea that to be a conservative meant to be a belligerent neocon on foreign policy, a self-centered libertarian on economics and a closed-minded culture warrior on social matters.

I was wrong.

Although I’ve never met him — and he’s several years younger than I am — Rod Dreher had a big influence on my thinking after I had left the Democratic Party over its ideological rigidity, joined an Anglican church and become the managing editor of a daily newspaper.

Dreher’s book that introduced me to a different way of understanding this venerable philosophy had a title that could have been a chapter: “Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, Gun-loving Organic Gardeners, Evangelical Free-range Farmers, Hip Homeschooling Mamas, Right-wing Nature Lovers, and Their Diverse Tribe of Countercultural Conservatives Plan to Save America (or at Least the Republican Party).”

Crunchy conservatism, Dreher explained, is not a political program, but rather a “practical sensibility” based on what the wisdom of tradition teaches is best for families and communities.

It is about conserving those things that are good and true.

This summer, I read the book again, and was struck by how much things have changed in the 10 years since it was written.

What a different time 2005 was. George W. Bush was president, Pope John Paul II was succeeded by the even more orthodox Benedict XVI, the Defense of Marriage Act was still the law of the land, legal recreational marijuana was a pipe dream, we were engaged in costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hurricane Katrina demonstrated how inept big government could be, the housing market was soaring, fueled by bad loan practices, and almost no one could foresee the financial meltdown that was coming.

I’m convinced that if the Republican Party had gone in the direction that Dreher and others suggested, rather than toward the hard-line libertarianism and isolationism of the tea party movement, it would have been able to compete with the Democratic Party for the hearts and minds of younger Americans and could have made a positive difference in our society.

Dreher’s crunchy (read: earthy) conservatism is traditional Burkean conservatism for a new generation. Edmund Burke, an 18th century Dubliner and British statesman, rejected abstract Enlightenment reason and “natural law” as guiding lights. All of us, he wrote, are influenced by our cultural traditions, and while individual liberty is important, community is no less so. We belong to one another, and that affects who were are.

Burke wrote that the individual is foolish, but the species is wise. We must learn from those who have gone before us and not rely solely on ourselves. And we must rely on the greater wisdom of the Supreme Being as handed down through the ages.

Mainstream liberalism and conservatism are both essentially materialistic, Dreher argues, and we should not be surprised that neither has led to the improvement of our national character. He describes his book as a rebuke to both the economic individualism of the right and the moral individualism of the left. Its purpose is to explore ways to live out conservative values in a culture that seeks to separate us from our values, families and communities.

In less than 250 pages, “Crunchy Cons” uses Dreher’s own experiences as well as those of people across the country who are living countercultural lives that are socially, spiritually and physically healthier than the ways of the dominant culture. He looks at organic farming and the slow food movement, new urban planning, walkable neighborhoods and aesthetically pleasing architectural design such as bungalows, the attraction of liturgical Christianity to a generation bored with “relevant” contemporary worship, and the understanding that conservation is the essence of conservatism.

“Crunchy Cons” was not a bestseller and is now out of print. It won’t make a list of the most influential conservative tomes, like William Buckley’s “God and Man at Yale” or Russell Kirk’s “The Conservative Mind.” But it influenced me more than any other book in my evolution into a conservative, and to see that I had been one all along. I recommend it to others.

You probably won’t be able to find it, though, unless you come across it at a secondhand bookstore or on Amazon, so in the weeks to come, I want to share a little more of it and hope it will stir your imagination, as it did mine.

The Republican who could actually be president

First published Sept. 5, 2016

Billionaire David Koch, who bankrolls far-right candidates and causes, got a standing ovation in Columbus, Ohio, last month during Americans for Prosperity’s two-day tea party summit.

Jeb Bush was there, along with other Republican presidential hopefuls, Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Rick Perry of Texas, and Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas. All wanted to prove their conservative credentials by railing against the Affordable Care Act and, except for Bush, Common Core education standards.

Noticeably absent was Ohio Gov. John Kasich, whose office is less than a mile from the convention center. Kasich wasn’t invited because he isn’t one of them. Their mindset was reflected in the words of an activist who was heard to grumble, “If they’re a RINO, they may as well be on the other side.”

But it isn’t traditional conservatives like Kasich who are “Republicans in name only,” it’s the libertarian ideologues with their heads in the clouds and their hearts on ice who have strayed from the rich heritage of the party of Lincoln.

Kasich probably isn’t bothered by the snub. It will help him in the pivotal state of Ohio, where he won 86 of 88 counties in his last election.

Of the 27 or so candidates seeking the GOP nomination so far, Kasich is the one who could garner enough support from independents, centrist Democrats and moderate Republicans to win the White House.

The tougher challenge will be convincing voters in the primaries and caucuses that he’s their best hope, because the party activists and talk radio types who play an outsized role early in the process will try to persuade them to nominate somebody like Perry or Cruz, who will then lose swing voters in the general election.

That’s because they can’t do the math.

Republicans control the House because of gerrymandering, and they have more Senate seats because there are more red than blue states. But, except for Texas, the red states don’t have as many voters. If you can’t win some blue states like California and New York, and more importantly, purple toss-up states like Ohio and Florida, then you can’t win the White House. It’s simple, but then the early nominating process has been taken over by simpletons.

Republicans used to win because they chose candidates who were principled pragmatists like Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan who could work in a bipartisan way to accomplish goals.

A few years after the Barry Goldwater catastrophe of 1964, the Republican Party made a comeback by moving back toward the middle, and dominated American politics for the next 40 years. But in five of the last six presidential races, they’ve lost the popular vote, and came close to losing it in 2004.

Moderate candidates like George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney pivoted to the right to prove they were “severely conservative” — which is what Jeb was doing in Columbus — then alienate many who would have been for them.

How many of us want a leader who is severe?

Does anyone really think the country is going to elect someone as extreme as Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or Ben Carson?

Bloomberg reporter Margaret Carlson, in a recent column, outlined Kasich’s accomplishments as governor. In his two terms, Ohio has gone from 48th to eighth in job creation, income has grown by 9.8 percent and unemployment has fallen to 5.2. He inherited a nearly bankrupt state, which now has a budget surplus and higher debt rating. The poverty rate in Ohio has plummeted, thanks to a vibrant economy, the governor’s earned income tax credit and Medicaid expansion.

In Congress, Kasich was the House budget chairman when we had our last balanced federal budget. He understands defense and foreign affairs. He has more government experience than most of the other candidates combined.

Although he is a social conservative who is personally against abortion and gay marriage, he isn’t strident about it, and accepts the Supreme Court’s decisions as the law of the land.

He is also a devout Christian but doesn’t use religion as a cudgel, and his faith is the kinder, gentler sort. In the first debate, he said that of course he would love his children unconditionally if they were gay, and when a woman challenged him on increasing Medicaid eligibility, his response was, “I don’t know about you, lady, but when I get to the Pearly Gates, I’m going to have to answer for what I’ve done for the poor.” He won’t have to answer for what he’s done for David Koch and his kind.

Kasich is no plaster saint, and he knows it. He’s tough, sometimes ill-tempered and doesn’t suffer fools easily — which could make him the answer to Trump in this summer of our discontent and the strongest adversary for the Democratic candidate next November.

Will Bevin, Kentucky GOP be ‘Happy Together’?

First published June 19, 2015

If you think Matt Bevin is a dour revolutionary, watch the video. It’s the funniest thing in Kentucky politics since Mitch McConnell’s hound dogs treed Dee Huddleston.

As the Turtles song “Happy Together” plays in the background, Bevin wakes up in a Team Mitch T-shirt, goes to work in an SUV with a Team Mitch license plate and gets a Team Mitch tattoo.

“Yeah, it stings a little bit, but it’s so worth it,” he says.

In one scene, he phones McConnell to warn him: “The word on the street is that Rand is going down to the Senate floor right now. He’s got his pockets filled with energy bars … .They say he’s going to be out there until at least Tuesday.” Then he adds: “Hey, that’s what friends are for, sir.”

It ends with Bevin talking to McConnell like a love-struck teenager.

“No, you hang up. No, really, you hang up,” he says.

Bevin, who won the GOP nomination by 83 votes in a four-way race, probably wasn’t McConnell’s first choice for governor. A year ago, Bevin challenged the Godfather for his seat and reportedly was ungracious after McConnell rolled over him and his Democratic opponent.

Then there was the bitter gubernatorial contest. I figured Agriculture Commissioner Jamie Comer would win the primary and beat Democrat Jack Conway in the general. Louisville businessman Hal Heiner might have had a chance, but I wouldn’t have placed a $2 bet on Bevin or retired Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott, whose shoe-leather campaign never gained traction.

That was before the rumors about Comer’s woman problem.

Less than an hour before Joe Gerth of The Courier-Journal broke the story based on an interview with Comer’s college girlfriend, a Heiner supporter called to tell me it was coming. When I read the story, I knew it was over for Comer — and probably for Heiner too, because his people were likely behind it.

That left Bevin, who had taken the high road, as the obvious beneficiary.

But Bevin?

Like Rand Paul, who ran against the party establishment and had to accommodate it once elected, Bevin must do the same. The video was a clever way of admitting it.

On June 10, I interviewed Bevin and his running mate, Jenean Hampton, on PLG-TV, and he told me he didn’t like labels.

“A tea party favorite? I’m not sure what that means,” he said.

He said he had never belonged to a tea party group, but was of “like mind” with them on constitutional government, lower taxes and individual responsibility.

He also said the bad blood between McConnell and himself was fiction, and he had “voted for the guy every time” except when he ran against him.

Make no mistake, Matt Bevin is the most far-right conservative who has ever run a race for governor in Kentucky. He has said he would like to reduce or eliminate taxes except for “consumption” (sales) taxes and reduce spending. He wants to make Kentucky a state where those who work in places that have won the right of collective bargaining wouldn’t have to pay for union representation. He is against raising the minimum wage and would end the prevailing wage. He would take away teachers’ defined-benefits pensions and enroll them in something like a 401(k).

His first executive order would be to abolish Kynect, the state’s popular health insurance exchange, and he would reverse Gov. Steve Beshear’s expansion of Medicaid. He opposes Common Core and supports charter schools.

How this agenda will play out in a purple state where Republicans historically have been more like John Sherman Cooper than Ted Cruz remains to be seen. But if Bevin can take a page from McConnell’s playbook on how to pivot, he could succeed.

Will Bevin, state GOP be ‘Happy Together’?

If you think Matt Bevin is a dour revolutionary, watch the video. It’s the funniest thing in Kentucky politics since Mitch McConnell’s hound dogs treed Dee Huddleston.

As the Turtles song “Happy Together” plays in the background, Bevin wakes up in a Team Mitch T-shirt, goes to work in an SUV with a Team Mitch license plate and gets a Team Mitch tattoo.

“Yeah, it stings a little bit, but it’s so worth it,” he says.

In one scene, he phones McConnell to warn him: “The word on the street is that Rand is going down to the Senate floor right now. He’s got his pockets filled with energy bars … .They say he’s going to be out there until at least Tuesday.” Then he adds: “Hey, that’s what friends are for, sir.”

It ends with Bevin talking to McConnell like a love-struck teenager.

“No, you hang up. No, really, you hang up,” he says.

Bevin, who won the GOP nomination by 83 votes in a four-way race, probably wasn’t McConnell’s first choice for governor. A year ago, Bevin challenged the Godfather for his seat and reportedly was ungracious after McConnell rolled over him and his Democratic opponent.

Then there was the bitter gubernatorial contest. I figured Agriculture Commissioner Jamie Comer would win the primary and beat Democrat Jack Conway in the general. Louisville businessman Hal Heiner might have had a chance, but I wouldn’t have placed a $2 bet on Bevin or retired Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott, whose shoe-leather campaign never gained traction.

That was before the rumors about Comer’s woman problem.

Less than an hour before Joe Gerth of The Courier-Journal broke the story based on an interview with Comer’s college girlfriend, a Heiner supporter called to tell me it was coming. When I read the story, I knew it was over for Comer — and probably for Heiner too, because his people were likely behind it.

That left Bevin, who had taken the high road, as the obvious beneficiary.

But Bevin?

Like Rand Paul, who ran against the party establishment and had to accommodate it once elected, Bevin must do the same. The video was a clever way of admitting it.

On June 10, I interviewed Bevin and his running mate, Jenean Hampton, on PLG-TV, and he told me he didn’t like labels.

“A tea party favorite? I’m not sure what that means,” he said.

He said he had never belonged to a tea party group, but was of “like mind” with them on constitutional government, lower taxes and individual responsibility.

He also said the bad blood between McConnell and himself was fiction, and he had “voted for the guy every time” except when he ran against him.

Make no mistake, Matt Bevin is the most far-right conservative who has ever run a race for governor in Kentucky. He has said he would like to reduce or eliminate taxes except for “consumption” (sales) taxes and reduce spending. He wants to make Kentucky a state where those who work in places that have won the right of collective bargaining wouldn’t have to pay for union representation. He is against raising the minimum wage and would end the prevailing wage. He would take away teachers’ defined-benefits pensions and enroll them in something like a 401(k).

His first executive order would be to abolish Kynect, the state’s popular health insurance exchange, and he would reverse Gov. Steve Beshear’s expansion of Medicaid. He opposes Common Core and supports charter schools.

How this agenda will play out in a purple state where Republicans historically have been more like John Sherman Cooper than Ted Cruz remains to be seen. But if Bevin can take a page from McConnell’s playbook on how to pivot, he could succeed.

Has Paul become a raging moderate?

April 11, 2015

His first day on the campaign trail, Rand Paul got off on the wrong foot with reporters. He had a meltdown when NBC’s Savannah Guthrie asked him about his changing positions on whether he thinks Iran is a threat to the U.S. and whether he still wants to end foreign aid to Israel.

“No, no, no, you’ve editorialized it,” Paul said. “No, no, no, listen.”

We are listening, but we aren’t getting answers.

The same day, the junior senator from Kentucky, who announced Tuesday in Louisville that he is a candidate for president, got testy with an AP reporter who asked him to clarify his position on abortion.

The candidate never said.

While Rand Paul the presidential candidate may be more attractive to traditional conservatives than the libertarian firebrand who was elected to the Senate during the tea party revolt of 2010, I kind of miss the candor of the old Rand Paul.

During that race, I interviewed Paul after he had suggested the Civil Rights Act of 1964 shouldn’t apply to private businesses and called coal a dirty energy source.

I asked him about those issues, and we talked about Medicare, which accounted for a large share of his income as an ophthalmologist. He said he thought people would be better off with the old fee-for-service system of paying for health care.

Later, Paul grabbed headlines for advocating draconian cuts to the federal budget, pulling back from military commitments around the globe and ending foreign aid, including assistance to Israel and Egypt, our closest Middle East allies.

In one speech, Paul dissed Henry Clay and identified with the Great Compromiser’s cousin, the cantankerous Cassius Marcellus Clay.

When asked whether the tea party would be co-opted by Washington, Paul said it would co-opt the establishment.

“We’re coming. We’re proud. We’re strong. We’re loud,” he said. “I think we’re already shaping the debate.”

I believe he has been proven right. George Washington’s description of the Senate as the saucer that cools the tea is no longer apt in a time when radical demagogues like Ted Cruz threaten to shut down the federal government and neophytes like Tom Cotton undermine the president by parlaying with the theocratic tyrant of the terrorist nation Iran.

Paul, however, seems to have moderated somewhat. He now favors increasing the Pentagon’s budget and taking a hard line against the Islamic State. He has appealed to evangelicals by making it clear he’s against gay marriage, abortion and legalization of marijuana. He’s reached out to African Americans and young voters to try and broaden the base of the Republican Party, and has campaigned for establishment candidates and against libertarian insurgents in elections around the country.

Guthrie asked Paul in her interview if he had “mellowed.”

Or is he only taking these positions to make his candidacy more palatable to old-line Republicans?

Who is Rand Paul, really?

It’s a legitimate question, and rather than rant when reporters ask it, he should answer it frankly.

Honestly, Abe Lincoln did not say that

Saturday, November 22, 2014

“The trouble with quotes on the Internet is that it’s difficult to discern whether or not they are genuine.” — Abraham Lincoln

This satirical “quotation” is one I recently posted on Facebook for laughs.

It’s a tribute to the sagacity of America’s greatest president that many of us want to give Lincoln credit for things he didn’t say when did say so much that is worth repeating.

I’m usually careful about verifying the authenticity of anything I read on the Internet, but a couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t careful enough.

In my Nov. 9 column, I wrote about what it means to be a “Lincoln Republican.” I included this quote attributed to Lincoln about the dangers to democracy caused by the stratification of wealth:

“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. … corporations have been enthroned, and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”

I attempted to verify its authenticity and learned it was included in a letter to a Col. William F. Elkins on Nov. 21, 1864.

It reflected Heather Cox Richardson’s description of Lincoln’s views in her history of the Republican Party, “To Make Men Free.” She describes the Kentucky of Lincoln’s youth as a place where the slaveholding aristocracy made it hard for men like his father to get ahead because the wealthy owned the best land and controlled the government and its laws.

In 1816, the Lincolns moved north of the Ohio River, where the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 had established a land of opportunity by prohibiting slavery and primogeniture, the tradition of a landowner bequeathing all of his property to the eldest son to keep large estates intact. The Republican Party was later founded there on such egalitarian ideals.

The quote also mirrored Lincoln’s speech of Dec. 1, 1861, in which he weighed the importance of labor and capital: “Labor is prior to and independent of capital,” Lincoln said. “Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

It turns out, however, that the wealth quote was a fabrication, though an old one.

Tom Hall, a history enthusiast, raised the red flag. In an email the day after my Sunday column, he said the quote seemed “a little too prescient, as if old Abe could see 30 or so years into the future to the day of the big railroads, Standard Oil and the Carnegie steel mills. In other words, this smells like the ‘quote’ is an Internet fraud, and you fell for it.”

Did I ever.

This is what Snopes.com, a website that researches information on the Internet to determine its veracity, said about the supposed letter of 1864: “These words did not originate with Abraham Lincoln … they appear in none of his collected writings or speeches, and they did not surface until more than 20 years after his death (and were immediately denounced as a ‘bold, unflushing forgery’ by John Nicolay, Lincoln’s private secretary). This spurious Lincoln warning gained currency during the 1896 presidential election season (when economic policy, particularly the USA’s adherence to the gold standard, was the major campaign issue), and ever since then it has been cited and quoted by innumerable journalists, clergymen, congressmen, and compilers of encyclopedias.

So I’m not the first journalist who fell for it. But that doesn’t make it less inexcusable.

I owe you an apology for being so easily taken in, and will be more diligent next time.

What would Abe, Teddy, Ike and Jack do?

Friday, November 7, 2014

Jack Kemp’s daughter Judith sat with me in the lobby of Berea College’s Boone Tavern for an interview about her father’s presidential campaign.

It was 1988 — 20 years after the ill-fated campaign of another New Yorker, Robert F. Kennedy, who reminded me of Judith’s father — so we talked about the similarities.

Jack Kemp (Politico.com)

Both appealed to blacks, blue collar workers and the poor, and cared about their interests. Both hated welfare dependency and preferred federal efforts to create opportunity. Kemp wanted to establish enterprise zones in depressed urban areas and foster public-private cooperation to give people in those neighborhoods a hand up. Kennedy had modeled the same approach in New York’s Bedford-Stuyvesant.

When I asked Judith why her father cared more about helping the disadvantaged than the affluent, she said it was because he remained true to the original principles of his party. Her father was, she explained, a “Lincoln Republican.”

If only there were more of them around today.

Kemp didn’t become president, but he became President George H.W. Bush’s secretary of housing and urban development and was able to put more emphasis on housing vouchers and home ownership than public housing projects. When I went to Washington, D.C., in October 1989 to cover a demonstration on behalf of the homeless, Kemp was one of the few in Washington who cared enough to speak to us. Almost everybody else had gone home.

Moderate, sensible, prudent approaches to helping the hurting appeal to some of us more than bureaucratic social engineering and throwing money at problems. There have been other examples, such as President Ronald Reagan’s 1986 tax reforms and expansion of the earned income tax credit, and President George W. Bush’s emphasis on community and faith-based initiatives that work because they take a holistic approach to helping people help themselves.

It should be disconcerting to those who love our country when those on the right sneer at the Bushes for their “compassionate conservatism” and cheer when a debate moderator asks presidential candidates about pulling the plug on an uninsured man in a hospital.

There has been plenty of talk about the fight for the soul of the Republican Party, and after the GOP’s romp in last week’s general election, it’s a discussion worth having.

If future Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other GOP party bosses work with President Barack Obama to find common ground on issues such as reforming the Affordable Care Act, finding a reasonable solution to illegal immigration, cutting the corporate income tax and reducing college students’ debt, I think the party and the country will flourish. However, if they insist on taking away the health insurance of millions of Americans, lowering taxes for the rich and opposing higher wages for the working poor, deregulating finance, which caused the economic collapse and recession, and ignoring the growing stratification of wealth in this country, they will lose in 2016 as surely as Newt Gingrich’s revolutionaries of 1994 lost in 1996.

In 1864, Abraham Lincoln wrote in a letter to a colonel in the U.S. Army: “I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. … corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”

Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower made similar warnings about serving the interests of the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.

After Barry Goldwater, the John Birch Society and other forerunners of today’s libertarians and tea partiers took control of the Republican Party in 1964 and led it to disaster, prudent Republicans such as William Scranton and John Sherman Cooper took it back and made it again a party capable of governing.

McConnell was part of that restoration, and although he has shown himself to be a chameleon in adapting to his political landscape, he’s also the one who worked with Joe Biden to save us from the insanity of the radical right and the intransigence of the radical left.

My hope is that McConnell and other Republican leaders will return the party and the country to the principles of Lincoln, Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Kemp, and not lead us down the primrose path that leads to destruction of the republic and everything America means to the world.

This is my declaration of independence

Saturday, July 12, 2014 at 11:52 am

Come all ye conservatives and liberals who want to conserve the good things and be free— Wendell Berry

These lines of verse, which have stayed in my memory for years, are from “The Mad Farmer, Flying the Flag of Rough Branch, Secedes from the Union.”

Wendell Berry

It was first included in Wendell Berry’s “Entries” in 1997 and was recently published in paperback in “The Mad Farmer Poems,” a collection featuring Berry’s memorable character, as well as contributions of other writers in whose work the barmy farmer appears.

When I visited the Morrison Book Shop in Lexington last Sunday after church, I bought a copy of “The Mad Farmer Poems” and have been enjoying revisiting those verses.

The older I get, the more I relate to the contrariness of the Mad Farmer, who seems eccentric only because he is a voice of sanity in a world gone round the bend.

The poem from which the lines are taken is not about seceding from the republic, which some malcontents were seriously advocating some years ago. Rather, it is about seceding from the madness of a modern society in which we’ve forgotten traditional virtues that are the bedrock of our civilization.

Berry calls for us to secede from the union of power and money, power and secrecy, work and debt, work and despair. He implores us to look beyond ourselves for our own good and that of others.

From the union of self-gratification and self-annihilation,

secede into care for one another

and for the good gifts of Heaven and Earth.

Wise words we would do well to heed in this nihilistic age.

Although this poem isn’t overtly political, it resonates with me on that level.

I am dismayed by our current hyper-partisanship, which is exacerbated by the endless echo chamber of social media and by the removal of limits on money in politics.

I’m sickened by bile I read every day on Facebook, and so should we all be — regardless of whether it’s directed against child refugees from Guatemala, the poor of Appalachia, a mentally troubled Marine, the wife of our current president, homosexuals or evangelical Christians.

My personal beliefs and values don’t align perfectly with the dogma of the Democratic or Republican Party. That’s why, for most of the past decade, I have been a registered independent.

That doesn’t mean I vote for independent candidates; I usually don’t because they almost invariably play the role of spoiler in our two-party system. What it does mean is that I believe in bipartisan cooperation and don’t unquestioningly swear allegiance to any faction.

If this country had a political party that protected religious liberty, respected people of faith, affirmed the sanctity of life and the sacredness of marriage, upheld traditional standards of sexual morality, treated the working class with dignity and fairness, demonstrated compassion for the poor, the aged and those with disabilities, respected thrift and effort and avoided the temptation to confiscate the wealth of those who create it, welcomed immigrants, treated human trafficking victims with humanity instead of contempt, guarded the environment, guaranteed equality for women and minorities, protected children from evil influences, valued civility in discourse and compromise in decision-making, and worked for freedom and opportunity for all, I might join it. But there isn’t a party like that and hasn’t been in my lifetime. Therefore I strive to maintain a degree of independence while working for community on a scale small enough to make a difference.

In the unending war of partisan rancor, I am a conscientious objector.

Like the Mad Farmer, I walk quietly away.

Will Republicans repeat their mistakes of 1964?

Fifty years ago, the Republican Party dealt itself a nearly fatal blow. After eight years of peace and prosperity under Dwight Eisenhower and the narrow defeat of Richard Nixon by John F. Kennedy, delegates to the 1964 GOP Convention in San Francisco nominated as their presidential candidate the hard right libertarian Barry Goldwater.

Rand Paul, shown in Bardstown, Ky., in 2013, said recently moderates are not the future of the Republican Party, but conservative voice Joe Scarborough makes the argument in his new book, "Right Path," that only a moderate, principled conservatism and bipartisan approach to government, in the tradition of Eisenhower and Reagan can enable the GOP to win presidential elections.

Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights Act, suggested Social Security be voluntary and advocated giving field commanders authority to use nuclear weapons. He rejected compromise with moderate members of his party and declared that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”

Republicans suffered humiliating defeat to Lyndon Johnson, losing all states but five in the Old South and Goldwater’s home state of Arizona. Democrats also won two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate, which enabled them to enact a host of liberal programs.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way.

In “The Conscience of a Conservative” — published by a small press in Shepherdsville, Ky., in 1960 — Goldwater argued that most Americans are conservatives, but Republicans lose elections because they nominate moderate candidates who are indistinguishable from Democrats, so people don’t vote.

How often have we heard that argument from the right?

We are a conservative country in the sense that we believe in conserving tradition and order. Radicalism of the left or the right hasn’t gained much ground here in the last 150 years.

For a brief time, though, radicals controlled the GOP. The John Birch Society, which has experienced a recent resurgence, was influential. Young Americans for Freedom, using subversive tactics learned from the Young Communists, infiltrated Republican groups on college campuses and purged moderates from the ranks.

After the 1964 rout, Sen. John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky spoke for the true party of Abraham Lincoln when he wrote: “I do not want to be in a position of saying ‘I told you so,’ but it is true that those of us who had served with Senator Goldwater and knew his views could foresee some of the problems we had during the election.”

Fortunately, the moderates returned to power under effective leaders, including Govs. William Scranton of Pennsylvania and George Romney of Michigan and New York City Mayor John Lindsay. In 1968 and 1972, the party reclaimed the White House with Nixon, although Gerald Ford had to finish his second term.

Recently, I read Joe Scarborough’s new book, “The Right Path.” The former Republican congressman from Florida and host of “Morning Joe” might seem an unlikely advocate for a moderate approach for GOP candidates, but he makes a good argument.

Thanks to gerrymandering, hardliners can capture congressional seats, but if they ever want to elect another Republican president, Scarborough contends, they must reject the rhetoric and ideology of the tea party and rediscover the legacy of Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan “which is one of principled conservatism combined with clear-eyed pragmatism.”

He makes the case that for 40 years, from 1968 to 2008, the Republican Party was the political mainstream. But since its base became captive to the likes of Sarah Palin and Rand Paul, the party has been losing.

So effectively has the right come to dominate the party that Mitt Romney, a moderate like his father, ran as a hardliner to win the nomination in 2012 and retain the base. He described himself as “severely conservative,” denounced Obamacare, which was modeled on his own program, and told donors that people who qualify for income tax returns are leeches.

In 2008, traditional conservative John McCain felt he had to put Palin on his ticket to satisfy the far right. Big fail.

Later McCain called Senators Paul and Ted Cruz “wacko birds.”

The libertarian message may excite the GOP’s base, but it doesn’t convince the Democrats and independents it needs to give it a majority.

“We Republicans have been at our best when we are true to one of the deepest insights of conservatism: that politics, like mankind itself, isn’t perfectible in a fallen universe. And if we continue to let the perfect become the enemy of the good, then we will continue to dwindle in influence,” Scarborough wrote.

That’s sound advice for a party that seems on the verge of making the same mistakes it made in 1964.

It’s true that those who fail to learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them.

Politics and candor aren’t incompatible

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Mitch McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes are as different as apples and avocados.

The 72-year-old Senate Republican leader has evolved from Rockefeller liberal to Reagan conservative and is courting tea party libertarians in his toughest contest in 30 years. His 35-year-old challenger is a Clinton centrist like her daddy, a former Democratic Party boss.

One thing they have in common, though, is they’re intent on managing the message.

I became a reporter the same year McConnell became a senator, and I’ve been impressed and annoyed by his ability to stay on message. Ask him a question, and he’ll give you a scripted statement. Ask it in a different way, and he’ll repeat it.

That seems to be something Grimes has learned as well.

Grimes has been criticized for being short on specifics. So when she came to Bardstown a few days before the primary, I prepared a list of specific questions. Before I could question her, an aide, Preston Maddock, questioned me about what I was going to ask her.

I had only a moment, so I rolled two questions into one. I noted that she had been attacked in ads linking her to President Obama’s “war on coal” and “Obamacare,” so I asked her to tell me one thing she would do to protect coal jobs and one change she would make to the Affordable Care Act.

I wrote that Grimes “didn’t directly answer the question” about coal jobs. On health reform, I quoted her as saying Congress should allow people to keep their doctors and “streamline the enrollment process.”

Short on specifics.

Matthew Fogle, our PLG-TV reporter, didn’t get to ask a question. He also tried to video my interview, but Maddock thrust his hand into the lens and said they were out of time. Fogle tweeted that Grimes didn’t have time for him, and I got a call from the campaign asking that we take down the Twitter feed and Facebook post.

Later I got a call from campaign press secretary Charly Norton asking that I “tweak” the line about Grimes not answering the coal jobs question. Didn’t I receive a copy of her jobs plan? Well, no. But that isn’t how I operate. I’m a reporter. I don’t eat handouts.

Norton sent me a link to the jobs plan. It was boilerplate. As a senator, Grimes would “spare no effort to persuade Washington’s policy makers that a coherent, rational energy policy must have a meaningful, long-term place for coal,” and would call on the president “to do the right thing.”

Short on specifics.

It hasn’t always been that way. In the 1980s, politicians gave detailed policy statements. A few, like Senate mavericks Rand Paul of Kentucky and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, still do, but they’re the exceptions. They’re also respected and popular. Maybe there’s a connection.

It’s hard to imagine a time before social media and sound bites when candidates said what they meant and meant what they said. In his 1968 presidential campaign, Bobby Kennedy sought the antiwar youth vote but had the guts to tell college students their deferments were unfair to poor black kids who were fighting in their place. He even admitted his culpability in the Vietnam debacle, quoting Socrates: “All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong and repairs the evil. The only sin is pride.”

Admit mistakes? Repent of pride? Unthinkable!

Kennedy also talked to hostile medical students at Indiana University about providing health clinics for poor neighborhoods. When one student asked where the money would come from, Kennedy pointed his finger at him, and said, “From you!”

Specific, honest and to the point.

We need that kind of candor again.

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