Why We Need Two Responsible Political Parties

Many years ago, when I was a (Republican) member of the Hudnut Administration, the GOP consistently won elections in Marion County. All of them. Then as now, registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans, but Republicans had a remarkable organization that routinely got out the vote, while the Democrats were–as the old joke has it–not members of an organized political party.

During that time, I was asked to speak to a Jewish women’s organization, and I still recall that speech. (Amazing, since these days, I barely remember my name…..) Many, if not most, of the members of that particular organization were Democrats, and my basic message to them was “get off your couches and reinvigorate your party, because every political subdivision works better when the party in power faces a responsible critic, a loyal opposition. No one has all the answers, unchecked power tends to corrupt, and we all benefit when two (or more) political organizations engage in serious, thoughtful debate over the merits of existing or proposed public policies. I believed that then, and I believe it now–but the operative words are “responsible,” “loyal opposition” and “serious, thoughtful debate.

Fast forward 30+ years, to a Republican Party so radicalized that it is impossible to apply those words to most of its members. Those who are serious and responsible are under attack (see: Lugar, Richard.) The behavior of Republicans in Congress has been so outrageous (I word I do not use lightly) that some commentators have actually suggested they are willing to destroy the economy if that is what it takes to destroy Obama. (See: debt ceiling debate). The most recent example of what passes for public policy among them these days is Rep. Paul Ryan’s insistence that no monies be spent for disaster relief unless and until there are offsetting budget cuts (preferably, in his view, from social programs. Evidently, we shouldn’t help one group of unfortunates unless we take the funds away from another group that depends upon our increasingly tattered social safety net). Between rejection of evolution, climate-change and science in general, manifest ignorance of basic economics,  an unseemly rush to support military interventions (and a disinclination to raise taxes to pay for them)…well, let’s just say there are a number of terms that might be applied to our current incarnations of the “know-nothings,” but “serious” and “responsible” aren’t among them.

As a business-school colleague of mine put it during a hallway chat yesterday, “I miss the real Republicans. Even when I didn’t agree with their arguments, the fact that they made thoughtful, rational criticisms made it necessary for me to justify my own policy preferences. I had to do my homework, and so did those who agreed with me. Substantive arguments on both sides results in better rules. That doesn’t work when the Democrats propose “Policy X” and the Republican response is “You’re a poo-poo head.”



  1. We have a President who calls a policeman “stupid”, encourages uncivil debate with quote very close to “if they bring a knife, we’ll bring a gun”, and demeans the plight of those being overrun on the border by saying we want a “moat” and “alligators in the moat”. Who exactly is acting like the “poo-poo head”?

    All while we’re explicitedly or implicitedly advised that to disagree with the President is to be racist or a domestic terrorist. Would any of this be categorized as “serious”, “thoughtful”, or “responsible” debate?

    It is “radicalized” to believe that our country will be economically destitute if we continue spending money we don’t have and expanding government beyond what a layman would interpret from our founding documents? We want to debate spending and the role of government- Fine. When they shuttle us into the room to talk, how far will we be getting with “radicalized” and “poo-poo head”?

    Contemplating a third wave of quantitative “easing” from money we don’t have after the first two netted zilch, not letting Boeing build a plane where they darn well please, and only grudgingly acknowledging that now might not be the best time time to replace signage all over America, makes the present administration and incumbent party “serious” and “responsible”?

    I have zero love for a Republican party that also acts like nimrods at times, creates government programs that aren’t paid for, tolerates an SEC that can’t find bad guys, and has been too apt to foreign intervention. But, both political parties are guilty of these things- and more.

    If America can be fixed, I don’t see it happening until we stop ripping scabs off of wounds and talk with civility. I also suggest our accounting this time be based on reality instead of either chest-thumping or compassion.

  2. Great article, Sheila. You hit the nail on the head. @Dave C., President Obama didn’t call the police officers stupid, he said they acted stupidly–which is a different thing. I know nothing about the knife/gun and alligators in the moat comments.

    I don’t see disagreement with President Obama as being racist or a form of domestic terrorism. But when the opposition party’s faithful regularly forward email jokes about the new “watermelon garden” at the White House or portraying the President as a monkey, that is racism at work. It is out there, even if all critics don’t use it or subscribe to it.

    One piece of evidence of the GOP’s radicalization came when the President appointed Mr. Krueger to chair the WH’s Council of Economic Advisers. Mr. Krueger’s nomination received praise from people who held that post in prior administrations–from both political parties–but the RNC immediately slams the nominee.

    I have to wonder if the President nominated Jesus Christ to be the head of water body maintenance that the RNC would attack the nomination claiming Jesus can’t swim. I am hard pressed to think of one nominee to any position that hasn’t faced strong opposition from the Republicans. Is there one who the Rs in the Senate said, “this person is a fine nominee, and we expect quick and unanimous confirmation”?

  3. Mr. Wilson: I’m not sure it’s a nuance Sgt. Crowley would appreciate, but my apologies and thank you for the correction on the quote.

    Yes, I’ve seen a handful (a genuine handful) of swatstika emblems mixed with at least 200 signs at around eight Tea Party rallies. I don’t have a magic solution for this any more than the antics of Representative Carson, an armed Black Panther at a polling place in Philadelphia, or black youth assaulting fair-goers in Wisconsin.

    As most of us would agree that every large group has a fringe, what if were to stick to debating the merit of issues at hand, versus wholly dismissing those with whom we disagree based on the nutcakes?

    Or, this is the part where I’m supposed to think that’s a hell of a joke about that watermelon garden (while I pluck my banjo and reach for a chaw)?

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