I Couldn’t Have Said It Better

Every so often, someone will come across my first book–“What’s a Nice Republican Girl Like Me Doing at the ACLU?”–and will express surprise that I was once a Republican. That happened the other day, and I tried to explain how different the party I belonged to for so long–35 years!–was from the party they see today.

Strange as it may seem today, I was considered “too conservative” for a significant number of Republicans in 1980, when I was their local candidate for Congress; many of them actually defected and voted for my more “mainstream” opponent, Andy Jacobs, Jr. My political philosophy hasn’t changed, but the GOP certainly has; the result is that the positions I held–and hold–that were once labeled conservative now are considered left-wing. I stood still; the party careened “right” past me.

I don’t think people with whom I have that conversation really believe me when I explain how dramatic the shift has been over the last 30 years. But a forthcoming book makes the case more eloquently than I have been able to do.

The book is “It’s Even Worse than it Looks,” and it was written by Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution and Norman Ornstein, of the American Enterprise Institute. Back when I was a Republican, Ornstein was an important intellectual force in the party, and was considered a member of the GOP’s right wing. In the book, Mann and Ornstein write

“One of our two major parties, the Republicans, has become an insurgent outlier–ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime, scornful of compromise, unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science, and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

A number of my friends have marveled at how weak the field of GOP Presidential contenders is, but when a political party has become an angry, unthinking mob, when the base that candidates must satisfy prefers red meat to reason, potential candidates have a distasteful choice. They can wait for a less fevered, less rabid environment, or they can do what Romney, Gingrich, et al have chosen to do: reject evolution and science, extol fundamentalist religion and “family values,” attack gays and immigrants, and use barely coded “dog whistles” to play the race card. (One of the most dispiriting elements of this campaign season has been watching Dick Lugar–once a reasonable, dignified elder-statesman–grovel for the votes of these rabid know-nothings by trying to become someone other than the Dick Lugar who once commanded bipartisan respect.)

The real tragedy in the transformation of what used to be the Grand Old Party is that America desperately needs two competitive parties controlled by rational political actors. We voters need to hear different perspectives on policy issues, thoughtfully argued–not name-calling and demonization. Worse still, the absence of a worthy adversary encourages similarly juvenile antics by the Democrats. It makes a circus of the whole political process.

I miss my old party–and America is poorer for its absence.


  1. I agree except just having two parties helped us get to where we are. U.S. democracy needs several parties with several points of view to ensure that the diversity of American viewpoints is represented. I know that our system encourages a two-party duopoly, yet that doesn’t mean it can’t be changed. However, if there’s one thing Democrats and Republicans seem to agree on, it is continued support of ludicrous ballot access laws and barriers to entry for parties with good ideas. Ranked-Choice Voting, Proportional Representation, and Approval Voting could all make a significant difference in our electoral system.

  2. Agreed. The only larger boat anchor than the two major parties fixation upon self-preservation is a citizenry similarly self-absorbed, expecting “the other guy” to lead us out of this mess.

    My definition of “angy, unthinking mob” is storming out of a statehouse when things aren’t going your way, or custom crafting nationalization of health care after-hours and behind closed doors when they are.

  3. Shiela, what’s fascinating to me about the characterization of how common sense the GOP once had is that as I was growing up, and listened to my Democratic grandparents rile about the sinister Tom Dewey, Robert Taft, and the like, it certainly didn’t seem to me there was anything rational or decent about them. And yet as and adjult and as I dig back into that era, I begin to see more and more what you’re talking about.

  4. Interesting that you wrote this. I was thinking the same thing myself just yesterday. Today’s repubs are largely shameful, low- educated theocrats who won’t get the time of day from me. I simply will not vote for anyone who has left two sick wives because they didn’t fit his image (Newt) nor will I vote for someone who traveled 12 hours with his poor dog strapped to the top of his car. (Romney) Bachmann and the other poor slobs aren’t bright enough to be a dog catcher, let alone the prez.

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