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GOP has lost touch with progressive past John Watson Commentary


February 16. 2013 2:26AM


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TEA PARTY logic doesn't add up.


Its members say government can't create jobs. Yet, they won't pass a highway bill because it will create jobs. (And thus make their great devil, President Obama, look good.)


Credit U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Hazleton, for supporting the highway bill, which would put money into about 11,000 companies to rebuild infrastructure.


The notion that government is not a vital part of economic growth is the result of 30 years of sloganeering. Just say it enough and it becomes true, the first rule of Madison Avenue, the "Mad Men" plan of politics.


Strategists of the right appeal to the "low-information voter." Abandoning all nuance, they sell fear and seek a "starve the beast" strategy against what the GOP's original president, Abe Lincoln, called a "government of the people, by the people, for the people."


The conservative drumbeat has moved both parties to the right, but it is driving the GOP off a cliff. When it finally does crash, the GOP will move closer to its more progressive roots.


The campaign of Jon Huntsman was smart, introducing a moderate voice this year in the expectation of a more reasonable GOP by 2016.


For now, however, the GOP is heading full steam ahead to the far reaches of the right-wing universe. The budget proposal by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., supported by all GOP presidential candidates, would make Milton Friedman wince.


The mantra is to privatize everything, even the post office. As Luzerne County learned the hard way, privatizing government, such as its juvenile penal system, is not always a good idea. It can encourage corruption by inserting a profit motive. In some states, such as Arizona, the entire prison system is privately owned, making it profitable to pass laws that create criminals, the real motive behind Arizona's draconian immigration laws.


The U.S. military, after Bush-Cheney, is flush with private companies and the larceny has been in the billions. The military, for example, no longer defends U.S. embassies or delivers its own mail, chores contracted instead to companies such as Wackenhut and Halliburton, not exactly paragons of propriety.


The GOP is not the Republican Party of our fathers. It is not even the party of Ronald Reagan.


Last March I met his son, Ron, a personable man. "How would your father do in a primary these days?" I asked. "He wouldn't make the cut," said Reagan. "He'd be too liberal."


Today's GOP wants to drill and frack on public lands originally protected by our first "progressive" president, Republican Teddy Roosevelt, more than a century ago.


This year the pressure on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to run to the right is making his campaign a "panderthon" to extremism. In 1966, his beloved father, George Romney, was the great hope of Republican moderates. Today, Romney is running as Genghis Khan.


The "Southern Strategy" employed by Richard Nixon to entice Southern Democrats to the GOP in the '70s has come full circle. The GOP today is a Southern party.


Boy, how things change. In 1960, Eisenhower warned against militarization. Today, our "defense" spending is more than the rest of the world's combined. Prescott Bush, patriarch of the Bush dynasty, once served as head of fundraising for Planned Parenthood and was chair of the Connecticut chapter of the United Negro College Fund. In 1966, George Romney, who bravely opposed the Vietnam War, marched with civil rights protesters in Detroit. In 1960, Pennsylvanians elected both John Kennedy as president and moderate Republican Bill Scranton as governor in the same election. In 1968, Nelson Rockefeller ran for president as a "liberal" and might have won if he didn't divorce his wife. Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency and supported universal health care. In 1975, Gerald Ford had price controls on oil companies, unimaginable today.


Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote the dissenting opinions on Bush vs. Gore and Citizens United, provides the starkest contrast between the GOP of yesterday and today. Appointed as a "conservative" by the Ford administration in 1975, he was considered a "liberal" at his retirement in 2010.


When asked why he had changed, Justice Stevens responded simply, "I didn't change, the country did."




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