Wissot: Longing for the return of the RINOs
The GOP, the Grand Old Party, the party of Abraham Lincoln, is moving closer to resembling in its current iteration the rogue band of secessionists and insurrectionists led by Jefferson Davis who precipitated the Civil War. The call for secession was raised last month by Allen West, the chairman of the Texas GOP. “Perhaps law-abiding states should bond together and form a union of states that will abide by the constitution,” West said.
Inglorious rebellion was in full flower on Jan. 6 as hundreds of bamboozled worshipers of a prevaricating president stormed the Capitol building, ransacking Congressional offices, vandalizing statuary, leaving five dead, including a protester and a Capitol police officer. The nation had not seen Americans so blatantly betray their own government since Confederate guns were fired on Fort Sumter in April of 1861.
Twas not so long ago that Republicans were a worthy counter balance to Democrats in a healthy two-party system of governance. Not anymore.
When Joseph McCarthy, the Republican senator from Wisconsin, in the 1950s was spreading his own brand of disinformation about a communist conspiracy within the highest echelons of government, it was Margaret Chase Smith of Maine and Prescott Bush of Connecticut, two Republican stalwarts in the Senate, who called him out for his destructive lies and deceitful practices.
On June 1, 1950, Smith, on the floor of the U.S. Senate, read a “Declaration of Conscience” in which she excoriated McCarthy for his substituting the constitutional guarantee of “trial by jury” with “trial by accusation.” It was the first public rebuke by a Republican of McCarthy but not the last. Two years later, Bush “criticized his Wisconsin colleague’s methods before a raucously pro-McCarthy crowd.”
In 1962, William F. Buckley, founder of the National Review and the leading intellectual voice for the nascent conservative political movement, took a stand against Joseph Welch and his John Birch Society who had picked up the cudgel of communist conspiracy theories in government from McCarthy. Welch had gone so far as to accuse President Eisenhower of being a communist agent.
In the end, Buckley’s resistance proved successful in liberating conservatism from the clutches of right wing extremism and the peril of insanity-driven politics. His courage in the face of hostile criticism enabled the conservative movement to maintain its integrity and ultimately helped elect Ronald Reagan president.
To say that the Republican Party has damaged its brand is like saying that Kanye West is nuts.
You think? This is not your grandfather’s or even your father’s Republican Party. The old guard that put country over party, valued conscience over expedience, men like Jacob Javits and Jack Kemp of New York, Howard Baker of Tennessee, Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania, Everett Dirksen and Charles Percy of Illinois, represented a GOP from a long forgotten past.
More recent Republicans of comparable character, the late John McCain, Sens. Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse, former Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona are ridiculed as RINOs (Republican in name only) by Trump’s base. Instead the party is riddled with cynical opportunists like Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, the latter’s campaign launching a fundraising text “trumpeting the senator’s fight to delay the congressional votes” while a consequence of that deliberate delay, an unholy insurrection, unfolded at the Capitol. Providing a mythological foundation for this conspiracy driven madness are the professors at Fox and Friends University and the researchers at the QAnon Center for Public Information.
I’ve never voted Republican in my life. I’m firmly committed to the liberal values detested by the political right. But I also think that a strong two-party system is fundamental to the effective functioning of representative government. That becomes impossible in a society where some believe in democracy and others autocracy.
You have to choose one or the other. Either you wish to be governed by the rule of law or you wish to be ruled by the cult of personality. As George Packer so aptly put it: “Tens of millions of Americans love MAGA more than they love democracy.”
I miss the days when the two parties fought over ideological not factual differences; a time when the arguments over bigger or smaller government, higher or lower taxes, federal or state control, were hotly contested but with an eye towards promoting compromise not crises.
Now we have one party trafficking in baseless claims that the coronavirus is a hoax and Joe Biden was fraudulently elected president. What’s next? Challenging the legitimacy of the Kansas City Chiefs victory over the San Francisco 49ers in last year’s Super Bowl?
Democrats, for all their faults, supported the fallibility of science when it came to mask wearing and social distancing. Far too many Republicans didn’t. They relied on the infallibility of stupidity.
Republicans have a reckoning with reality facing them. They can either return to the nobility of the party Lincoln once represented or remain in the abyss of conspiratorial craziness which is where they are right now.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.