Past time for a change
I made this point in a previous column about a year ago, but in light of today’s political situation I think it begs reemphasizing. Republican spin doctors have sold the American public, especially the southern religious right, on the idea that the Democrats are a bunch of corrupt, socialisttainted opportunists while the GOP is the repository of honesty, integrity and family values, whatever those are. But, as they say, let’s look at the record.
While the Washington scene is always one of constant turmoil and corruption, in all our political history there have been only four major scandals, crises that have rocked the very foundations of our Republic: The Credit Mobilier dealings during the post-Civil-War Reconstruction period in which several Congressional members were convicted of accepting bribes. The Teapot Dome affair during the early 1920s that resulted in the conviction of Interior Secretary Albert Falls for soliciting and receiving graft and the suicide of a high-ranking Interior Department official. The Watergate business is recent enough to require little comment. Then there was the Iran-Contra scandal about which Ronald Reagan at first denied any knowledge or complicity, then sheepishly backtracked when confronted with the naked truth. But, in his resonant, drippy, moviestar persona, he only admitted to bad judgment, not lying, “a mistake of the mind, not the heart.” All four scandals occurred under Republican administrations. Mere coincidence?
In reading this one might surmise that I am a Democrat. But they would be dead wrong. I am a true independent. I am 86, and during my lifetime I have voted fourteen times for presidents, seven Democrats and seven Republicans. In reflection though, there are a couple of votes I wish I could take back. But things have radically changed in the last four or five decades. Since the passage of civil rights legislation in the late 1960s both parties have become bastions of ideological radicalism.
After the mass exodus of southerners to the GOP there remain few, if any, conservative Democrats. Likewise, today there are few moderate Republicans. The designations “Democrat” and “Republican” have simply become synonyms for “liberal” and “conservative.” And that’s not a healthy situation. No matter who controls the White House or Congress, we need balance and equity. We criticize the parliamentary system of government for its susceptibility to radicalism, but we have essentially the same extremism in Washington today. And no matter who we send to Congress things remain pretty much the same because the wealthy elite give almost equally to both parties. This assures them of preferential access to government no matter who controls Congress or the White House. The solution?
Gallup and PEW Research studies reveal that 60 percent of party members and 70 percent of independents, today’s largest constituency, are dissatisfied with both parties’ candidates, platforms and policies and favor consideration of a third party. But this movement can’t begin at the top with protest candidates on an ego trip. It must begin at the precinct-by-precinct grassroots level with school board members, sheriffs, commissioners and state legislature candidates. It will be a tough row to hoe to “take back our government” (as if we really ever had it!). A companion effort would be to identify the 35 percent of unregistered eligible voters and the 42 percent of registered nonvoters and to get them to the polls.
Historically, when democracies have failed in other countries the people have looked for “a man on horseback,” a populist demagogue to rescue them. And they usually have found one in the personage of guys named Adolph, Benito and Joseph. Think that can’t happen here? Early on in the Great Depression many desperate Americans were taken in by the promises of the Nazi-leaning German-American Bund and the wild rantings of Louisiana’s Senator Huey Long with his “soak the rich” schemes. Desperate people with little hope will try almost anything. Look at what we did in 2016 when things were actually going pretty well.
George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at email@example.com.