Past time for a change

Walker County Messenger - - Front Page - Ge­orge Reed Jr. An his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive

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 reed1600@bell­

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