Tags: Moral | Values | Help | Define | GOP

Moral Values Help Define GOP

Friday, 01 April 2005 12:00 AM

After he married my mother in 1939, neither of them ever cast another vote for the Democrats at the national level. In the explosive contest between General Dwight Eisenhower and Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, my parents staunchly supported Taft.

The Country Clubbers who ran the local party were intrigued with me, given that my father tended the boiler at a Catholic hospital and we lived among a sea of Democrats. By the way, these same Democrats in my neighborhood were enthusiastic backers of Senator Joe McCarthy, R-Wis. Most neighbors were Catholic anti-Communists who accepted McCarthy's claim that Communists had infiltrated the U.S. State Department.

I was treated well by the Country Clubbers because they wanted to say that young people like me were joining the GOP. That was an untrue lie. Until I recruited some of my classmates at St. Catherine's High School to join the Republicans, I was the only one.

While I was a useful ornament for the Country Clubbers to display, they were glad there were not lots more like me. They were not anxious to have the great unwashed as part of their organization. It was the same through the years when I became a reporter and covered politics and later when I started outside conservative groups, which were often allied with the GOP but never a part of the Republican Party.

When I would ask what the Republican Party stood for, I always was told "limited government, free enterprise and a strong national defense." Not a word about traditional moral values was uttered. When I called Wisconsin State GOP Chairman Claude Jasper after the Supreme Court ruled against prayer in the schools and as a reporter asked him for a comment, he said, "We don't get involved in such things."

Removing my reporter's hat, I reminded him that I had been active in his party and wanted to understand why he would not comment. He replied, "The party never involves itself in religion." I responded, "Maybe so, but don't you understand it would be the right thing to do by telling voters you don't approve of what the Supreme Court has done." Jasper was not convinced.

This distant relationship between the Republicans and people of moral convictions continued. Meanwhile, the Democrats made it clear to the black churches that it wholeheartedly supported the civil rights movement, which Bobby Kennedy and others called the "moral imperative of our time."

Along came the Carter administration, which wanted to go after what was termed de facto segregation in Christian schools. For example, if a Christian school in Kearney, Nebraska, had adopted a policy of welcoming people of any race, color or creed who could afford the tuition but had no black pupils, even though there were only 8 percent blacks in the community, the school would be guilty of so-called de facto segregation. The Carter administration's Justice Department wanted to deny that school tax-exempt status.

That provided the opportunity for the Republican leadership to identify with the plight of the Christian schools, although many Republican leaders were against doing so. Meanwhile, the pro-life movement had managed to get language about protecting life inserted into the 1976 GOP platform. (The pro-life movement also tried and came remarkably close in the Democratic platform as there were many pro-life Democrats who had supported Carter on the grounds that he would back the Hyde Amendment, which banned federal funds for abortion.)

The pro-lifers went full tilt in 1980 and got added to that year's Republican Party platform a provision calling for a Constitutional amendment to prohibit abortion. In 1980 in churches all over America, especially in the South, the party platforms were posted side-by-side. By that time the radical feminists had taken over the Democratic Party, so the contrast between the two parties on the moral issues was remarkable. Not only did Ronald Reagan win in a landslide, the GOP also won 13 Senate seats including those in Alabama, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina.

The slow process of adding the term "traditional moral values" to the litany of what the Republican Party stood for had begun. Finally the Republicans had in George W. Bush a candidate who understood the power of the so-called religious right. His 2004 campaign manager, Ken Mehlman, was the first in GOP history to target religious conservatives as part of the president's coalition. Mehlman is now GOP National Party chairman and seems determined to continue that effort.

Values voters were crucial to the GOP presidential election in 2004 as well as to adding GOP seats in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. The coalition of values voters with the traditional economic base of the GOP appeared to be a key to victories in the long term.

Now comes former Senator Jack Danforth, our most recent ambassador to the United Nations. Danforth says the Republican Party has been taken over by zealots of the religious right and the party should return to the way it was before the religious right got involved. Mind you, values voters amount to a quarter of the entire GOP coalition.

Danforth, who is an extremely wealthy member of the establishment, also is an Episcopal priest. No doubt he was chosen to say what has been on the minds of establishment types since the great unwashed were let into the GOP's inner sanctum.

Do you want to return to the way it was before the religious right became part of the GOP coalition? If that happens, the Republican Party will be dead. Its majorities in both the House and Senate soon would evaporate and the party would be unable to elect a president, as in 1976, when Gerald Ford was defeated. Those who want to return to that era are welcome. I prefer victory.

Each new senator elected in 2004 had the support of the religious right, even Johnny Isakson of Georgia, who entered the race as a moderate and who now has pledged to support most pro-life and pro-family initiatives. There is no doubt that John Thune (Mo.), David Vitter (La.), Mel Martinez (Fla.), Jim DeMint (S.C.), Richard Burr (N.C.) and Tom Coburn (Okla.) would not be in the Senate today but for the strong backing of values voters. Would former Senator Danforth care to return to the time when no legislation backed by values voters was passed, even legislation the establishment salivates over, because liberals controlled Congress?

I agree that the values voters can't get everything they want. No part of a coalition can expect that. But unless they get enough action to the point that they feel it is worth staying, they will be gone as soon as you can say "religious extremists."

I have not heard the party leadership answer the Danforth viewpoint. I suggest the leaders do so by the actions they take. We formerly got the rhetoric, and the establishment the action. Perhaps now the reverse can be true.

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After he married my mother in 1939, neither of them ever cast another vote for the Democrats at the national level. In the explosive contest between General Dwight Eisenhower and Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, my parents staunchly supported Taft. The Country Clubbers who...
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2005-00-01
Friday, 01 April 2005 12:00 AM
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