James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Republicans for democracy

It's beginning to appear that old-line Republicans have a better handle on what is wrong in this country than do self-described “moderate” Democrats such as Hillary Clinton and her supporters.

Certainly the old Republicans have more guts, and at least some are more willing than office-hungry, prestige-addicted Democrats to fight the Bush and the corrupt right wingers who control Congress.

I won't say that's anything like universally the case. Yet some conversations I've had recently with life-long Republicans make me think it is possible that our salvation, if it comes, will be in part attributable to ordinary Republicans who have had enough of would-be emperors, corrupt legislators and right wing crazies who hold greed to be the ultimate value.

Those conversations, not incidentally, are in line with others I've had recently with usually conservative residents of rural areas.

As one of those “screamers from the left” recently excoriated by a “moderate” Minnesota on-line columnist, I'm shocked to find that occasionally I have more in common with some of my Republican friends than I do with Democratic Party apparatchiks and those who closely align themselves with entrenched Republicrats.

Of course, the Republican friends I'm talking about have very little in common with the people who now control the Republican Party apparatus.

And, certainly, my personal sampling is far too small to permit any claim that it shows a widespread truth. Whether I'm seeing a trend or an aberration is yet to be determined.

Nevertheless, I find some reason for the hope we desperately need.

The Clinton-Lieberman wing of the Democratic Party claims the “center” for itself, and maintains that those of us who call ourselves liberals or progressives and object to their deep compromising of principle are left-wing extremists.

Well, here are some of the extreme goals of the liberals I know :

*Genuine universal health care -- accessible, affordable care for everyone. The U.S. Government's own figures show that more than 14 percent of Americans, and about 9 percent of the country's children, have no health insurance. It's also true that the coverage that many more have is inadequate to provide adequate care.

*Fully funded public education.

*An end to the occupation of Iraq.

*Adequate funding of infrastructure.

*Protection of natural resources.

*Some government oversight of business to assure the safety of workers and the public and to prevent now rampant fraud -- rather than the present system of corporations effectively controlling the regulatory agencies. And serious oversight of securities markets, banking, food health standards and the like.

*An increase in the minimum wage to ensure that full-time workers earn something approaching a livable wage.

*A renewal of government assurance of voting rights for all citizens, and a clampdown on election fraud.

*Enforcement of labor laws and return to a balanced National Labor Relations Board.

*An end to excessive corporate influence on government, influence that now has the corporations actually writing many of our laws.

*Return to an equitable graduated income tax system.

*Many other such goals...most of them simply involving a return to the greater equity that was present in government in the 1940s and '50s and an end to virtual control of government by a very small number of very rich individuals and corporations.

Oddly, to me, a fair number of the old-line Republicans I know – as well as some now somewhat elderly former Republican office holders – share a majority of those goals.

Last weekend, I had a long talk with one of those Republicans, a man who has been my friend since our age was counted with a single digit. He ran for local office as a Republican, and he sat on the city council of our town of origin as a Republican.

We differ, and always will, on some issues; he doesn't much like organized labor, for example, while I feel strong (but honestly run) unions are essential to an equitable and law-abiding economy. But he is adamant about the need for a strong, fully-funded public education system and irate about the excessive cuts in school funding and excessive tuition and fee increases that already have barred a large percentage of our youth from attending our central state university and other top-quality state schools.

“Sometimes I think, though I know it won't work, that all schools in the country should be public schools,” he said. “No private schools. Then affluent and powerful people would see to it that the schools are good.”

We agreed that the military draft should be brought back, and that the laws be written so that affluence and family connections cannot be used to dodge service or to get preferential assignment. That, we both believe, would lessen the likelihood of future wars that sacrifice the welfare and lives of others for the political and economic gain of a powerful minority.

And my old conservative friend mourned the power-madness and the dishonesty of the Bush administration and the corruption that is the defining character of our present Republican-led Congress, the profligacy with which it shovels public money into the pockets of a favored elite. He bemoaned the same kind of activity by those who currently control our state government. He spoke sadly of the rapid loss of American freedoms and the assaults on the Constitution by the Bush crowd and it's chief supporters in Congress and in some state governments, including our own.

An unusually religious man, he nevertheless spoke of his concern that certain breast-beating Christians exert undue influence upon our elected officials. Relgion, he said, is a personal matter, and under our Constitution, no particular religion or branch of a religion should dictate to the rest of us.

Together we sang the praises of a group of 203 wealthy Minnesotans -– including members of both major parties -- who, on June 22, ran a full-page ad in major Minnesota daily newspapers to say that the extreme cuts in the income taxes of the wealthy has done and is doing terrible damage to the state and that they and other affluent citizens can and should be paying more in taxes.

Further, I know several other Republicans with similar views.

Contrast that with the Democratic officials and office holders who run and hide whenever some more intelligent and courageous member of the party calls for an end to the Iraq occupation or demands that the Bush administration halt torture and illegal imprisonment. Compare the stances of those honest Republicans with the Democrats who cower when some braver party member seeks to force the Bush crowd to obey the laws of this country or to end the open sale of government to the highest bidders.

More and more I believe that a majority of U.S. citizens are far out in front of the people who regard themselves as leaders, and what I hear from Republicans strengthens that belief. I also believe that the so-called Democratic “centrists” who will not confront the Bush administration and who dive for cover whenever anyone recommends strong and effective actions to set our government aright are more dangerous to our democracy than the right wingers who almost openly seek to destroy our Constitutional system of government.

For a couple of decades now, those rudderless Democrats, afraid to lead and to fight for what is right, have failed us and, in their obvious failure, they lost the most important elections. They blame everybody but themselves: It was Ralph Nader, or left wingers or...or...or somebody who cost them election after election.

In a word: bullshit.

If they don't stand up now and show genuine leadership, they will lose again this year, despite the greatest opportunity liberals have had in a couple of decades to win majority control of government. And if they lose this year, neither they nor we will regain real strength in the foreseeable future.