Tuesday, February 28, 2006
I have a confession to make. It should be made public now, before Dan Rather and the 60 Minutes Team shows up at my door with documents about my past that, although forged, are still accurate. I admit, now and publicly, that I was a Democrat, for more years than I should have been.
I was born just after World War II ended, so I am in the front line of the ‘Baby Boomer’ generation. Growing up Catholic in Chicago, of Irish and German heritage, I was of course brought up to be a Daley Democrat. The most powerful person in my neighborhood wasn’t the Mayor, Governor, or President. Neither was the Alderman, Senator or Congressional Representative. Not even the Parish Priest was the most powerful or influential person to my family and all the others in my near North neighborhood. No, the person most recognized as a person of authority and influence was the ward heeler, our Democratic Precinct Captain.
Have a streetlight out? Need a job for your brother-in-law, so he and your sister can move out of your attic? Garbage pickup missed your house? Local bully picking on your child? Son needs a recommendation to get into a Union Trade School? All of these problems, and more, were within the purview of the Precinct Captain. He had the ‘clout’ (a Chicago word often misused and misunderstood by persons without a Chicago background) to get things done for you. Your only responsibility was to turn out and vote on every Election Day, and be sure to vote correctly.
Actually, there were three political parties in Chicago back in the forties, fifties and early to mid sixties. You could belong to the Conservative Democrats, Moderate or Centrist Democrats, or Liberal Democrats. I don’t think I heard anything about the Republican Party until I entered High School. Local politicking was fun, because there were so many catfights between the three Democratic Parties. However, when it came to election time, the votes went to the Democratic candidate for whatever office was being contested, whether he or she was a Liberal, Moderate or Conservative. Accommodation, compromise and reality checks with the actual voters eventually arrived at platforms and candidates that were acceptable to all views within the Chicago Democratic Party.
I was very comfortable while a Democrat, because I could maintain my liberal inclination on social issues, moderate views on fiscal policies, and conservative views on crime, defense and foreign policy. The Democratic Party of my youth and early adulthood was a three-winged bird, and had diversity in its makeup long before diversity became just another buzzword. But shortly after the mid-sixties, a terrible event occurred that has repercussions that are felt today. Sometime during this period, SOMEONE STOLE MY DEMOCRATIC PARTY!
I don’t know if it was a plot engineered by Gene McCarthy, George McGovern, Ed Muskie and the Massachusetts wing of Liberals Gone Wild; but suddenly, the Democrats became an exclusively Liberal Club with a progressive and secular agenda, rather than a representative Political Party. My own doubts began with the Democratic led opposition to the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act. It was Republican support that enabled these important bills to pass. This was followed by the withdrawal of support for American troops by the Democrats in the late sixties. I then began to evaluate the direction the party was going. After involving America in a war in which I lost friends, the Democratic Administration’s lack of a win strategy, and subsequent actions by the Democratic Congress to insure the defeat of South Vietnam while disparaging our military, gave me reason to question the new attitude of the Democratic Party. And this began while a Democrat held the presidency. While Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement certainly had an impact, the change was too rapid for the dramatic shift to the Left to be the result of only those two issues. I’m not sure what other forces drove this turn to the far left, but suddenly, I was disenfranchised from the party in which I was raised. The divorce became final when the Democrats adopted the unrestricted abortion on demand plank in their official platform.
Rapid though this change was, it was not apparent to the media (or at least not reported on) until the unexpected first Reagan election, and his subsequent landslide re-election. The phenomenon of the Reagan Democrat seems to have been a surprise to many, but it shouldn’t have. Not since Lyndon Johnson had there been a Democratic candidate for the Presidency who could balance Liberal, Moderate and Conservative tendencies within the Democratic electorate. The swing to radical liberal stances on all issues had become entrenched by 1980. As I recall, that was when the term “knee jerk liberal” came into vogue. The only successful Democratic candidate for President since 1980 was Bill Clinton, and he rode the moderate or centrist vote, never voicing any opinion that might be considered too liberal. Clinton never took a stand on anything without first checking with focus groups and conducting numerous polls.
Let’s fast forward to 2004. Why are Zell Miller and Ed Koch considered such oddities? That a Democrat would abandon his Party’s Presidential candidate, and support a Conservative Republican (although many Conservatives would say GWB is not a Conservative) should not be a surprise. Like me, Senator Miller and Mayor Koch both came from a Democratic Party that had three wings, so they could work to incorporate the views they held on specific issues, while remaining among the Party faithful. However, like me, Zell and Ed did not abandon the Democrats. The Democrats abandoned us, verbally burning us at the stake for not towing the party line. When the shift to the left became the only acceptable view within the Democratic Party, our own Party disinherited both moderates and conservatives. The most prominent person of the last quarter of a century to travel this route was President Reagan himself. A Democrat when he arrived in Hollywood, and still a Democrat when he was President of the Screen Actors Guild, he became Governor of California as a Republican. When asked why he left the Democratic Party, he replied that he had not. Rather, he said, the Democrats had left him.
I am now a Registered Republican, since I seem to favor more Republican candidates then Democrats. I want to be part of both the Caucus system, and the Primary system here in Iowa, so I must choose between Democratic and Republican registration. However, I consider myself more of a Conservative Independent with a slight Libertarian bent, as I have not voted a straight ticket in any election since the Democrats left me with no way to express my beliefs. I wonder how Democrats like Henry (Scoop) Jackson and others of his mien would react to the new Democratic Party of howlers like Howard Dean, anti military propagandists like Dick Durban, and blame America first proponents like Ted Kennedy. Would they also switch to Republican, or perhaps Independent status? An interesting question, but one that I am not qualified to answer. What I do know is that the Republicans seem to have room for Moderates, Liberals and Conservatives, while the Democratic Party does not.
While a three-winged bird may appear odd, it is still more likely to fly than a bird with only one wing. That may be why the Republicans have a brighter future than the Democrats.
Tom Glennon recently retired as a Manager with an international bank. A Chicago native, he retired at the location of his last assignment, in the Des Moines, Iowa area.
He is an award winning speaker for the Volunteer Oil Industry Communications Effort, an industry advocacy group, and writes essays and opinion pieces for a variety of on-line and print publications.
Tom has served on his County Republican Committee, as well as having served as the County Campaign Chair for Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). His volunteer work has covered a variety of community based efforts, including youth athletic organizations, Junior Achievement, Youth at Risk, and the Boy Scouts.
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