Back when I first became politically active,and especially after I joined the Hudnut Administration as Corporation Counsel, I was schooled by then-County Chairman John Sweezy. John’s favorite admonition was “Good government is good politics.” For someone serving as the City’s chief lawyer, that meant hiring people because they were best qualified, not because the party “owed” them. A lot of people were disbelieving when I told them that party officials never interfered with such decisions, but it was true. That same adage meant that administrators and City-County Councilors alike should act in the public interest, as they saw that interest.
Much of the long run of GOP dominance in Marion County can be attributed to this very basic premise that voters will reward sound stewardship–that good government is good politics.
I thought about that adage, and my own experience, when I read Charles Blow’s column in this morning’s New York Times. Blow reports on recent Pew polling showing that most Americans have negative opinions of the GOP–62% say the party is “out of touch” with the American people; 52% believe the party is too extreme; only 45% think the party is looking out for the country’s long-term future, and even fewer–39%–believe the GOP is open to change.
There are numerous reasons for these dismal ratings, but the most recent is Congressional Republican willingness to allow the sequester to take effect rather than agree to “revenue enhancements” in the form of either tax increases or the closing of tax loopholes.
An insistence on protecting the pocketbooks of the very wealthy no matter what the consequences for the country as a whole (the Director of the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the sequester could cost 750,000 jobs in 2013) has become the primary image of the GOP. That image of fat-cats and influence-peddlers unconcerned with the circumstances of regular folks is not helped by the party’s other image as culture-war politicians hostile to women’s rights and dismissive of the claims of gay Americans, immigrants and minorities.
The Republican party I served in the 1970s and 1980s didn’t do everything right, but it understood that it was neither good government nor good politics to protect donors’ pocketbooks while disregarding the interests of ordinary citizens. While the party had its share of bigots and misogynists, both the Hudnut Administration and the County party rejected the politics of division and the extremism of the culture warriors, and actively recruited women and minorities. From time to time, I run into old friends from those days, and we bemoan the loss of that Republican party and its civic-minded leadership.
If it is sad to see the Grand Old Party devolving into a group of angry old white heterosexual men, it is profoundly dangerous for the country. The United States needs two reality-based parties. Neither the nation nor the Democratic Party are well-served by the absence of intellectually and morally honest conservative opposition.