Friday, March 11, 2011

Where are the moderate Republicans?

Paul Soglin -- who started his political career as Madison's "hippie mayor" but turned out to be one of the best friends the Chamber of Commerce ever had -- laments in his blog that Wisconsin needs moderate Republicans to step up to the plate and lead us out of our current mess in Madison. 

He's right.  The problem, however, is that Main Street Republicans are a dying breed and the nation is far poorer for it.

Once upon a time Republicans by and large were the farmers and merchants -- folks who made our communities tick -- and the notion of conservatism wasn't a litmus test because while Republicans often held conservative core values they did not proclaim rigid orthodoxy.

Republicans favored a sound dollar, a flourishing economy, strong defense and less government.  Less government, not "no government."  This meant that government should stick to its core functions and not do goofy things.

Those moderate Republicans were the backbone of our communities and, more often than not, the saviors of our nation. 

Indiana's Richard Lugar, before becoming an international relations expert in the Senate, pioneered the Indianapolis-Marion County "Unigov" which improved delivery of services on a regional basis at less cost to taxpayers.  Teddy Roosevelt was a devoted conservationist who gave us pure food and drug laws. Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency.  Ronald Reagan tirelessly fought to break down the barriers of communism in Eastern Europe. 

But here at home it was Republican Dwight Eisenhower who put the U.S. into space and stepped up to the plate to begin the battle for civil rights for all Americans.  Not only did Ike send federal troops into Little Rock to carry out school desegregation but the federal judges he appointed were often the only recourse blacks in the south had prior to enactment of civil rights legislation.

On that subject, it was Republicans who blasted President Kennedy's proposed civil rights bill as too weak and his successor called upon Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen of Illinois to marshal the votes needed to enact the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.  In one of our nation's most tumultuous times Main Street Republicans saved the nation.

But somewhere along the way Republicans moved away from Main Street and as Democrats moved further to the left the GOP embraced the extreme ideology of the right.  Ronald Reagan's "big tent" was torn to shreds and hauled away.

At a time when our nation -- and this state -- need the Eisenhowers and Dirksens we instead get the Shiite wing of the Republican Party.

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