Once Upon A Time, I Was a Republican

By James R. Parker

I was born two days before Pearl Harbor and grew up on the west side of Chicago in a neighborhood called Austin and then Oak Park. My father was a Republican and an avid reader of the Chicago Tribune, my mother a secret FDR Democrat. The dominant theme in my family was derived from a series of prominent Republicans: a commitment to multinational foreign policies built upon the post-war western alliance of NATO, the Marshall Plan and the United Nations championed by Sen Arthur Vandenburg, (R, Michigan); a commitment to the social safety net of FDR and Truman supported by President Eisenhower (R , Kansas); a Lincolnesque devotion to civil rights, desegregation and equal law enforcement championed by Sen. Everett Dirksen (R, Illinois) and enforced by Eisenhower at Little Rock in 1957, and a commitment to fiscal responsibility balanced with social commitments advocated by Sen. Robert Taft (R, Ohio).

In spite of my belief in the New Deal and Truman’s desegregation of the armed forces, the Democratic party seem dominated by vicious and virulent segregationist southern Democrats and urban machine politicos like Chicago’s Richard Daley, equally unattractive to me. All that changed when Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But LBJ’s refusal to seat black Americans at the 1964 Convention and his continued execution of the Vietnam War bankrupted the Democrats who would not recover even a semblance of integrity until McGovern’s candidacy.

Meanwhile, the Republican leadership began its descent into the abyss of racist quicksand when it began to appeal to racial prejudice (Nixon’s “southern strategy”, Reagans “welfare queens”, Bush’s Willie Horton ads) all of which have culminated in a president who is openly a white supremacist.

Republicans in 2020 have come to allow the party to accept disdain for Mexican Americans and all other immigrants not from northern Europe, open antagonism toward Muslim Americans, hostility to our LGBTQ friends and neighbors, denigration of women, bullying and belittling of the disabled, denial of the science of climate change and the Covid pandemic, initiatives to assure extensive voter suppression, and violations of any commitment to truth, respect, or common decency.

Its rejection of international alliances that have assured American security since 1945 at great human cost and the attendant and utter disrespect for men and women who have chosen to serve in our armed forces is despicable in the extreme. The party’s dismissal of the persistent practice of the murder of black citizens by police characterized by “We Back the Badge” initiatives is a rejection of their foundational principle.

The partisan and ideological politicization of every executive branch agency and bureau will haunt every initiative to assure fairness and impartiality and undermine our justice system, our health and environmental protections and the safety of not only American workers, but all our citizens.

The party and its leaders have betrayed its history and legacy to become sycophants to a man who is an amalgam of PT Barnum, Benito Mussolini and Clarabell the Clown. If it had a shred of decency, it would disband and reform.

And so, on Nov. 3 remember: it’s not just Trump or Biden on the ballot; what’s on the ballot is your right to walk the street without being shot based on skin shade, the right to vote, the right to facts and science over superstition and ignorance,  the right to environmental justice, the right to access truth and investigative journalism, not ideological religious repression, the right to reproductive justice and control of your biological, sexual and cultural identity, the right to be treated with dignity and respect whereever you are from, no matter who you are, whatever your circumstances. What’s on the ballot are the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the promise of the Statue of Liberty, not the insane musings of militias, Klan members and neo Nazis or their ilk. Vote like your life depends on it because for many of us, for all who live in the margins of society, it does.

James R. Parker lives in La Crosse and is Professor Emeritus, UW-La Crosse Departments of History; Ethnic and Racial Studies; Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, 1968-2003. He also served as the chair of Wisconsin State Council on Affirmative Action from 2005 to 2015.

Top photo: President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with former President Dwight D. Eisenhower aboard Air Force One, Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland. Public Domain

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