Jack Bernard: My party's little burning tent

March 21, 2014 

Ronald Reagan is the darling of my party, the GOP. He and his legacy are often cited as the shining example of how a truly conservative politician can win office and accomplish his goals.

What seems to have been forgotten is that Reagan achieved his objectives by being genial and pleasant, even to his political enemies. From a personal perspective, many Democrats viewed him positively, sort of like their old-fashioned grandfather.

Reagan believed that the Republican Party should be a big tent. He actively and effectively went after disaffected Democrats who were blue-collar workers (the so-called hard hats). He also compromised with the Democratic leadership in Congress.

On a recent Sunday talk show, an Illinois Congressman, a rising star in the GOP, commented proudly that his party is "monolithic". In other words, the party is pitching a little tent, excluding all but the most right-wing conservatives from office.

He is correct. The 2014 party is being driven by CPAC (the conservative wing PAC) and Tea Party darlings who are unelectable nationally, like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. At CPAC this week, Cruz attacked establishment conservatives like Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney, implying that they could not win elections because they were not "pure" ideologues.

Cruz and others forget that Reagan was far from pure. He cut a deal on immigration in 1986 that resulted in citizenship for illegals. He never pushed anti-abortion legislation.

It is true that Reagan cut taxes early in his term, but he also significantly increased taxes later on when he saw growing deficits. He also added a new government agency, the Department of Veterans Affairs. And the number of federal employees actually went up by 61,000 people during his term.

He got the retirement age raised for Social Security, but it was part of a compromise that included raising taxes on higher-income people and a $165 million bailout of Social Security. Reagan cut the deal with Tip O'Neill, a liberal Democrat from Massachusetts who was a personal friend.

What would Reagan think of the thinly veiled anti-gay legislation being peddled to the ignorant as "freedom of religion"? When he was governor of California, Reagan was instrumental in defeating a legislative effort to ban gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools.

By the way, state spending in California increased 177% when he was governor.

So, should the GOP disown that traitor Reagan? Or should it follow his example and compromise to achieve its aims?

Rance Priebus, National Committee chairman, and other pragmatic leaders have told the party faithful that it must change to avoid becoming a regional party (the South and the agricultural heartland). But he and others have been reluctant (i.e., scared to death) to state the obvious course of action: that hard-line policies must be modified in order to realistically compete with Democrats on the national stage.

Which policies? Immigration, women's issues, gay rights all come to mind. Hispanics, women and gays will not vote for people who constantly attack them. And African-Americans, including those who are middle and upper income, are not going to support a party that turns a blind eye when it comes to the needs of low-income families and tries to disenfranchise them through voting restrictions on the state level.

In Georgia, the situation is even worse. Our GOP-dominated legislature has just taken upon itself the burden of stopping the expansion of Medicaid, paid for entirely by the feds for three years (and 90% after that). It passed bills preventing state employees from doing anything to implement the ACA (Obamacare), in a state with 22 percent uninsured and a 7 percent unemployment rate. And it passed an anti-abortion bill among other right-wing legislation.

In the short term, this may help get Tea Party people elected in our heavily gerrymandered districts. But Georgia, like Texas, is experiencing significantly changing demographics. Within a decade, both states may well become blue. And actions like the above by my Republican brethren are hastening that day.

I fully expect that the radicals in my party will attack the views that I have put forth. And that is the core of the problem.

Jack Bernard, a retired senior executive for several national health care corporations, is also the former Director of Health Planning for the state of Georgia and former chairman of the Jasper County Republican Party; Bernard_Jack@hotmail.com.

Ledger-Enquirer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service