Jack Bernard: Nothing 'conservative' about it

May 16, 2014 

I am a Republican former two-term county commissioner and ex-chair of my county GOP. Normally, I would be supporting a GOP candidate in the senatorial primary and voting for the GOP nominee in November.

But my party is rapidly going rightward, away from common sense (like the recent Guns Everywhere law) and toward unyielding orthodoxy. It is appealing to the lowest common denominator, which in the South often means covert racism and states' rights.

This is illustrated by the cast of Republican character s… and I do mean characters … who are running for the U.S. Senate to fill the seat being vacated by Senator Saxby Chambliss (R), a traditional conservative afraid to run again because he is not right wing enough and has had the audacity to compromise with Dems to attempt to get things done.

In the Georgia GOP Senatorial primary, we have various candidates who do not:

• believe in evolution and the Big Bang theory;

• support school lunch programs for poor children and want them to sweep floors instead;

• want funding for family planning, the best way to reduce unwanted pregnancies and abortions;

• think the government should fund any innovative alternative energy projects, instead relying on existing energy companies that have shown little interest in this area;

• believe that immigration reform should include a path to citizenship and that building an expensive and ineffective wall on our southern border is a fine idea;

• think that Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" position is bogus;

• believe anyone should run for governor without a college degree;

• support the Voting Rights Act as it stands, but instead want it watered down in order to be ineffective; and

• think Presiident Obama should complete his second term, but instead should be immediately impeached.

In summary, lots of "do nots" but very little positive thinking or ideas from any of them. How did this shift in Georgia away from traditional conservatism to radical positions occur? There are many causes.

To start with, back in the 1970s Harry Dent and Lee Atwater (South Carolina politicos) convinced Nixon and then Reagan that the GOP should pursue a "Southern Strategy." This boiled down to hitting on all the hot points of white Southerners.

On the surface, this meant pushing the notion that Southern states should be allowed to do pretty much whatever they wished domestically, citing the "states' rights" portion of the Constitution. On a deeper level, Dent and Atwater knew that Southern whites resented African-Americans' newly won rights via the civil rights movement.

By having Reagan make his first campaign speech in 1980 in Mississippi in the town where three young civil rights workers were murdered in 1964, the GOP kicked off what in the minds of many Southerners was a campaign to reverse those gains. Even Bush senior, a liberal by today's GOP standards, ran thinly veiled Willie Horton ads showing a scary-looking black man in a big "fro" in order to defeat Michael Dukakis. There are many more examples of the GOP appealing to our baser instincts over the last 30 years, enough that the party of Lincoln has completely lost the African-American vote for the foreseeable future while capturing almost the entire white vote in Georgia and the Deep South.

The Southern Strategy continues today, illustrated by the 50-plus House votes to repeal Obamacare, which is at least partially designed to help uninsured low-income people, a disproportionate number of whom are minority. And the strategy is a driving force on the state level; witness Governor Nathan Deal's insistence that the state cannot afford to expand Medicaid, even though it is 100% funded by the feds for 3 years and the state pays only 10% or less of the cost after that point.

I am not sure whom I will vote for in the Republican senatorial primary. But in the general election I will support the candidate, regardless of party affiliation, who looks objectively at each issue rather than doing whatever is needed to get the Tea Party vote. If that person wins, maybe this state can begin a return to moderation and away from fanaticism.

Jack Bernard, retired former chair of the Jasper County Board of Commissioners and the Jasper Republican Party, served as a senior level executive with several national health care firms.

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