Sunday, May 30, 2021

The GOP is Being Pulled Too Far From the Center, Pt. 3


The American Civil War (1861-1865) had a lasting impact upon the nation, and both political parties. And, to some extent the legacies of that terrible conflict are still with us all. 

   It was Southern-Democrat legislators and elected officials that instituted racial segregation throughout the South through a series of legal doctrines that were geared to repressing Black populations. Between 1870 and the late 1960s, this canon of sanctions were commoonly referred to as "Jim Crow Laws." These laws were a product of Southern Reconstruction, after the Confederate States of America fell to the United States of America. 

   Dismantling the machinery of slavery in the United States was the wartime goal of the Republican Party, and its first U.S. president, Abraham Lincoln. The "Party of Lincoln" became synonymous with the cause of liberating the oppressed throughout the nation and became engrained in the American psyche. 

   The Democrat Party, perhaps since the the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-1945) steadily became more progressive in its platform goals, as well as more populist in its narrative. And, this created a divide between Southern Democrats and the rest of their party nationally. Issues such as minority voting rights, worker protection, social service programs for low-income Americans and education equality gradually began to take center stage within the progressing Democrat Party. This schism eventually came to a tipping around the late 1970s. 
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (center) waged a campaign against 
Southern lynchings. 

   In the wake of the civil rights movement, the Republican Party developed a "Southern Strategy" for capitalizing on White Southern fears involved with equality. Both Republican candidate Barry Goldwater and presidential candidate Richard Nixon tried to capitalize on this situation during their elections, with Nixon enjoying more success in 1968 and 1972. My thesis on this issue is that, while Nixon did receive support from Southern Democrats during both of his successful elections, it is unclear that the Southern Strategy was as responsible for this as was Nixon's own policies of including Democrats in his administration, nationally, in order to engender bipartisan support. 

President Ronald W. Reagan

   If Nixon had successfully converted conservative Southern Democrats to the Republican cause permanently, then the question has to be asked why former Gov. James Earl Carter won the presidency on behalf of Democrats in 1975. 

   What excited the imagination of Southern Democrats was when former California Gov. Ronald Reagan campaigned on a platform of undoing many of the initiatives of past presidential administrations (including those of Nixon's) by definding social services programs, offering a blind eye to states' dismantlement of President Lyndon B. Johnson's "Great Society" programs within their Southern boundaries. This presented a unique opportunity for Southern Democrats to shift their alliances for tangible, bird-in-the-hand Federal concessions that would, to their point-of-view, permanently offer a president and a political party dedicated to their perspective. 

   Being a Republican from that period, I vividly recall that the GOP was the party of science and technology. It was a party dedicated to the pryomotion of international business and support of labor and ownership. The Republican Party before Reagan was a party of providing new resources for businesses from Main Street to Fortune 500 companies. Social issues were not the primary impetus of the party or its leaders. Republicans were dedicated to maintaining the American economic lifestyle for all its citizens, especially the middle class. 

In the wake of social service cutbacks, the Reagan Administration
offered struggling Americans free cheese

   With the new, Reagan-inspired amalgamation of the Religious Right and the newly-converted Southern Conservative movement it made for a dramatic and, as it turned out, permanent change from the "Party of Lincoln" to a party of xenophobia, religious fear tactics and dystopian ideals. And, that is the core of the party that calls itself Republican today.

   From a historical perspective, Reagan did what he had to do in order to get elected. He activated traditional Democrats to not only change their votes for his election, but to change their party affiliations altogether. While many Republicans believed that the bigger tent of the GOP might be a healthy thing over the course of time, it turned out that these new forces within its ranks turned the GOP away from its tried-and-true mission of building business and the working class to something else, more radical, more parochial and less centrist. 

(Jim Purcell is a registered Republican and is a graduate of the New York Theological Seminary, in New York City. He is a retired journalist and lives in Western N. Carolina with his wife.)


Thursday, May 27, 2021

The GOP is Being Pulled Too Far From the Center, Pt. 2


A fact can only be a fact. 

   There is such a thing as singular truth and editing such a truth will inevitably turn the result into a lie. Yet, there are things that are subjective (as science has yet to provide us with answers that would make opinions unnecessary). I am talking about the great subject that redefined the Republican Party beginning in the 1980s: the right of a woman to get an abortion.

   At what point is a life a life with all the rights and protections any person is entitled to have? At what point does a fetus become a person? This is the great social and medical argument that opened the gates for change in the GOP. Well, it was that and a lot of money the Religious Right put together. Still, all the money in the world cannot make a cogent argument; such a thing is needed for any issue to become a platform issue for any political party (at least in the United States). The Religious Right had both money and an issue that could not be disproved by any opposition, be that opposition political or scientific. 

   Roe v. Wade was the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that abotion law was based upon. The 1973 decision by the justices was to  "...[to protect] a pregnant woman's liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction." This issue became the battering ram that Conservative Christians used to force their way into a mainstream political party. 

   I do not believe there is a side in this fight that is either entirely right or wrong. I do not espouse one side dramatically over the other. I would feel uncomfortable, as a man, attempting to legislate a woman's body and what she can or cannot do with it. Similarly, I believe in the inalienable rights for persons to have laws that protect them from undo harm. And, scientifically and morally, no one has yet definitively defined the moment the eternal spark becomes flesh and blood, resulting in a human baby with what myself and my fellow Christians believe is a soul of its own. It may well be that such a finding is impossible to discern, and the moment life is given to so much genetic matter cannot be adequately answered ever. 

   This essay is not intended to attempt to persuade anyone about how to believe in this matter, one way or the other. However, I do believe that this SCOTUS decision led to the creation of the Religious Right, and that this Religious Right found a home in the Republican Party because of this issue. Anti-Abotion supporters then made their way from the orbit of the GOP to the center of it over the ensuing years. It took time: years. It took money: billions of dollars. It took demonstrating the ability to win. But when Republicans started winning with the blessing of the Religious Right then it lent credibility to the argument of the Religious Right. And, after that credibility within the GOP was established, it gave the Religious Right a seat at the proverbial table within the Republican Party. 

   I remember the birth of the Religious Right because I was among those first people that mailed in their money to the then-newly minted Moral Majority, in 1979, and paid for my paper membership card. Following that, I received the appeals every other month for more money. Of course, I was 13 years old at the time and the money I used to send them was my allowance from my parents. Nevertheless, their mailers were unmistakable about their lobby for anti-abortion and Christian principles in American Government. In my own defense, I saw things very simply...loving God's principles was good and so that meant helping people who wanted to promote those things was also good. Of course, I was wrong. 

The Rise of the Religious Right   

There are people who will say that the creation of the Moral Majority was not the beginning of the Religious Right. However, I will respectfully disagree with them. 

Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr. 
The story of the Moral Majority begins with the story of its founder and guiding force, the Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr. 

Before he created the Moral Majority, Falwell Sr. was pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist Church, a fundamentalist megachurch, in Lynchburg, Virginia. In addition, he was a televangelist of some reknown. 

During the 1970s Falwell and other televangelists had created a new brand of retail religiosity for their viewers that, essentially, sold what amounted to spiritual salvation for contributions to their ministries. This practice was and is far removed from Christ-centered, traditional religious practices. However, using state-of-the-art media practices of the day these televangelists were and are successfully able to amass large fortunes for their ministries and themselves by employing such strategies with their audiences. 
   It was Falwell Sr., though, who most aggressively used his ministry's wealth to become politically active, most notably in the presidential election season of 1979 with then-candidate, former California Governor Ronald Reagan. 

   There had been an unspoken maxim in national politics that church and state would remain separate. In fact, this concept was and is at the heart of the American republic. Declaration of Independence author Thomas Jefferson was the first to give words to this function of the republic. What the Religious Right did, by forcing its agenda through first candidate Ronald Reagan and then President Ronald Reagan was shatter this pillar upon which the republic rested. 

   At first it was one issue: abortion rights. This was the singular issue that grabbed the attention of the American public because it was an issue of merit. No scientist, credible philosopher, doctor or academic could then nor now identify that moment when life begins. Until this day, anyone speaking on this matter arrives at a decision about when life begins through a subjective process. With this being the case, anyone could make an effective argument that life began from the moment of conception through the moment of birth with the same force of argument. 

   Entering into a formal alliance with this new Religious Right did not come without its perils for Reagan. Should he win in November, he would be stuck with this new crowd of "Christians" throughout the balance of his public life. However, he was in a contest with a sitting president, Jimmy Carter, and all of the advantages that come with an incumbent president on the Campaign Trail. Reagan needed something 'more' to be able to overcome Carter's advantages and, though it was a gamble, perhaps these well-meaning group of unconventional Christians might be that silver bullet that Reagan needed to bring his campaign through to victory. 

(Jim Purcell is a graduate of the New York Theological Seminary, where he earned his Master's of Proessional Studies. He is also a retired journalist, who worked in the field for two decades. He currently resides in Western North Carolina with his wife.)


Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The GOP is Being Pulled Too Far From the Center, Pt. 1


The New York Times published a quote attributed to President Abraham Lincoln. The Times printed this on August 27, 1887. The publishing date was 22 years after the Great Emancipator had passed on to the ages. But it sounded like him nonetheless. He said: 

    "You can fool all of the people some of the time, you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time." 

    These are fine words from a good man. And, they ring true even into today, which is why anything is ever remembered. 

    Lincoln's "Grand Ol' Party" has been corrupted by so many social misfits and marginal personalities and groups that I cannot even recognize the Republican Party I have espoused since 1975. It was that year, when I was nine years old, when Miss Fleming volunteered myself and Narin Kaminski to debate for our favorite politicians in class. Back then, most kids were convinced, and were right, that politics is boring. So she tried to shake things up a bit. Well, Nain's favorite politician was the smiling and affable Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter and mine was President Gerald Ford, who was also smiling and affable. 

   Carter and Ford were more similar than dissimilar. They each wanted to: secure an unbroken oil supply for the country; rebuild the military after Vietnam; provide for America's poorest and oldest; strengthen Social Security; keep taxes low; support unions; fight terrorism, which was still in its early days for the U.S.; stay out of war, but be strong in peace. 

   There were differences between the two men about how to achieve these goals, but there was no question that this was what either man planned to address if they won the election. Both men recognized the need to have God in their lives, neither tried to force it down anyone's throat or sign the Almighty up for a political party mailer. 

    I do not believe that fans, if you will, of either of these men would say his opponent was evil or 'in league' with foreign powers, or that either did not truly love this country. Maybe it was the fact that both of these well-qualified men were well-educated, had served as U.S. Navy officers on Active Duty, and had long records of honorable public service. In fact, these men were so similar that perhaps it was the cult of personality of these candidates which tipped the scales and gave Governor Carter four years as our President of the United States.  

   For me, the days of Eisenhower, Nixon and Ford always seemed like the "Good Old Days," before abject insanity became a regular campaign issue. When California Governor Ronald Reagan came along, in 1979, I did not hate the new presence of the Christian Right within his Presidential Campaign. The infusion of some faith, I thought, would not nor could not be a bad thing. Of course, I would not have greeted such a presence in presidential politics had I known that the Republican Party would eventually become adled with a revulsion for all things scientific, all things provable by the scientific method, in favor of the radical screaming of frienge Christian separatists. 

   I do not see the Chrstian Right as either Christian or Right. The framers of our Constitution had a balanced approach to faith: God and faith to Him should inform the decisions of individual men and women (whether they are politicians or not) but not be the cause or substance or tenents of law in and of themselves. America is not, has never been, a "Christian Nation," but rather a nation that was created by Christians. 

   The Constitution is a living document: It does not bind us to a past (whether that past is real or imagined). There is a sentiment now with the Republican Party that the "Good Ol' Days" prior to the American involvement in Vietnam is idealized, something to attempt to return to, as a conscious decision. The subtext to this idea is a return of almost total white male autocracy as a standard of leadership throughout the nation. 

   In the next installment in this series, the needs of a modern society will be contrasted with the development of national policy (created by both Republicans and Democrats) during the past 60 years.

(Jim Purcell is a graduate of the NY Theological Seminary, was formerly the associate pastor for Stelton Baptists Church, in New Jersey, and was a journalist during the 1990s-2010s. In addition, he is a registered Republican.)

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Issues These Days is White Supemacy


This column is almost preposterous to write. Why? Because most Whites see their heritage as being like those who are Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Arab, Semitic, etc. There is no race better than another. There is no race more deserving than another. God loves wondrous diversity, and that is what He created. 

But the most dangerous threat to the United States is White Supremacists in this hour. In my life, I have always believed that the intergration of the races was the best thing to happen in our world. Why? Because no one, and no class of people, would be 'pure' anymore. 

Both my daughters were half Hispanic and half White. And, they are both White. It is srictly a descretion of God. But that does not make them better than anyone else. It makes them more diverse than Whites or Hispanics. It makes them the best of both of their traditions. 

I do not know what to tell Whites, other than there is no love like the love for all of God's people. Actually, the whole thing bores the heck out of me. Be kind to people, and you can expect that back. Be an evil person....well, you get that back too.