Republican roots and the politics of party
| March 9, 2023 12:00 AM
“The Democrats killed two of my brothers.” That was the reply my nine-year-old father received from his great grandmother on her rural Iowa front porch when he asked her why she was such a strong Republican. Her comment reflected the bitter legacy of the Civil War. As it left the American South solidly Democratic for decades, it also made the Union upper Midwest just as solidly Republican.
My father couldn’t remember ever knowing a Democrat until moving to Montana in his early teens.
My mother’s family, on the other hand, greatly benefitted from the New Deal Rural Electrification Administration and the modernization that the federal government brought to the rural poor.
Dad was a veteran of the European theater in World War II, and a staunch admirer of General Dwight Eisenhower. Mom liked Ike, too, and so I was brought up from my earliest memory as a Republican.
We had no television at our remote farm-ranch northwest of Kalispell, and I became an avid reader. History was what most interested me, and it was then that I discovered my life-long heroes, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. This was also the time when I was attracted to the square-jawed, straight-talking Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater, whose book, “Conscience of a Conservative,” I devoured.
Goldwater’s book was my first exposure to political theory. I adopted his philosophy that all humans desire to live in freedom, and so they are naturally attracted to free enterprise and repelled by the heavy hand of government control. After rereading “Conscience of a Conservative” again at the time of the rise of Donald Trump, I realized my personal philosophy had adapted and broadened from that of Barry Goldwater, but that at its core it is still much the same.
I also concluded that while Goldwater had a coherent conservative philosophy, Trump seemed to have none. He was all hot-button bluster. He had no regard for either the truth or consequences of his performances, and he was not a pimple on the nose of a thinker. Goldwater was primarily a conservative in the classic sense. Trump was a classic demagogue whose only allegiance was to himself. Time has only confirmed that early characterization.
This is the conclusion that my longtime friend, Marc Racicot, and I both came to. In spite of our shared deep Republican ties, we both publicly rebuked Trump, and I declared my independence from the Republican Party at the same time.
While Marc and I were infants 75 years ago in Thompson Falls, we first became acquainted when, as college student leaders, we actively lobbied the legislature to lower the voting age. We’ve continued in contact ever since, and we naturally think alike. I have been proud to support him in all his issue-oriented and highly principled political campaigns. While anybody might sometimes disagree with Racicot, no one could remotely describe him as a demagogue.
I’ve known many leaders in my long life, and Marc Racicot is one of a small handful I consider a great man.
I can’t say I was surprised when the Montana Republican Party recently expelled Racicot for being his own man. All the Montana Republican leaders are lapdog-loyal to Trump. An independent thinker is what self-righteous ideologues can’t tolerate.
The Republican “Big Tent” of Ronald Reagan is long gone now. Reagan knew that in a representative democracy, parties reach out for allies; they don’t reject them. In a great and diverse democracy, party viability depends on being attentive to the people who make up the broad electorate. In a multi-party parliamentary system, political parties are narrowly focused and highly ideological. In a competitive two-party democracy such as ours, that can’t work.
In nondemocratic systems that don’t allow free elections, political party membership is selective. Only servile loyalists to the regime are allowed to be members.
Neither multi-party nor undemocratic systems are in the American tradition. Judging from the recent Republican reasoning in their rejection of Racicot, however, either one might be where future Montanans will find themselves.
Bob Brown is a former Montana Secretary of State and State Senate President.