What does it mean to be a Republican?
While all the talk is of the Republican Party, California State Democrats are in a fractious and petty battle for the party’s leadership.
The two contenders for chair of the California Democratic Party are heir apparent Eric Bauman, a union organizer, and Bay Area progressive Kimberly Ellis. Mr. Bauman won the leadership seat by 60 votes but Ms. Ellis is refusing to concede and now both of their lawyers are involved. Pundits have qualified this as the bitterest fight they have seen for years.
Mr. Bauman is the consummate insider and Ms. Ellis a Sanders-esque outsider. For all their bluster the average registered Democrats couldn’t care less–because at the end of the day all Democrats share the same values.
But what values do Republicans share?
This was an easy question to answer growing up, but not so easy now.
Republicans in my parents and grandparents era were, among other things, reliably fiscal conservatives, hawks on the Soviet Union, and standard bearers of traditional family values and the free market.
Through the 1980’s these values were being chipped away but no one in the Party would say it out loud.
In 1964, popular Republican presidential candidate, Nelson Rockefeller, lost the California primary because he was divorced. But 20 years later the first president ever to be divorced was elected, Republican Ronald Reagan.
His second wife, Nancy, was pregnant before they married, he and his first wife, Jane Wyman, sent their first grader off to a boarding school, and Mr. Reagan found himself not on talking terms with two of his four children.
Mr. Reagan’s fairly typical American family did not shock mainstream America. But he campaigned on the fact that Republicans were the “Family Values” party, angering those who knew Republicans did not practice what they preached.
Mr. Reagan blew through another tenet of the Republican Party, fiscal responsibility. During his tenure he increased the deficit by 186%–more than President George W Bush, who started a war, and more than President Barack Obama, who faced down an economic meltdown.
Democrats are no strangers to borrowing to pay for their favorite programs–but they own it. To this day Republicans cling to the mantle that they live within a budget.
The climax to this identity crisis story is the birth of the Tea Party. With its help, Republicans won a majority in both houses in 2010, but they lost their compass.
The Tea Party and its standard bearer, Sarah Palin, were ignorant of the basics in American History or our government. They protested with placards marred by simple spelling errors and exclaiming such protestations as “keep the government’s hands off of my Medicare.”
The disconnect between core Republican values and those who called themselves Republican was getting harder to hide. Republicans need the Tea Party in the fold to get their bills passed, but in so doing have made a deal with the devil.
Our local political scene reflects what is going on in Washington. Congressman Devin Nunes and Hanford Council Member Justin Mendes have been lauded for their traditional conservative values while also being labeled as RINOs (Republican In Name Only.)
Tea Party run blogs such as Right On and the Facebook Page Hanford Issues make sport of criticizing Mr. Mendes for voting against onerous zoning restrictions and selling off surplus properties to balance the city’s budget.
Mr. Mendes, who sits on a city council made up of Republicans, has tired of how the dysfunctional council cannot stick to a conservative agenda and the Tea Party attacks. He has decided against defending his seat in 2018.
Mr. Nunes, the quintessential conservative leader in the Valley, has been labeled a RINO by the Congressional Freedom Caucus, which is made up of Tea Partiers. The Freedom Caucus rejoiced in closing down the government for ten days in 2012 and the fiscally conservative Mr. Nunes criticized them for their recklessness.
Instead of listening to the advice of a veteran, Republican member of Congress who is the chair or member of the most prestigious committees, the Freedom Caucus questioned Mr. Nunes’ conservative chops and doubled down and scuttled many Republican sponsored bills.
Who are Republicans since 2010?
Are they for individual freedoms? Not when it comes to family planning or choosing who you want to marry. Are they for free trade? Not when it comes to North Atlantic Fair Trade Agreement (NAFTA) or Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA.) Are they pro-Democracy? Not when it comes to Russia. Are they pro-family values? Not when it comes to President Donald Trump.
And therein lies the problem of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole and possibly the final chapter to our story–explaining exactly how Mr. Trump is a Republican.
The family values party now has a leader who is a serial philanderer, that has five children by three different women, and is twice divorced.
The hawks on Russia now have a president who is in the middle of a bromance with Vladimir Putin and whose hands had to be tied by Congress so he wouldn’t lift Russian sanctions.
The free trade Republicans might lose NAFTA and already lost the TPPA on November 8, 2016. TPPA was a game changing trade deal pushed by President Barack Obama that was an effective response to China’s emerging world economic dominance.
In Hanford, Republicans cannot decide if they should implement restrictive zoning laws or embrace the free market. They can’t decide on whether or not to spend millions of dollars they do not have renovating crumbling historic buildings or selling them to invest in their downtown.
Republicans themselves cannot agree on what is a Republican. The Tea Party nationally and locally cheered Mr. Trump’s brand of conservatism, all the while being on shaky conservative ground themselves.
If Republicans can’t articulate what it is to be a conservative, how are they going to pass any legislation? If they cannot define what is a Republican, who are they going to elect to the House and Senate in 2018? And if their Dear Leader fires Special Council Robert Mueller, who is going to tell Mr. Trump, a la Senator Berry Goldwater to Nixon, that it is time he resign before being impeached?
Mr. Trump will go down into history as many things. Will one of them be the end of our two party system? Or the end of the Republican Party?
As Mr. Trump is fond of tweeting, “time will tell.”
One Last Story before You Go
My second oldest son, Alex loved to hear stories about when he and his older brother, Chuck, were babies. We would spend many dinner conversations reminiscing about the early days of our family, and as time passed, Alex would be the story teller when his younger siblings wanted to know what life was like before they could remember.
Through our stories, Alex learned that his first word was “Chuck.” He knew that when he was a toddler a nearly blind and deaf bull dog slowly lumbered toward him while he sat on the grass in the park. The dog, unable to hear, happily licked and sniffed Alex’ face undeterred by his blood-curdling screams. He learned that he was the only child planned out of the five. I wanted Chuck to have a playmate so it was the first and last time I tried to get pregnant.
But there is one story I never told Alex, how we announced my pregnancy to the family. So I will tell him now.
It was Christmas of 1987, and somehow Joseph and I, with our new baby Chuck, were volunteered to host both sides of the family for the holidays, a total of fourteen people.
Fortunately for me and all of our guests, Joseph did the cooking.
We had to plan two separate celebrations, one for my mom on Christmas Eve and then do it all again for my dad and his girlfriend on Christmas night. But that actually added to the fun of being able to announce twice the coming of another grandchild.
On Christmas Eve great grandma, mom, my siblings and all of my in-laws were sitting around the table ready to start dinner when Joseph stopped to propose a toast. “To the new baby,” he said. And everyone let out a cheer. My mother-in-law called the two babies Irish twins and couldn’t wait to go out and buy a double stroller.
On Christmas night the same scene played out, except that everyone knew I was pregnant except my dad and his girlfriend. As I sat with Chuck on my lap, Joseph made the same toast, “To the new baby.” My dad repeated “to the new baby” then drank his wine and started to eat. As we all sat in silence staring at my dad dive into his cordon blue he finally noticed no one was talking. You could see the light bulb go off in his head as he realized that Joseph was not toasting to Chuck, but that he was going to be a grandfather again.
We all laughed and my dad lifted up his glass once more, but this time to toast to Alex.
As the years went by my one planned pregnancy didn’t turn out to be just a playmate for Chuck. My dad would spend the next decade traveling, playing and celebrating holidays and birthdays with Alex and Chuck.
Seven and a half months after our memorable Christmas Alex was born on our bathroom floor in our Lafayette house. My husband and I saw Alex take his very first breath, and then in March we saw him take his very last. Alex would have been 29 years old August 3.
I’m actually glad I never told Alex how I announced his pregnancy to the family because now I have one last story to share with my son.
Happy Birthday Alex.