John Webster: The Old Party isn’t so Grand anymore
I used to be a Republican. Voted for them. Wrote nice things about them and their policies. When I was a kid, I even doorbelled for them.
Three years ago, something in me snapped. Deregulated banks had trashed our economy. Health insurance companies paid fat bonuses to their executives while seizing any excuse to deny ordinary people the coverage they needed.
Our first African-American president struggled to repair the economy and restore banking regulations. He embraced a health care policy Republicans had favored. He wound down his predecessor’s debt-funded wars.
At every turn, Republicans fought him, filibustered, demagogued.
Plainly, the GOP intended to deny our president any achievement, regardless of the harm this could and did inflict.
To me, this was worse than a cynical scheme to regain partisan power by preventing recovery. As Republicans questioned Barack Obama’s origin and mocked the first lady’s admirable campaign against childhood obesity, I smelled something more personal.
What I smelled, I believe, was an odious mixture of the right wing’s worst traditions: coziness with the privileged, apathy toward the unlucky, xenophobia toward immigrants, and hostility toward government spending that does not involve a gun or a uniform. And yes: a racist fear of leadership by those from outside the country’s shrinking white majority.
When I was 17, I doorbelled in low-income Tacoma neighborhoods for a progressive slate of Republicans who gave their party a good name – then, and later. Dan Evans, Slade Gorton, Lud Kramer and Art Fletcher – one of the first African-Americans to seek statewide office.
Later, when I began writing editorials for The Spokesman-Review, I often spoke well of Republicans and their causes, such as economic development and higher education.
In the late 1980s, I attended a conference about health care reform, at the University of Utah School of Medicine. In those days, our newspaper played a leadership role in a community-wide economic development initiative. The goals were to improve average wages and access to education. The inequities, inefficiencies and crushing costs of our country’s crazy-quilt health care system fit well into the conversation about how to advance Spokane’s future.
In 1993, Washington’s Legislature considered health care reforms to get more people insured, improve effectiveness and restrict insurance abuses. I wrote editorials in support. I still can see the swarm of lobbyists, buzzing like blue-suited hornets outside the Legislature’s doors on the day it locked them out and passed the law.
Within a few years the GOP had gutted that law. So the problems festered.
In 2002 I changed careers, to a management job involving computer systems and budgeting. On business, I have traveled to Denmark. The country enjoys universal health care and superior public education. Bike trails and wind turbines are everywhere. The economy prospers. Danes rank among the happiest people on Earth. Slaves of socialism? Hardly.
For me, age and travel have brought perspective. Today’s GOP represents the forces that fought Social Security, fought regulation of banks, fought fair labor standards, fought civil rights, fought Medicare, fought environmental cleanup, fought equal pay for women, and fight now to weaken the social safety net, impede voting rights, and stick long medieval noses into people’s bedrooms and wombs.
To me, the wiser path is the one Franklin D. Roosevelt chose: combat abuse, with bold regulations and a bully pulpit. Then, invest in the little guy. When consumers have education, health, hope and spending money, it improves the odds employers will hire here – instead of laying people off, slashing pay and shipping jobs overseas.
I enjoy my nonpolitical career. Each day, I get a chance to fix things. Give co-workers a hand. Keep the business going. In the political arena, I feel those tendencies are part of what it means to be a progressive. That’s what I saw in Dan Evans and his team when I was ringing doorbells at age 17, and it is what I see, today, in the Democratic Party.
Currently The Spokesman-Review’s editorial operations director, John Webster served as chief editorial writer, then as opinion editor, from 1982 to 2002. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.