Weekly I record a political commentary titled “John Neufeld’s Political Safari” for our NPR station, WHDD.FM. What follows below is a transcript of a recent entry from last month. You may want to hear other PODCASTS, and here’s how: Google WHDD.FM. On the left side of that page you will see an “On Demand” box. Hit it. Then scroll down the long list of programs until you reach “John Neufeld’s Political Safari.” Highlight that. On the right side of the page, by dates aired, you will see the titles of my commentaries. Select one that sounds interesting to you, and hit that. Now, in the upper left corner of your screen, you will see a PlayStation, with a “Play Button.” Click on that and you will be listening to yours truly having the time of his life.
“A Sympathetic Republican,” recorded on September 16, 2011.
All right, we have to admit it, although we are loathe to do so. The campaign for 2012 has begun in earnest.
Weekly now we receive invitations to meet one candidate or another, meet and greet and please to bring our checkbooks. Our hosts are friends who mean well, are deeply involved in primary politics, and who imagine our attitudes political are their attitudes political.
Alas, in many cases, this is not true. We registered years ago as a Republican in order to be able to vote in a Republican primary that would, we hoped, assure us of saying farewell to a bright but too long employed representative in Washington. This representative was embedded in the power structure, chairperson of an important committee, and so faithful to the party that there was never any hope of hearing anything from the office that resembled reason.
Cutting to the chase, that representative was finally defeated and sent to retirement. We were too lazy to change out registration, but more than that, we imagined it might be fun to see what was going on in the party for which we had said we had fond memories when in fact we had actually never been able to vote Republican, except in individual instances at the state level.
Weekly invitations to cocktails to meet and listen to would-be politicians brought to mind something we hadn’t before realized.
Now, this may take a little imagination but suppose a Republican candidate for the House was a genuinely honest, middle of the road Republican, the kind that is seldom made these days, and certainly the sort who is never elected any longer in the face of the Tea Party’s ideological chains.
This is fantasy, of course, but when one begins to think about it, one finds enormous sympathy for would-be politicos of genuine good intent.
Here is a word picture of this imaginary man, or woman. He or she is young, married, has two children, served in one or more wars abroad with distinction, comes from our own neighborhood, and truly believes that America can be returned to the vestiges of its former greatness.
On social issues, he or she is moderate. Which is to say, no one is for abortion — we would all like to see fewer of them by the thousands and healthier children therefore. The two wars, Iraq and Afghanistan, have in his or her estimation been costly, futile, and it’s now time to get real and pull back.
He or she believes in voting rights and opposes efforts by his or her party to maneuver “undesirables,” i.e., Democrats or those who might vote Democratic, into being frozen out of the voting process altogether either by expensive tickets to vote (i.e., having a passport or a government photo ID) or changing the rules on electoral vote splitting state by state, or simply doing away with theoretically Democratic districts altogether during reapportionment based on our last census.
He or she is a church-goer. A college graduate. Loves basketball, baseball, high school football. Coaches his or her children’s Little League or soccer team. He or she is idealistic but well-grounded in reality. Someone who could, if the nation’s business required it, compromise for the sake of the nation as opposed to for the the sake of his or her party.
And he or she is smart, well-spoken, thoughtful, has a sense of humor, and is not afraid to take a stand and stick with it.
We know, we know. Where are these people? How do we get one for ourselves?
It ain’t easy.
Being a first-timer, and not sitting on a personal fortune in the billions, our spectacular candidate applies to the party of his or her choice for financial assistance.
And this is where the change begins. This is where independent voters begin to get off the bandwagon.
Both major political parties maintain offices devoted to vetting candidates. Both the Republicans and the Democrats have fund-raising organizations within their domains, not to mention access to the (Thank you, Supreme Court!) unrestricted funds supplied by corporations and billionaires. But to tap into the money, or the visits to one’s district by other figureheads within the party of one’s choice, one has first to be approved locally and then sent forward so that the party chieftains can ratify or deny the candidate’s likelihood of winning.
Put another way, this is where party litmus tests come into play. Will this man or woman, no matter how well-qualified, play ball with the party of their choice and stand behind its decisions and philosophies and its ideological biases?
If you are young, handsome and a strong man, or an appealingly attractive but not threatening young woman, if you really want to get to Congress, or the State House, you have to bend.
And in so doing, you may very well lose all the goodwill you brought to the hustings to begin with.
Our sympathies are deeply engaged now with this man or woman. We’ve received and read the invitations, the policy statements. We could be won easily over to his or her side. Until, as a Republican, the candidate in question sends out a mailing, written by the professionals on his team locally and in Washington, which includes these words: “job-killing,” “Ponzi scheme,” “fairlure of leadership.”
These phrases tell us that the man or woman has buckled, can no longer be perceived as independent, someone who will favor nation over party.
We understand what has happened. We are saddened by the process and the result. We are doubly sympathetic with our imaginary candidate for having to knuckle under to the political powers that be in order to join them.
Political back-scratching we understand now starts the minute a well-intentioned, articulate, clearly talented man or woman appears on the political scene. Which is to say, as his or her campaign continues, we can figure out easily whether this is a man or a woman who will remember us, remember our community, remember our difficulties.
The perception clearly is no, he or she will not.
In which case, he or she is no better than the representatives we already have who have high-jacked the country into war, into increasing poverty, into screeds against education, health, and the creation of jobs. We know instinctively on which side of any question he or she will be forced to stand.
The man or woman who began political life as a paragon of good sense and experience is being consumed by his or her party.
And we are so damned tired of having this happen, of watching the result of private oath-takings and ridiculous rhetoric, of seeing a once great nation immobilized by people who neither know nor understand the problems we face today that a real possibility exists that we simply will refuse to play the game any longer, that we will stay at home and not vote at all since the futility and frustration level we experience day to day seems never to diminish.
In a tragic way, the nation is trapped. We don’t want to vote for men or women who may have been successful industrialists or business people and who have billions to show for their efforts…but who also have no real legislative experience. We don’t want to vote for political naifs who walk in off the streets. And people who are accustomed to thinking for themselves have absolutely no possibility of receiving their party’s backing.
The last thing in the world we need is another southern state governor, a senator who has been bought time and again, a representative who has been swamped by his party’s apparatus and whose world vision includes photographs of his gorgeous body.
The young honest Republican who would and could be a genuine service to his country is as much an endangered species as the Florida panther.
And Americans of genuine good will today are nearly as scarce.
So we apologize in advance to the best-intentioned Republican newcomers. It’s not merely that they are Republicans. It’s rather the kind of Republicans they are being forced to become.
I’m John Neufeld