Sunday, May 29, 2011



[Editor's Note: This writer hails from Nashville, Tennessee.]

In 2004, Christie Todd Whitman, published a book titled It’s My Party Too. She had been governor of New Jersey and head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Christie, a member of a distinguished and wealthy eastern Republican family, resigned her position in the Bush administration because “fundamentalist ideologues substituted right-wing doctrine for science.” She believed the Republican Party had been taken over by “social fundamentalists.”

I cannot speak for Republicans, but I feel their pain. I campaigned for George McGovern and Eugene McCarthy during racial strife and opposition to war. I understand the frustration of a divided political party. Ideas that I did not see as radical or revolutionary were not ideas embraced by moderate Democrat and independent voters. I have since been more main stream in the elections of moderates and pragmatists -- Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

A few weeks ago, the Williamson County Republican Party invited and hosted Geert Wilders for a meet and greet at party headquarters prior to his rally at the Cornerstone Church in Nashville. He came under the aegis of the Tennessee Freedom Coalition, a group with a radical image not compatible with local Republican politics. I don’t know if the local party leaders consulted the membership, but the event brought national exposure and evoked some concern and disaffection among moderate Republicans.

Those of us who embrace the principles of Democratic politics have finally found a unity within our own party. Once labeled as liberal or progressive, which none of us found offensive, we have again become the party of the political center. The most evident rebirth of democracy came in support of the students, parents, and teachers of public education. It emerged dramatically in New York, in one Congressional district, in an unprecedented upset, possibly because of a single issue. The once moderate Republican has been alienated by the movement that shattered the party.

My concerns have been primarily with the Tennessee Legislature. I spent 24 years on two school boards. We have always opposed random pieces of legislation that were simple errors in judgment, not in the best interests of classroom instruction or student performance. This session seems to have been a calculated attack on public education.

We would like to believe that the five or six Republican members of the House and Senate who drafted and introduced recent legislation were isolated anomalies from a move to privatize or abolish public education. The movement is not unique to Tennessee, and extends beyond the misinterpretation of American history.

None of us, Republican or Democrat, want to cry wolf, or be prophets of doom, or purveyors of conspiracy theories. This shift of political power is not a threat to the Democratic Party; it could be the return ticket to majority status. Politically we should strategically welcome it. However, it does not bode well for the integrity or future of the Republican Party, nor does it enhance the well-being of American politics.

Whatever this phenomenon is, it did not happen overnight. We can’t blame it on President Bush or President Obama, or the deficit, or the debt, or three wars. The movement has not addressed economic ills, or jobs, or Main Street, or small business. We will address those eventually, but for now we are forced to endure the folly of distraction, and partisan allegiance to corporate and social ideology.

We have created a monster. I think President Eisenhower may have been the visionary who saw this coming. His experience in Europe had taught him that the rise of extreme movements was not unique to time or place. Authoritarianism could take root anywhere, even in America. This movement has roots in the McCarthy era in a mood of extreme nationalism and fear, intensified by ostentatious religious zealotry.

There are many names that were early players in the abduction of the Republican Party and the Christian faith. R. J. Rushdoony and Robert Welch of the John Birch Society were forerunners of the Religious Right and the sequential images of Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed, Tony Perkins, Grover Norquist, Richard Viguerie, Irving and William Kristol, Tim LaHaye, and Pat Robertson. The establishment of “the private schools for the white students” or “seg academies” as we called them, followed Brown v. Board of Education, almost sixty years ago.

But even now, I sense a “distrust of democracy.” There is organized opposition to public education, women’s rights, small business, religious freedom, health care, and voting rights. There is revisionist denial of slavery, a renewal of primitive fundamentalist ideology, and a misguided plea for “God’s government” defined by standards of extremism and intolerance of the fifties, and a cultural vengeance in a penal code derived from the laws of Leviticus.

I watch an “intrusive government” invade the heart, the mind and the body. I hear words of hatred and religious intolerance from voices that bring ignominy to our tradition of faith. I see efforts to reverse the march of freedom in the work place. I am still optimistic that both parties, Republican and Democratic, will speak in opposition to extremism. It may take two or more election cycles, but I think the moderates will return and take back their party, and conservative sanity will find some viability slightly right of center, and restore a two-party system about which we will feel no need for apology.

Bill Peach
Politics, Preaching & Philosophy