The Republican Party has done a lot of damage to America’s democracy over the past fifty years. Here’s what I believe are the worst four:
- Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” in which he embraced the white racists of the Deep South. As a direct result, the Deep South, historically the most religious region of the nation, became the GOP’s strongest base, and so forced the party to not just accept its racism, but also elevated its right-wing evangelicals to become the political power brokers that Barry Goldwater warned about in the early 1960's.
- Reagan’s “war on big government” wherein he intentionally sowed mistrust and fear of the government itself. He followed this up by slashing taxes, and by doing so ushered in the era of still-uncontrollable deficit spending.
- The “Eleventh Commandment of Republican Politics”: “Thou shalt not speak ill of your fellow Republican.” This discouraged criticism and self-examination, and ostracized anyone who had the temerity to speak up.
- George W. Bush’s “War on Terror”, including the illegal invasion of Iraq, America’s acceptance of the same form of torture for which we executed Japanese officers after WWII, and the Patriot Act.
All of these combined to give us the Republican Party of today wherein the undisputed head of the party (with 90% approval of the rank and file) embodies everything that Barry Goldwater — the “father of modern conservatism” — stood against, from the backstabbing of our allies and kowtowing to dictators to the rejection of science and higher education, from the GOP’s wholesale acceptance of the total absence of ethical, moral, or professional conduct by the president to their eager support of his contemptuous refusal to send federal aid to states that didn’t vote for him.
So why, then, should Biden give even a moment’s consideration to allowing any Republican to serve in his cabinet?
As George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We would be fools to reject the skills and abilities of people based solely upon their membership in a particular political party.
After WWII, many civil servants who had been card-carrying members of the Nazi party, who had been what we today would call “collaborators”, were allowed to work and serve even in management positions to help enable the civil bureaucracy of West Germany to literally rise from the ashes of Nazi Germany’s defeat. Even more importantly, a certain Nazi named Wernher von Braun — who led the team that developed the V-2 rockets that rained down on London during WWII — was brought to America after the war to help us develop rockets of our own. He was the chief architect of the Saturn V launch vehicle that enabled the Apollo 11 moon landing.
Elevating one’s former enemies and putting them in leadership positions in one’s own government or army is nothing new. Genghis Khan famously did so with his former enemies. Winston Churchill’s political battles with Neville Chamberlain (of “appeasement” ignominy) were many and bitter, but Churchill gladly accepted his help in the days of the London Blitz and had only praise for his efforts in the end.
Conversely, the rejection of skilled bureaucrats for their membership in a party can lead to disaster, as in the aftermath of America’s invasion of Iraq with the Bush administration’s policy of “de-Baathification” wherein anyone who had been a member of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party could not be considered for bureaucratic positions in the rebuilding of the devastated nation.
Most importantly, the refusal to consider any Republicans for a cabinet position would negate what both President Obama and — in the most recent presidential debate — Vice President Biden have said: “there are no red states or blue states, but only the United States of America.” If we refuse to extend a hand to Republicans, then we would only be perpetuating the partisanship that is dividing our nation today. Reaching out to Republican leaders and welcoming them to work alongside our own leaders is the only way our nation can even begin to heal, to repair the damage done by the Republican Party for the past half-century.
What will happen when we proffer that hand of bipartisanship? Many Republicans will scoff and others will spit, but many will also think, “Hey, these Dems might not be so bad after all, especially since they know we wouldn’t have done the same for them.” This is the only way to help America to get back on track. There is no other way.