It is past time for the Republican Party, at both the state and national levels, to re-examine its positions if it wants to play a leadership role in governing our country.
In Maine, Republicans were given an opportunity to lead in 2010. By any objective measure, they were inclusive and did a good job. Gov. Paul LePage, while too blunt publicly for the sensibilities of most Mainers, was almost always spot-on in policy direction.
Nationally, the Republicans had taken back the House of Representatives and were looking ahead to 2012, with 21 Democratic seats needing to be defended versus only 12 for Republicans in the U.S. Senate. The first-term incumbent president, also a Democrat, was carrying the worst economic performance numbers in more than three generations.
With the wind at their back and looking squarely at a center-right country, the national party moved hard right and deployed that well-known political tool, the circular firing squad. Seeking self-styled political purity, centrists were pressured to leave, and the ranks were thinned of long-serving patriots, including Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, who lost his party’s nomination in 2010; Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana, who was defeated in this year’s primary; and Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who is retiring.
The party took strong positions that were anti-immigrant, with attendant racial overtones; anti-women, with no exceptions for legal abortions; anti-gay, painting them as freaks of nature to be cured of a “disease”; anti-science, by opposing climate-change actions and stem-cell research; anti-government investment in infrastructure, by lumping all deficit spending as evil; anti-middle class, by promoting a tax structure almost guaranteed to gut and hollow out the middle class, the foundation of a strong democracy, while over-rewarding the wealthy. Lastly, the party promised Grover Norquest, an unelected self-appointed leader of the “no new taxes of any stripe” movement, never to raise new revenue.
Reflecting on last month’s election results and recalling the dozens and dozens of conversations I had with Maine voters, I am struck by the three themes that repeated themselves: “Your party is out to lunch”; “How can you stand being a member of the Republican Party?” and “I am not voting for any Republicans this year.” If you are a Republican, how does that work for you? Do we double down or retool with a strong eye to inclusiveness?
While you contemplate that question, another opportunity to get it wrong has presented itself to the Republican Party: gun violence. While both political parties have many members who own guns, the vast majority of them have an ownership profile akin to their parents or grandparents. By letting a few use the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment as a basis for unfettered ownership of weapons, politicians in both parties have bowed to National Rifle Association pressure to provide increased access to ammunition and weaponry. However, while both parties are culpable, Republicans have made it a cause celeb.
Elected Republican officials easily can protect the public in the matter of gun violence, preserve the right to bear arms, and celebrate America’s hunting traditions. When I was a boy in the 1950s, the NRA was all about gun education and safety. Today it bullies elected officials directly and through surrogates. The NRA reminds me of the Wizard of OZ — a little person with a big voice hiding behind a curtain.
My magic elixir for the Republican Party: First, support an assault weapons and high-capacity bullet clip ban with no exceptions but for the military and law enforcement. Next, support background checks for the purchase of any weapon or ammunition without exception, regardless of location. Third, require trigger locks and the separation of weapons and ammunition when they are not in the possession of the owner. Fourth, make owners and their estates financially responsible for damages done by their weapons.
Mental health services and violence-related media changes are relevant, long-term efforts. The directives listed above immediately limit access to both weaponry and ammunition and improve safety for all.
Show leadership, Republicans!
Karl W. Turner of Cumberland was a Republican state senator from 2000 to 2008.