Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

10 Republicans I Admire

I’ve tried this before and have never seen any return favors–that is, not once has any Republican replied by listing any Democrats s/he admires.  Nonetheless, as an effort on my part to get past the vitriolic divisions in this nation, I, a self-declared democratic socialist from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and a pacifist and tree-hugging environmentalist to boot, will hereby list ten (10) Republicans whom I admire.  I will not make it easy on myself by listing Republican members of my extended family or friends, but will stick to G.O.P. leaders, past and present, and mostly ones having held elected office.  I will also give brief descriptions of what I admire about them and why.  I’d love to see more people like those in this list in today’s Republican Party. 

I invite any of my many conservative friends and critics (and friends who are critics) to respond with a list of Democrats they admire. I’ll make it easy: It doesn’t have to be 10.  A list of 2-3 would be a welcome indication that the critic doesn’t think that all Democrats are soulless or demons or damned for all time, etc.  In fact, I’ll make it easier still:  The responder can list any liberal or progressive or even centrist political figure in U.S. history of the current scene that they admire–even if they belonged to some other political party such as the Greens, Socialists, or were independents without a party affiliation.  The only restriction I’m setting is that the list a responder gives in return cannot be that of a conservative listing moderate, centrist, or liberal Republicans because I want to see some evidence that my conservative critics realize that virtues exist in people outside the Grand Old Party. 

Here goes:

  1. Abraham Lincoln.  This first one is easy since almost all historians list this first Republican president as the greatest president in U.S. history.  He had his faults, including being willing to continue slavery indefinitely if it would save the Union, but save it he did. He also began the ending of slavery and by the time the Civil War was over had come to see the abolition of slavery as a moral necessity.  I also admire the way Lincoln rose from abject poverty and, by a program of self-education and hard work (he only had about 2 years of formal education), passed the Illinois Bar, became a successful lawyer and politician and, as President, led our nation through it’s darkest days and paid for it with his life.  He did this while suffering many personal tragedies and struggling through what today would be called clinical depression and in his day was known as “melancholy.” His marriage was strained, not least because of his wife’s mental illness and the death of several children.  His Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address are amazing speeches that still inspire me in every re-reading.  Unlike Republicans today, Lincoln was very wary of the power of corporations and of the banking interests, too.
  2. Theodore Roosevelt.  “Teddy” certainly had his faults:  His policies toward Native Americans were only slightly less objectionable that Andrew Jackson of “Trail of Tears” infamy; he loved a good war; he was a notorious braggert and self-promoter; he advanced U.S. imperial interests in Central and South America. I don’t admire or approve of any of those things.  But Teddy was also our first environmental president. True, he wanted animal species saved so that he could continue to hunt them, but, at least, he worked to keep them from extinction!  He created the National Park system without which there would probably be no wilderness left in America.  Teddy, despite his militarism, was also the first American (and first American president) to win the Nobel Peace Prize because of his personal diplomacy in negotiating an end to the war betrween Russian and Japan.  Roosevelt also took on the monopolies, breaking up businesses that were “too big to fail” and creating real competition and a fair marketplace.  He was also the first U.S. president to propose a system of universal healthcare–and he did so in 1911, 99 years before a watered-down, very compromised, version was signed into law by Barack Obama.  Teddy’s proposal got nowhere in 1911–but neither did anyone, Republican, Democrat or other, have the ignorance to suggest that it was somehow unconstitutional or a government takeover.  Had we enacted universal healthcare in, say, 1912, we’d have been the first nation to do so (instead of the last industrial nation to attempt even a weak form of it), and we’d have had a healthier and more secure and more prosperous nation.  Regarding healthcare, TR was ahead of his time.
  3. Rep. Jeannette Rankin (R-MT).  In 1914, Rankin became the first woman elected to the U.S. Congress–6 years before women could even vote in most of the U.S.  A woman of peace, she was the only woman in Congress to vote against U.S. entry into BOTH World Wars! Her vote against WWI led her to lose her congressional seat, but after the war, her district decided that they liked her on other issues and that, maybe she’d been right about the horrors of “the war to end all wars” and elected her again.  After she cast her lone dissenting vote against the declaration of war against Japan in 1941, she once more lost her seat, this time for good.  I admire her because I am a pacifist, but I also admire her because she is that rarety in politics–a person of principle. She knew very well, both times, that her vote against war was likely to lead her to lose her seat in the next election–and she voted her conscience anyway.  Usually, politicians of every party put being reelected above all other concerns and silence their consciences with rationalizations. Rankin refused to play that game.  She was a Republican who stood up for what she believed no matter how unpopular it was in the short run, but without demonizing others.  We need hundreds more like her in both parties throughout public life.  Rankin became famous for saying, “You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.”
  4. Jacob K. Javits (R-NY) was first a U.S. Representative and later a U.S. Senator from New York.  He was a liberal Republican who championed Civil Rights for all (since he had experienced discrimination as a Jew) and most of the Great Society anti-poverty programs.  He was an ally of NY Gov. (and later U.S. VP) Nelson Rockefeller and when AZ Sen. Barry Goldwater (R), one of the earliest leaders of the moder Conservative movement, opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Javits refused to support his nomination for the presidency.  By 1967, Javits joined those who believed America should get out of the Vietnam War.  However, as a lawyer who believed people were innocent until proven guilty, he stood by Pres. Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal until nearly the very end.  He later worked with Democratic President Jimmy Carter in preparing the groundwork for the Camp David Accords and the Egypt-Israeli Peace Treaty.  I have little doubt that were Javits still alive, he’d be pushing for us to completely exit Iraq and Afghanistan and pushing for a comprehensive Middle East Peace Treaty that included a Palestinian state alongside Israel, basically within the pre-1967 borders that are the only legally recognized borders for the State of Israel. 
  5. Charles Evans Hughes (R-NY), Governor of New York, Republican nominee for President, and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.  Hughes, a Baptist layperson (one of only 2 Baptists to ever serve on the Supreme Court), struck down some of FDR’s New Deal measures that he felt over-reached Constitutional limits, but he never claimed that any and all government interference in the marketplace was unconstitutional, nor that Social Security and similar programs were not covered by the commerce clause.  But I admire Hughes for his vigorous defense of civil rights, especially religious liberty and church-state separation. 
  6. Dwight David Eisenhower.  When he returned from World War II as a 5 star general and Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, “Ike” was a registered Independent who had little partisan political views, though he was somewhat conservative in many areas. Since his Kansas family had come from the “River Brethren” sect which split from Mennonites, Ike’s entire military career is odd and I don’t quite understand it.  But he seems to have been a reluctant warrior and something of that early upbringing seems to have stayed with him long after he joined the Presbyterian Church the week after his inauguration as President (certainly more than the peace teachings of his Vice President, Richard Nixon, stayed with him!)  He agreed to run for president as a Republican because the Democrats had controlled the White House and Congress for so long that he believed the two-party system was in danger.  Also, initially, Eisenhower saw the threat of Communism in stronger terms than most Democrats–although the Cold War soon became a bi-partisan consensus.  As president of a time of Peace and Prosperity, Ike ended the Korean War and took the first steps toward thawing out the Cold War by agreeing to university student exchanges with the USSR.  He did not do enough for Civil Rights when that movement began during the last year of his first term of office, but he did do more than any Republican president since his time.  He gave us our interstate highway system, raised high school and college standards especially in the sciences and began the space race that put the U.S. onto a technical future.  A fiscal conservative and social moderate, Ike shied away from McCartheyism despite his opposition to Communism and he defended such New Deal programs as Social Security, though resisting efforts to further expand the New Deal.  (Since Ike predicted that any party that sought to abolish Social Security would vanish without a trace, he would be shocked that his own GOP tried to do that in 1995, in 2005, and is trying again this year!) Ike also began the People to People program of high school “student ambassadors” from the U.S. to countries around the world as a way to sow seeds of peace and mutual understanding–he wanted no third World War.  In his farewell address to the nation in 1961, 50 years ago, Ike warned of the dangers of a foreign policy controlled by the Military Industrial Complex–and was not heeded.
  7. Harold E. Stassen (R-MN).  From 1939-1943, this 25th Governor of Minnesota was the youngest governor in the state’s history.  He resigned to join the U. S. Navy as an officer in WWII.  I admire Stassen because he was the major force in the drafting of the United Nations Charter–so very different from today’s anti-UN and anti-international law Republicans.  Later, as a special envoy for peace in the Eisenhower administration, Stassen came so close to negotiating a treaty with the USSR  it alarmed the Cold War hawks in the administration (such as VP Richard Nixon who was trying to talk Ike into using nuclear weapons on China to end the Korean War) that the negotiatiosn were scuttled.  Later still, Stassen, who had been a major Republican candidate for President in 1952 (before dropping out of the race and supporting Eisenhower), sacrificed his political career in trying to get Ike to drop Nixon from the re-election ticket.  Because of that, Stassen was never again taken seriously as a presidential candidate though he ran repeatedly.  Briefly president of the University of Pennsylvania, Stassen also participated in the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Peace and met his son (my teacher), Glen in the crowd when neither had known the other was coming to this hallmark Civil Rights rally.
  8. Mark O. Hatfield (R-OR) First Governor and later Senator from Oregon, Hatfield was a major voice for civil rights and for peacemaking. He became a strong voice in the Senate against the Vietnam War, even condemning it as a national sin at the National Prayer Breakfast in which Nixon sat, embarrassed, next to Billy Graham!
  9. Ralph Bunche, Undersecretary of the United Nations, he was the first African American to win the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to stop a Middle East war.
  10. Gerald Ford (R-MI) was a U.S. Representative from Michigan became Minority Leader and dreamed of becoming Speaker of the House. He had no dreams of becoming president, but after Spiro Agnew was forced to resign for tax evasion, he became the 40th VP of the United States under Richard Nixon. When Nixon resigned during the Watergate crisis, Ford became the 38th President of the U.S. and he played a strong role in healing the nation from that crisis. Although at times I think his pardon of Nixon set a precedent for presidents thinking they are above the law (Reagan in Iran-Contra; Clinton in violating the War Powers Act by using the military in Kosovo for an extended period without Congressional approval; Bush II in so much after 9/11, especially torture; Obama in continuing too many of these Bush violations and then claiming a right to assassinate U. S. citizens in stopping terrorist attacks!), at other times I think that without Ford’s pardon the country would have been even more damaged.  Ford also finally ended the Vietnam War in 1975, signed the Helsinki Accords in 1974 that helped end he Cold War and was the last Republican president for whom Supreme Court nominations were not a proxy for Culture War games.  I also admire the way that Ford, after losing the 1976 presidential campaign to Carter, became good friends with Carter and later served on the board of the Carter Center, doing much good for world peace.

More could be added, but these ten choices are my attempt to change the tone of political debate in this country.  I am a democratic socialist and none of these moderate to liberal Republicans held anything close to my full political views–but all of them were people of integrity and character who did good things that I admire.  I would like to see more people like them in public life and I would hope that the GOP could still produce people like them.

I wait with baited breath for Republican readers to tell me of the Democrats they admire.

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January 18, 2011 - Posted by | biographies, testimony

2 Comments »

  1. Michael,

    Here is a list of Democrats that I admire in no particular order.
    1.) President Harry Truman
    2.) President John F. Kennedy
    3.) Senator Robert Kennedy
    4.) Rep. Tip O’Neil
    5.) Rep. Gabrielle Giffords
    6.) Senator Hubert Humphrey
    7.) Senator George McGovern
    8.) President Franklin Roosevelt
    9.) Al Gore
    10.)Rep. Kathy Castor
    11.) Senator Bill Nelsen
    While I may disagree with their politics on occaision, I have never once doubted their patriotism or their commitment to this country.
    Frank Frey

    Comment by Frank Frey | January 18, 2011 | Reply

    • Thanks, Frank. You’re the first GOP friend to show this kind of non-demonizing approach. I admire most of the people on your list, too–and probably more than you do. Tip ‘Neil was a drunk who should have cooperated much more with Pres. Carter. Humphrey betrayed the Mississippi Freedom Democrats to satisfy LBJ. And Harry Truman should never have dropped the Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

      Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | January 18, 2011 | Reply


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