Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A big mouth with no teeth


By Bill Kraus

The chair of the national Republican Party, Reince Priebus, recently declared that the party embraces life, marriage, and one sovereign God.

The big tent party of my youth that Tommy Thompson and his Wisconsin Republican predecessors understood embraced things like frugality, a manageable public sector agenda, competence, and inclusion.

If they embraced the things that Chair Preibus extols, they did so quietly. Their party accepted those who disliked abortion as much as anyone, but preferred to leave that decision to patients and doctors. Their party was willing to extend whatever rights their government granted to heterosexual couples to gay couples as well without questioning the right of any church to sanctify whatever marriages they liked. And all gods or none were considered private matters as well, which they found consistent with their strong preference for the separation of church and state.

The good news is that today’s party is a shadow of its former self.

By 1978 the party which had a significant presence in every county in the state, whose multiple chairs recruited candidates, slated candidates, and elected candidates was broke and bedraggled. After Lee Dreyfus defeated the endorsed Republican candidate in the September primary of that year, I asked the then-finance chair of the party how much money his party treasury would have contributed to Lee had he won their endorsement. “Five thousand dollars,” he said.

The Watergate reforms which were intended to punish the parties heavy-handed, paranoid excesses did that and more.

It wasn’t so much that they eviscerated the party organization as it was that the money which flowed to the party from all sources to do all the things parties did, got loose. Contributors could fund candidates and campaigns themselves without going through the “kinder mistress” of the party organization.

A lot of fiscal mischief followed, as did jail sentences for the legislative leaders who over-reached as they tried to assume the parties' former powers.

The rampant, excessive spending that characterizes big time politics and its plethora of participating organizations and free spending individuals hold center stage now.

No party chair can back up what he or she says with money, media or organizational muscle.

So what Priebus said was pointless, exclusionary, and mostly hot air. That said, the position does give him also the pulpit to characterize in ways that can only repel the generation of candidates who, if they ran and won, could bring the party back to its roots and former successes.

What the party leader has is press coverage. He misuses it by making statements that sound more like something Sinclair Lewis’s Elmer Gantry would make to his revival tent audience.

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