Guest Columns


Republican ‘big tent’ has fallen flat because of lack of diversity and thought

U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, of Pennsylvania, did more than simply change his party affiliation recently. By leaving the GOP to become a Democrat, he shifted control of the Senate. But he also did something more far-reaching, perhaps firing the final shot in a new moderate revolution in American politics.

Even Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-SC, slammed the right wing of his party for pushing moderates out.

First, let’s applaud Specter’s courage to follow his convictions rather than the conventional notions of power politics. To think that Specter, a distinguished senator for 29 years, was going to face a primary for his seat in 2010 from a right wing zealot was shameful.

Too often in politics these days, politicians struggle too hard to be liked, pursuing big money for re-election and, in the process, courting favor with special interests. Specter’s independence strikes a small — but significant — blow for “courage” as a new way of political life against these tides.

In another sense, his change of parties demonstrates the need for moderate politicians of conscience at all levels of government to remain independent in spirit, if not in affiliation.

Moderation is and has been seen by many on the left and right as a political and ideological limbo of little value — a place where white bread and slow progress hold sway.

In truth, nearly every sensible, practical, executable idea emerges from the political center.

The Wagner Act struck a balance between the interests of business and labor and created a balance of power between the two interests.

The GI Bill enfranchised veterans, sparked a revolution in American higher education and fueled the post-war economic expansion of the ’50s and ’60s.

The Clean Air and Water Acts constituted sane and reasonable environmental legislation that has improved life for all of us.

Each of these pieces of legislation was made law by a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats (liberals, moderates and conservatives) who saw a common sense benefit for the common citizen.

Today, we find that ideology — especially that of the right wing of the Republican Party — driving men and women of conscience to fits, as it dictates the tone and substance of legislation in Washington and in state capitols around the nation.

The “right” plays kingmaker, forcing hard concessions from moderate GOP lawmakers on issues such as abortion, prayer in public schools, vouchers and the rights of gays and lesbians.

Moderates, meanwhile, follow along or face an internecine fight in their own party. They were forced to drop the limited federal spending litmus test because of George W. Bush.

We’ve seen this phenomenon at work in Colorado and across the nation for decades. Illinois Congressman John Anderson left the GOP in 1980 rather than join the Reagan Revolution, and he ran a credible independent campaign, garnering small, but significant, support in the general election.

Lowell Weicker, former GOP senator from Connecticut, bolted from the right-dominated Republicans in his state and won a gubernatorial election as an independent in 1990.

Other New England mavericks such as Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, continue to uphold a tradition of independent thought and action in the Senate. Their actions prove what many of us have known for a long time: No matter how much the GOP touts its “big tent,” the reality is that it’s more of a pup tent.

Closer to home, Specter’s actions give us hope that a wellspring of moderate sentiment, political action and courage might transform the gridlock in Washington.

The actions of an Arlen Specter give us hope that a moderate course set by people of conscience will transform our own political landscape.

Even Ronald Regan recognized the importance of having a wide range of opinions within his party. He called it “the big tent.” In the last 20 years, I am sad to say, the poles that held up that big tent — the poles of diversity of thought and respect for dissent — have been knocked down. The “big tent” has
fallen flat.

You can’t have the party of George Romney, Nelson Rockefeller, Barry Goldwater, Everett Dirksen and Howard Baker tossing out everyone with a moderate view.

The Republican Party simply left Specter in the dust after his recent vote to approve the president’s budget. Would Abe, Teddy, Ike and “The Gipper” stay in the Republican Party today with lack of moderate statesmen?

Colin you are not from the party of Cheney, Rove, Romney and Limbaugh; like a good soldier, you need be true to yourself!

Jim Martin, a Boulder attorney, is a former at-large member of the University of Colorado Board of Regents.