Moderate Repubs Exit the GOP, One by One

(Cross-posted at Clintonistas for Obama)

All the hype from the opening night of the Democratic Convention revolved around the speeches by Ted Kennedy and Michelle Obama, and deservedly so.  But I want to talk about something less publicized, before it slips through the cracks - the decidedly underhyped appearance by former Republican Congressman Jim Leach.

It's not every day you see a Republican speaking at the Democratic convention, and yet there was very little publicity concerning this event.  As a speaker, Rep. Leach didn't exactly blow the doors off - although I'm not sure what else people would expect from an Iowa Republican.  But that doesn't mean his speech isn't worth a read.

The politically significant lesson of Rep. Leach's speech was that it provided one more signifier of the ongoing exodus of moderate Republicans from today's hard-right GOP.  The realignment is ongoing - witness the Democratic takeover of virtually every Congressional seat in New England, which used to be solid Rockefeller Republican territory.  But we haven't finished the job yet.  In November we'll get a chance to take the full measure of our progress.

I've provided the full text of Leach's speech below the fold.  I think it's very telling to compare his thoughtful, historical analysis with its mirror image, the nasty partisan stemwinder delivered by Zell Miller at the 2004 Republican convention.  (You know, the one where he smeared John Kerry as weak on national defense for supporting military cuts that had been recommended by Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney.)  If we're trading the Zell Millers for the Jim Leachs, I'm down with that.

As a Republican, I stand before you with deep respect for the history and traditions of my political party. But it is clear to all Americans that something is out of kilter in our great republic. In less than a decade America's political and economic standing in the world has been diminished. Our nation's extraordinary leadership in so many areas is simply not reflected in the partisan bickering and ideological politics of Washington. Seldom has the case for an inspiring new political ethic been more compelling. And seldom has an emerging leader so matched the needs of the moment.

The platform of this transformative figure is a call for change. The change Barack Obama is advocating is far more than a break with today's politics. It is a clarion call for renewal rooted in time-tested American values that tap Republican, as well as Democratic traditions.

Perspective is difficult to bring to events of the day, but in sweeping terms, there have been four great debates in our history to which both parties have contributed. The first debate, led by Thomas Jefferson, the first Democrat to be elected president, centered on the question of whether a country could be established, based on The Rights of Man.

The second debate, led by Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican to be elected president, was about definitions--whether The Rights of Man applied to individuals who were neither pale nor male. It took almost two centuries of struggle, hallmarked by a civil war, the suffrage and abolitionist movements, the Harlem renaissance and a courageous civil rights leadership to bring meaning to the values embedded in the Declaration of Independence.

The third debate, symbolized by the new deal of Franklin Roosevelt and the emphasis on individual initiative of Ronald Reagan, involves the question of opportunity, whether rights are fully meaningful if all citizens are not given a chance to succeed and provide for their families.

The fourth debate, which acquired grim relevance with the dawn of the nuclear age, is the question of whether any rights are possible without peace and environmental security.

The American progressive tradition reflected in these debates spans Democratic standard bearers from the prairie populist William Jennings Bryan to the Camelot statesman, John F. Kennedy. It includes Republicans like Teddy Roosevelt, who built up the National Parks system and broke down corporate monopolies, and Dwight David Eisenhower, who ran on a pledge to end a war in Korea, brought a stop to European colonial intervention in the Middle East, quietly integrated the Washington, D.C., school system and not so quietly sent the 101st Airborne to Little Rock to squash segregation in public schools throughout the country.

In models of international statecraft, progressive leadership includes Al Gore, who helped galvanize worldwide understanding of the most challenging environmental threat currently facing the planet, and our current president's father, who led an internationally sanctioned coalition to oust Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.

In Congress, Democratic senators like Pat Moynihan and Mike Mansfield served in Republican administrations. On the Republican side, Arthur Vandenberg helped President Truman launch the Marshall Plan, and Everett Dirksen backed Lyndon Johnson's landmark civil rights legislation.

In troubled times, it was understood that country comes before party, that in perilous moments mutual concern for the national interest must be the only factor in political judgments. This does not mean that debate within and between the political parties should not be vibrant. Yet what frustrates so many citizens is the lack of bipartisanship in Washington and the way today's Republican Party has broken with its conservative heritage.

The party that once emphasized individual rights has gravitated in recent years toward regulating values. The party of military responsibility has taken us to war with a country that did not attack us. The party that formerly led the world in arms control has moved to undercut treaties crucial to the defense of the earth. The party that prides itself on conservation has abdicated its responsibilities in the face of global warming. And the party historically anchored in fiscal restraint has nearly doubled the national debt, squandering our precious resources in an undisciplined and unprecedented effort to finance a war with tax cuts.

America has seldom faced more critical choices: whether we should maintain an occupational force for decades in a country and region that resents western intervention or elect a leader who, in a carefully structured way, will bring our troops home from Iraq as the heroes they are. Whether it is wise to continue to project power largely alone with flickering support around the world or elect a leader who will follow the model of General Eisenhower and this president's father and lead in concert with allies.

Whether it is prudent to borrow from future generations to pay for today's reckless fiscal policies or elect a leader who will shore up our budgets and return to a strong dollar. Whether it is preferable to continue the policies that have weakened our position in the world, deepened our debt and widened social divisions or elect a leader who will emulate John F. Kennedy and relight a lamp of fairness at home and reassert an energizing mix of realism and idealism abroad.

The portfolio of challenges passed on to the next president will be as daunting as any since the Great Depression and World War II. This is not a time for politics as usual or for run-of-the-mill politicians. Little is riskier to the national interest than more of the same. America needs new ideas, new energy and a new generation of leadership.

Hence, I stand before you proud of my party's contributions to American history but, as a citizen, proud as well of the good judgment of good people in this good party, in nominating a transcending candidate, an individual whom I am convinced will recapture the American dream and be a truly great president: the senator from Abraham Lincoln's state--Barack Obama. Thank you.

Tags: 2008 democratic convention, Barack Obama, Jim Leach (all tags)

Comments

19 Comments

Tips

I'd be remiss if I didn't also point out that Rep. Leach's speech provides a key counterpoint to the scummy McCain/Lieberman narrative that Barack Obama puts partisan political ambition above the interests of the country.

by Steve M 2008-08-25 09:54PM | 0 recs
Re: Tips

I agree.  I thought Leach was was very effective.  He also did his party well by reminding me of the qualities I used to respect in their platform.  

 

by January 20 2008-08-25 10:01PM | 0 recs
I'm not sure how many of them I respected...

but it's good to see a progressive vision articulated without the need to put party on the table.

And I loved the line about Bryan and Kennedy.

by BlogSurrogate57 2008-08-26 05:05AM | 0 recs
Re: I'm not sure how many of them I respected...

I should probably clarify.  I've been a life-long progressive and life-long Democrat.  I've never had any doubts or hesitation on that front, and I identify myself proudly as a liberal.  

That said, there are elements at the core of the Republican party that I also respect.  I don't embrace much of that party, nor do I find that those qualities outweigh the high negatives at the core of the party.  

What Leach did, and effectively for me, was to point out that the current GOP has abandoned most of the great qualities on which it was based.  (I'm being generous with the term 'great' using it as it would apply to Leach's address.)  

As for how many of the Republicans mentioned I would have respected... Hard to be specific without a lot of brushing up on my history.  I suspect that I would have found qualities to respect in each of them.  In spite of policies, convictions, and ideologies with which I strongly disagree, each of them - as mentioned, accomplished some very good things in their careers.

To paraphrase Michelle's speech, Obama believes it is important to respect even those with whom you disagree.  There was a time that I would have respectfully disagreed with Republicans on many issues.  In recent years the GOP walked away from just about any form of respectability.

by January 20 2008-08-26 01:54PM | 0 recs
Leach was my rep until he lost his seat in 06

and it is a genuine pleasure for me to see him back in politics.  I voted for his opponent in 06, because I am a Democrat, but it was very difficult.  I wanted Leach to be able to remain in the house because I think his influence on R's was good for the country--he voted against the Iraq war and such.

I'm very pleased with my current rep.  And I couldn't be happier with this endorsement and speech from Leach.

by GreenHills 2008-08-26 10:05AM | 0 recs
Nicely said, Steve...

I think this shuts down the McBush/PUMA McTroll "country before party" argument quite well. :-)

by atdleft 2008-08-26 05:23AM | 0 recs
Re: Nicely said, Steve...

But it wasnt heard. it was smothered in the "Clintons supporters are unhappy' and "Clintons are unhappy' gossip. You gotta have priorities here, and a lotta folk don't care about America's future and welfare as much as they care for the flaunting of their own personal wounds.

by Christy1947 2008-08-26 07:17AM | 0 recs
Re: Nicely said, Steve...

Yes, we all know the entire country would have been riveted by Jim Leach's words if not for those goshdarned Clintons forcing the media to talk about them.

Since it fell to a Clintonista to even diary this speech in the first place, I'd greatly appreciate it if you could suppress your Pavlovian reflex to blame everything on the Clintons, just for a moment.

by Steve M 2008-08-26 07:48AM | 0 recs
"Since it fell . . . . "

Oh, I bow down to the endlessly and infinitely superior wit and wisdom of Clintonistas not identified as such,  down on my knees with my face in the mud, to the all wise and all prudent and ever correct in each and every thing, who may throw that kind of nonsense into a comment which related to news coverage or want thereof in particular, for the sheer rudeness of it. When is the Clintonista party being founded so we mere Democrats can be left in peace to talk about press covrage without having this thrown back in response to any comment with the CL......word in it?

by Christy1947 2008-08-26 11:50AM | 0 recs
Re: "Since it fell . . . . "

Wow, someone has issues.  Glad you enjoyed my diary.

by Steve M 2008-08-26 12:05PM | 0 recs
Re: Moderate Repubs Exit the GOP, One by One

I saw the speech and overall I liked the points that he went through, especially the country before party and how he highlighted some of the more memorable moments of the two parties working together.

Whether it is prudent to borrow from future generations to pay for today's reckless fiscal policies or elect a leader who will shore up our budgets and return to a strong dollar. Whether it is preferable to continue the policies that have weakened our position in the world, deepened our debt and widened social divisions or elect a leader who will emulate John F. Kennedy and relight a lamp of fairness at home and reassert an energizing mix of realism and idealism abroad.

I definitely appreciated how he pointed out the deficiencies of John McCain compared to Barack. [Its a great speech but he could've worked on the delivery.]

by alyssa chaos 2008-08-25 11:11PM | 0 recs
Yes...

So I now hope more of the speakers follow Leach's lead & Speaker Pelosi's lead in making the McCain = Bush = EPIC FAIL connection..

by atdleft 2008-08-26 05:26AM | 0 recs
Re: Moderate Repubs Exit the GOP, One by One

It's definitely time to stop obsessing about some Democrats who will vote McBush and start welcoming Republicans for Obama.

And incidentally, that's whose minds all those nasty McBush ads of the past 6 weeks have been aimed at changing; GOP defectors.

McBush is the one in trouble and he knows it, even if the punditry doesn't yet.

by Obama44 2008-08-25 11:13PM | 0 recs
you're thinking like the Obama campaign

The idea to put Leach so late in the night was good but the execution was not that hot.   Leach got lost in the shuffle between Kennedy and Michelle and I'm not sure Leach's remarks were even carried by any network other than C-Span.  Plus you're right, the speech reads better than it was delivered.

We need a break and hope McCain goes with Romney and not Ridge.  Plus, we need Colin Powell to come out for Obama (I think he will but not 100% sure; Powell is a fan of Ridge and might freeze an endorsement).  If Obama and Biden can succeed in attaching McCain to Bush and repeatedly note that the McCain of 2008 has slid to the right of the McCain of 2000 then we have a shot at some right leaning independents and disaffected Republicans.  Some did come over in the primaries and it was not all anti-Clinton.    

by mboehm 2008-08-25 11:45PM | 0 recs
Ridge Sucks.

If he picks Thornburgh, I'll tune back in. ;-)

by BlogSurrogate57 2008-08-26 05:07AM | 0 recs
Re: you're thinking like the Obama campaign

I don't see any way McCain will choose a pro-choice running mate.  After all the hard work he has done to mend fences with the right wing of his party, he wouldn't make a choice that would instantly give back all of that political capital.  That's one scenario I am not worried about.

by Steve M 2008-08-26 05:22AM | 0 recs
Re: Moderate Repubs Exit the GOP, One by One

As magnificent as Michelle Obama was tonight, and as moving as Teddy Kennedy's appearance was, Jim Leach was a quiet highlight.  He had something that democrats often fail to convey at conventions: an Argument.  It was informed by history and shaped by idealism.  In the midst of all the showmanship, we saw an American thinker and statesman.  Our leaders would do well to study Jim Leach's approach.

by Strummerson 2008-08-26 03:28AM | 0 recs
Where was the media?

Why hardly any mention of the appearance by Congressman Leach?  Imagine it comes down to the fact that Miller was a bomb thrower and that made it interesting.  That or the media is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the GOP.

Because on substance and insight, this Leach speech blows away the Miller screed.

And while his power within the right-moving GOP was greatly diminished by the time of his defeat, over his career Leach was a much more powerful and substantial figure in his party than Miller was in ours.  Not merely that he was a member of the once powerful moderate faction, but powerful in his own right.

Fully agree Steve that this speech should have received greater attention.  I can only hope that the remaining moderate Republicans - not the 2 or 3 representatives, but the millions of voters - somehow decide to swing away en masse.  Or at least vote in smaller numbers for McCain if it is too much to ask that they ignore the drumbeat of "maverick" and "independent" nonsense to which we are all subjected by the media.

I do have a measure on respect for McCain's positions on global warming and torture (cave notwithstanding) but that does not outweigh the other 96% of the important issues in Congress.  That and trying to save the world in 50 years hardly makes up for trying to blow it up within 10.

by Trond Jacobsen 2008-08-26 04:54AM | 0 recs
Re: Where was the media?

That or the media is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the GOP.

I don't get CSPAN or any cable news but I was able to see the speech since I was watching PBS. I did flip around to the networks and was miffed they weren't showing it, but they aren't entirely to blame: surely the DNC could have done more to promote this speech, to gin up interest in it...and perhaps fit it into a primetime spot later in the week, closer to the main event?

by Rob in Vermont 2008-08-26 09:12AM | 0 recs

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