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Where have all the Republicans gone?

The real Republicans seem to have gone into limbo, and the GOP as I once knew it appears to be slowly evaporating. Even as a liberal, I find it cause for concern; we need a vibrant political dialogue and a balanced two-party system in Minnesota. Indeed, our nation was historically built and stabilized by the two-party system.

So, who are “real” Republicans? And what was the GOP as I knew it? My best description is likely those fine, intelligent, progressive men and women who populated that party in our state for decades, if not a century. But I know of no better way to describe a “real” Minnesota Republican than to note Elmer L. Andersen. Though only a one-term governor, he was the epitome of a responsible, intelligent gentleman who would make a person proud to be associated with his party.

A very brief bio of his life tells us much about the man, but an event later in his life reflects immense implications for the Republican Party of today. Andersen’s parents died when he was quite young, and he essentially supported himself with various jobs, one of which brought him to Minneapolis. Here he enrolled at the University of Minnesota to (as he said), “… get a degree for reasons of job protection. I did not want somebody to push ahead of me because he had a degree and I did not. Another object was to meet a woman whom I might marry. I was beginning to long for a home life and a family.” He accomplished all his objectives.

After graduating in 1931, he shortly thereafter went to work at H.B. Fuller in St. Paul, and in 1941 bought controlling interest in the small adhesive manufacturer. Today Fuller has sales of $1.2 billion annually, and employs more than 3,000 people.

Four priorities, in a definite order
Andersen was the quintessential capitalist, as a good Republican should be — with a few important added qualities. Under his leadership, the firm became an early model of corporate responsibility, recognized for offering generous benefits to employees, their spouses, and retirees. Andersen’s corporate philosophy was built around four priorities in a definite order. The highest priority was service to the customer. “Anything the customer wanted should be seen as an opportunity for us to provide it. Number two was that the company should exist deliberately for the benefit of the people associated in it. I never liked the word employee. It intimated a difference in class within a plant. We always used the word associate.”

Fuller’s third priority was to make money. “To survive, you have to make money. To grow, you need money. To conduct research and develop new products, you must have money. The need for money can be desperate at times. But corporations must put the quest for money in its proper place. Our philosophy did not leave out service to the larger community. We put it in fourth place, behind service to customers, our associates, and the bottom line. Community service cannot be paramount to a business, but it ought not to be omitted, as it too often is. Business must concern itself with the larger society — for reasons of self-interest if nothing else” (emphasis mine).

A progressive Republican, Elmer served in the Minnesota Legislature from 1949 until 1958, and as governor in 1960-62. Among the many causes he championed were educational programs for exceptional children, recognition of alcoholism as a health problem, the Metropolitan Planning Commission in the Twin Cities, and the Fair Employment Practices Act (Minnesota was the fifth state to pass legislation around this issue); and the Fair Housing Act as governor. He later became a U of M Regent, and is called the “Father of Voyageurs National Park.” But it was his actions after he left office that his views should give pause to the disappearing Republicans of today.

‘If that’s a dirty word, so be it’
Andersen remained in the Republican Party for the rest of his life, but he became unhappy about how conservative the party had become. Even in the 1960s, his views of moderation were known. In a 2003 interview with the St. Paul Pioneer Press he said, “I remind people I want to be known as a liberal Republican. If that’s a dirty word, so be it.” In 2004, he broke with party ranks to endorse John Kerry in his bid to unseat George W. Bush as president of the United States.

He was so disenchanted with the Bush administration that he wrote a commentary in the Star Tribune claiming that President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney “spew outright untruths with evangelistic fervor” and calling Cheney an evil man who was the real decision-maker in the administration. Andersen had both guts and integrity, a condition pathetically lacking in the GOP today.

Some would say Andersen was not the real Republican, and he in a sense left the party. If that be true, then the real Republicans in 2009 are Michele Bachmann, or Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly in the media; maybe John Boehner or Mitch McConnell in the Congress; and most certainly Tim Pawlenty here at home. There is no denying it — they are the voices we hear from conservatives now. The only voices. Indeed, virtually the entire party is in a race to the right. Even Sen. John McCain, a respected war hero and dedicated public servant, had to pick Sarah Palin to join in the flight to the right.

A tempering voice
That is why it is sad to see the Elmer Andersens of the world out of today’s political picture — there are no voices in our state to temper the shrillness of tone, the reactionary positions, and even the bizarre and out-of-the-box allegations we hear from the GOP as it has now been captured by the right-wing ideologues. In the current cadre of Republican gubernatorial candidates, each of them to a man and woman, are eagerly courting the far-right elements of their party. It is equally sad because it ends a long line of fine progressive Republican leaders of our state — a situation that began its demise with the election of Tim Pawlenty.

It is also sad because there is a terrible void in the conservative movement here, and nationally, because there is no Elmer Andersen to be a voice of reason and moderation for the party. Finally, it is sad because our state and nation are the lesser for not having positive, contributing, strong, rational conservative voices on the scene. And you’re hearing that from an unrepentant liberal.

Myles Spicer of Minnetonka has spent his business career as a professional writer and owned several successful ad agencies over the past 45 years.

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Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Mike Haubrich on 10/08/2009 - 09:18 am.

    It may be sad, Myles, but they are laying in the bed that they made. We can’t force them to re-align with reason, because they are raking in the campaign finance dough by moving more and more to the right. I think it very important to compensate by making the DFL a larger tent, under which the more liberal the the more moderate can work to craft policy while the Republicans rail about taxes, religion and gays.

  2. Submitted by Henry Wolff on 10/08/2009 - 09:43 am.

    Probably the same place that Democrats like JFK went.

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/08/2009 - 10:42 am.

    A member of the “scary smart”, “reality based” left waxes nostalgic about the GOP he knew and loved….a MinnPost exclusive if ever there was one.

  4. Submitted by myles spicer on 10/08/2009 - 11:22 am.

    Well, Mr. Swift, this is far more than “nostalgia”. There is a very “dark” side to the GOP’s rapid drift to the right, and if the responsible elements in that party do not bring it back to the middle (where they enjoyed their best success), the results can be some extremely unhealthy politics for our nation. If you care about that party, and you understand the faction that is controlling that party now, and you look ahead to the ramifications of that control…you would likely be less sanguine.

  5. Submitted by Kyle Eller on 10/08/2009 - 11:46 am.

    A self-described “unrepentant liberal” pines for more self-described liberal Republicans. That’s not exactly a shock, I suppose.

    As a Catholic who supports environmental conservation and living wages while opposing the death penalty and torture and pre-emptive war, I also look for “real Democrats” who know that standing up for “the little guy” includes standing up for unborn babies – people like the late Gov. Bob Casey and, today, Rep. Bart Stupak, people who were and remain marginal figures in their party. That’s hardly a shock, either.

    Perhaps the author is unaware of an ongoing battle in the political party he opposes, in which his own dearest desires are the favored cause of people like David Brooks, Kathleen Parker, David Frum and Arnold Schwartzenegger. But then it would be more enlightening if, instead of hauling out his favorite bogeymen, overgeneralizing about political trends and warning darkly of dire but unspecified consequences to the nation if people he especially disagrees with win out in the party he generally disagrees with, the author were to actual engage those opposing views with the kind of respect he would like extended to himself.

  6. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/08/2009 - 07:53 pm.

    I didn’t think that the piece was anything more than noticing where the GOP has shifted. It doesn’t take a Political Science major to see this trend.

    I have no doubt that the GOP will shift back into a more moderate zone if the electorate does not buy the conservative shtick that they are currently marketing. Who knows maybe the electorate will buy in. Politics is cyclical after all.

    It’s nice to see someone willing to take the personal effort to “stand up” and write one of these pieces. Its a shame that it takes so little effort to mock them.

  7. Submitted by William Pappas on 10/09/2009 - 06:54 am.

    I cite this example of the change in Republican politics. Growing up in a mid-sized ultra conservative N. Iowa city in the 60’s there was actually a real consensus between the parties that public schools and their success was irrevocably bound up in the social and economic health of the entire community. Schools were not demonized as irresponsible and the motivations of teachers was never portrayed as less than honorable. Party politics simply did not intrude ito the local schoolboard. People were elected to the board based on their commitment to public education and their knowledge and experience of such. That situation does not resemble anything like the politically charged school boards of today’s Twin Cities. Look no further than the rightwing surge of the Minnesota Republican Party to find a reason for this political animosity. Even as the DFL drifts to the center they cannot find common ground with today’s Republicans.

  8. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 10/09/2009 - 08:03 am.

    I seem to remember a major push on the part of “evangelical” (read reichwing) Christians to get elected to local school boards, library boards, city councils, county boards, etc.

    I suspect that was where the “politicization” of school boards began… that and the decision, during Arnie Carlson’s governorship (although not necessarily by him) to attack schools and teachers as inadequate, wasteful, etc.

    This was, no doubt based on political calculations – no matter how good your schools are, a particular group of students, because of their own personal/psychological/family issues, will not do well within the structure of any local school system. Those folks represented a resource of angry passion and money which could be manipulated to support you on almost anything else as long as you convinced them you hated schools and their personnel, too.

    A better, healthier approach might have been to help these angry/disenfranchised people with their problems, but the Rebs chose, instead to amplify them instead by telling them they were right to hate those who were only trying to help them get an education.

    Over the past thirty years, this has been good for Reb party coffers, but very destructive for the mental/psychological health of the Rebs themselves and very destructive to what was once among the finest public school systems in the country.

    This seems to fit into the current Reb perspective in the world. We don’t care who loses or how much they lose, as long as we win.

  9. Submitted by myles spicer on 10/09/2009 - 08:22 am.

    Eller’s comments are most interesting. First, they hark back to the “unborn” baby controversy, which translates into the abortion issue. That has been as devisive as any over the past decades (since Roe vs Wade); and while important and very personal…it has been DECIDED constitutionally.

    Moreover, Eller points out that there are similar problems in the Democratic ranks, and here he is absolutely correct. There is one vital difference, however. When I see my party screwing up, or being captured by the extreme left, or making policy I disagree with…I SPEAK UP AND TRY TO AFFECT CHANGE! That is where the current Republican party is sadly lacking — there seems to be no one who points out: “the Emperor has no clothes”.

  10. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/09/2009 - 12:16 pm.

    Myles, aren’t the scare quotes supposed to go around “baby”?

    I thought the feverswamp’s argument was that a human fetus isn’t a baby, not that it’s unborn.

    Or is it that the baby isn’t “human”?….I get confused.

    In any case, may I suggest your time would be better spent cleaning up the mess in your own party rather than “affecting change” in a party with which you have no understanding?

    For instance, would JFK have put an admitted Communist in his administration? How about a guy who expresses admiration for advocates of legalized pedophilia to advise on school safety?

    You’ve really got your work cut out for you on your side of the fence, don’t you?

  11. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/09/2009 - 01:48 pm.

    Myles, there is a lifetime of work awaiting your passionate plea for change in your own party.

    You and your ilk are incapable of understanding what conservationism is, no thoughtful adherent of conservative politics is going to give you any credibility, and frankly, this piece makes you appear a bit foolish even to leftists.

    BTW. Don’t your scare quotes belong around “baby”? I thought the dispute within the left concerned the idea that a human fetus was a baby, not that it was unborn.

    Or maybe it was that a “baby” is “human”, I get confused trying to keep up.

  12. Submitted by Shawn Hastings on 10/10/2009 - 11:37 am.

    Are you kidding.? The question is, where have all the Democrats gone.?
    The Democrats are no longer Democrats, they’re Socialists. Forget the partisan crap anyhow. Stand behind your beliefs not you party. If you’re a socialist or a Communist just admit it. Change your party or create a new party that better reflects your true beliefs.

  13. Submitted by Kyle Eller on 10/10/2009 - 01:00 pm.

    Mr. Spicer’s feckless and facile declaration that abortion has been “constitutionally decided” is emblematic of the general shallowness I critiqued in his original piece, particularly its utter lack of engagement with opposing views. And no, shouting it in all caps doesn’t help.

    Does he imagine I am unfamiliar with the Roe v. Wade decision and its ill-begotten progeny? I hope not, for that would amount to a mere prejudice on his part, an assumption that all who disagree with him are ipso facto ignorant fools. Not that this is an uncommon prejudice these days, but I hate to attribute that kind of hubris to someone rashly.

    But what can he mean? He implies the court decisions themselves “constitutionally decide” the matter, but in the context of this discussion, that commits the logical fallacy of begging the question, assuming as fact precisely the point those who disagree with him deny, without his troubling to actually engage the arguments on their merits. The pro-life case is precisely that these decisions are wrongly decided.

    Either way, this amounts to Mr. Spicer waving away an ongoing debate in our society in which we are split practically down the middle, with intelligent, educated people on both sides, by essentially telling his opponents to shut up.

    I appreciate the irony of that in a column dedicated to the great importance of reason and moderation in public debate. But then it is unfortunately common these days to find those who conspicuously sing psalms to moderation and reason practicing neither.

    I wonder if Mr. Spicer would be willing to take a moment and explain what he means by the term “moderate,” preferably without his definition ultimately amounting to “agrees with Myles Spicer.”

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