By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
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By LA Weekly
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By Simone Wilson
As with all the moderate GOPers I talked to, McElligott harbors a sparkling vision of Republican potential, and it is apparently very powerful. Despite her resentments, she believes the pendulum will swing back. Like Barron and Stone, McElligott sees the current disconnect between the platform and the podium as a cynical ploy to fool the electorate. She even likened it to Goebbels’ theory, improved upon by Mao, of “the Big Lie.” But, also like Barron and Stone, she simultaneously saw the convention speakers as a silver lining — a glimpse into the future of the party, a return to the Lincolnian roots of individual responsibility, fiscal responsibility and prudent stewardship.
It’s the same fable Mayor Bloomberg evoked at the Big Tent party by quoting from the man in the stovepipe hat about how “a house divided cannot stand” and citing the importance of the “politics of inclusion” and “a Republican Party true to its origins” — all themes further sounded by fellow speakers Arlen Specter, George Pataki and former Massachusetts Governor William F. Weld.
When I suggested to McElligott that in the party’s current climate, Bloomberg and Schwarzenegger are anomalies, she agreed. “But you have to remember,” she replied, “that at one time Barry Goldwater was an anomaly too, a total pariah. And his ideas weren’t in the platform. But he was persistent, and eventually his wing took over. That’s what we have to do, and to do that we have to get a seat at the table.”
Jennifer Stockman, from the Republican Majority for Choice, thinks that the moderates already have that seat at the table. Her group is more accommodating than the Republicans for Choice, despite having mounted a petition to bring their grievances against the pro-life people to the floor in 2000. We were standing at the entrance to the floor of the current convention when I asked why they didn’t do the same this time. “We’re more pragmatic,” Stockman said. She was eager to talk to me, and was nicely turned out in a white skirt suit adorned with a herringbone pattern of black stripes. “And we want to stick to our focus of supporting pro-choice candidates around the country. We were instrumental in helping Arlen Specter succeed in Pennsylvania.”
“Yes,” I said, “but you had to defend him against your own party, because they’re systematically culling the ranks of socially moderate candidates.”
“But if we weren’t there, who would have fought on our behalf? We’re the critical voting bloc in a lot of these races,” she replied.
“That certainly is true, which is all the more reason why you could wield way more influence,” I said. “Don’t you think that if you held your vote ransom, this one critical time, you’d have way more leverage?” — and it was at this point that I realized I was trying to convince Stockman that her organization should try my strategy for the GOP — “and if you actually helped defeat Bush, you’d wash away the extremists that much faster, and get a chance for the new leadership everyone talks about to come in.” I almost said “we” when concluding, “You could really reshape the party then.”
“An interesting theory,” she said. No matter how interesting it was, however, the very idea of completely breaking ranks conflicted with the fact that she’s been to every Republican convention since 1980. It’s one thing to not endorse Bush, as her organization won’t; it’s another to take up electoral arms against your party’s incumbent presidential nominee.
Like the others, she looked toward the future. “On November 3,” Stackman said, “the real battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party begins.”
But why wait? If moderate Republicans have no influence today despite their presence on the podium this week, there’s no reason to expect they’ll gain strength after the election, when their votes are no longer needed.
Meanwhile, they are losing ground. Stockman thought that the timid compromise the platform committee threw as a bone to the Unity Plank people — that the Republicans are the “open door” party and that they “respect and accept” different opinions — represented progress. The language was weak, however, well short of what they asked for, and even those four words were hotly disputed. Saying that the Republican Party has an open door, moreover, doesn’t make it so — especially when some of its platform delegates couldn’t even bear to say the words “family planning” and “gay rights.”
So when Christopher Barron talks about the Log Cabin Republicans remaining committed to fighting for gay and lesbian civil rights from inside the party, I can’t help but wonder at the cognitive dissonance. These guys are like the Kuciniches of the right: well-intentioned idealists, but completely powerless. It’s tempting to dismiss them altogether as pushovers, but I also sympathize with their outsider pathos. They want to belong where they’re not wanted — and we all know that story, right? The RNC has walked a fine line to keep its disparate constituencies together this week, but it’s an even finer line that the party’s determined moderates must walk to convince themselves that they belong in the party at all. As McElligott herself said, “They’re doing everything they can to make us feel unwanted.”
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