A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Where are Republicans who used to fight for the rest of us?

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues., or Wed., May 4, 5 or 6

As a journalist I’ve met several members of Congress, and the recent resignation of Peoria Republican Congressman Aaron Schock sparked a renewed appreciation for past Republicans.

The Republican Party was never JUST “the party of Lincoln,” and sadly, it no longer is.

But the GOP used to be the party of Fighting Bob La Follette, Wisconsin’s great Republican Congressman, Governor and Senator who for years fought the increasing dominance of corporations. Hailed as one of the “10 greatest Senators in the nation’s history,” La Follette today probably couldn’t compete in a state primary, much less win respect from the likes of Republican “kingmakers” such as the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson.

Two Republican Congressmen I was privileged to interview were Tom Railsback of the Quad Cities and Paul Findley of Jacksonville, both of them strong voices for truth and justice – and less about ambition than independence. Findley in 1973 proposed a resolution to investigate Republican Vice President Spiro Agnew, and Railsback a year later cast a key vote in a House Judiciary Committee motion to impeach Republican President Richard Nixon.

But the last century had other such thoughtful Republicans working not for the wealthy and powerful but everyday citizens.

Consider this “Top 10,” in roughly chronological order:

Republican Congressman Nelson Aldrich (N.Y.) in 1908 passed a law resulting in the “Aldrich Plan,” which formed the basis for the Federal Reserve System.

Republican Teddy Roosevelt in 1912 first proposed national health insurance as part of his presidential campaign as a Progressive.

Republican party leader Harry W. Colmery and Republican Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers (Mass.) in 1944 helped write the G.I. Bill of Rights, one of the nation’s most successful “entitlement” programs.

Republican Congressman Jacob Javits in 1947 backed Democratic President Harry S Truman’s veto of the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act, and throughout his long career supported unions, and strongly opposed segregation and the McCarthy-era House Un-American Activities Committee’s “witch hunts” of suspected Communists. Further, as a Senator in 1978, Javits also was instrumental in helping Democratic President Jimmy Carter finalize the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt.

Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1957 sent the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock, Ark., to enforce federal law and desegregate public schools.

Republican Governor of California Ronald Reagan in 1967 signed into law the Therapeutic Abortion Act, a measure permitting the termination of pregnancies when doctors determined that they endangered the physical or mental health of the mothers.

Republican politicians including Illinois’ Sen. Chuck Percy, Michigan Gov. George Romney, New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, Pennsylvania Gov. William Scranton, and Oregon Sen. Mark Hatfield in the 1960s and ’70s became just a few of the outspoken critics of the Vietnam War.

Republican President Richard Nixon in 1970 established the Environmental Protection Agency.

Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court – Warren Burger, Harry Blackmun and Potter Stewart – were crucial to 1973’s“Roe v. Wade” decision legalizing abortion.

And Republican President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s raised taxes 11 times during his two terms, according to friend and colleague Alan Simpson, Republican Senator from Wyoming.

Reagan has been mythologized as a staunch tax-cutter who trimmed federal spending – an assertion his biographer Douglas Brinkley says is “false. It didn’t happen that way.” In fact, Reagan’s Director of the Office of Management and Budget, David Stockman, told NPR, “I wouldn’t call it merely airbrushing. I would call it outright revisionism if not fabrication of history.”

Republicans who’d take such positions in 2015 would probably be called RINOs (“Republican in Name Only”), the criticism endured by the late Jim Brady – Reagan’s Press Secretary who after being wounded in the 1981 assassination attempt championed for common-sense gun control – and conservative Republican attorney Ted Olson – the winning “Bush v. Gore” lawyer and ex-Solicitor General who’s represented same-sex marriage partners in the run-up to the imminent Supreme Court case.

Few such actions would be taken by the 21st century’s national Republican politicians, who seemingly are cowardly, afraid of alienating influential corporations and campaign contributors, or so keen on staying in office they’ll do almost anything. Arguably, the same could be said of Democrats, of course, but it’s sad to see Republicans’ great heritage betrayed.

[PICTURED: "Fighting Bob" La Follette from]

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