San Francisco, CA: Today is the first day of summer, and the solstice, which happens to be the longest day of the year. Whenever I think of this day, I think of the Garden State, and how summer is the season blessed with delicious sweet corn, jersey beefsteak tomatoes, saltwater taffy, and the sun, beaches, and crashing waves, down the shore.
I was born and raised in a fairly bucolic New Jersey suburb less than 30 miles west of Manhattan. Located in a valley, with views of the Ramapo Mountains, and a rich local history that pre-dates the American Revolutionary War, this Township of 14,000 residents, is largely remarkable for how unremarkable it is.
Hemmed in by a busy state highway on one side, and mountains on the other, this small community has more churches, than it has schools. One of it's biggest assets is the all volunteer Fire Department and Ambulance Squad, that reflects the good christian ethos of neighbors helping neighbors.
Like many other small towns in America, the sounds of summer I remember are punctuated by the low hum of electrical air conditioners, the swing of a bat hitting a ball, and the sizzle and smell of a steak on a backyard barbecue, accented by the smell of freshly cut grass. Long bike rides on my ten speed, hikes up the mountain, hours of hotly contested wiffle ball games, muggy nights chasing lightening bugs, and marching in the annual Memorial Day parade, with the brass section of my middle school band, will stay with me forever.
My parents were very involved in the local Republican party. They always fought for what they believed in, and instilled that ethic in their children. Their active participation in local machine party politics, helped elect Republican candidates for town council, year after year. In researching local elections over the past 40+ years, Democrats were successful locally in 1974, because of widespread dissatisfaction with Republicans, due to the Watergate scandal. Otherwise, the Democrats lost elections prior to 1974, and have failed to elect a single local candidate after 1974.
My parent's thought nothing about enlisting their kids to campaign, call registered voters, and go door to door passing out fliers, pamphlets and bumper stickers. We enthusiastically joined this local GOP army, and never questioned whether the candidates, or the party platform, contained positions consistent with our views. We really weren't encouraged to have political views of our own. If our parents strongly supported a candidate, we fell in line and felt the same way, and our unabashed energy was fully devoted to the GOP. There also was money involved, and in order for us to earn some money, all we had to do was hand deliver fliers to every house in our town! We would be paid in quarters, and as long as we did our assigned tasks, I could treat myself to a Fribble from the local Friendly's.
The Republicans I knew were fairly easy to support at this time, because they stood for things like clean air and cleaning up the environment, and they supported many libertarian views about less government and less government regulation. They supported a woman's right to choose, promoted affirmative action and civil rights for all, and they believed in taking care of senior citizens, and the poor and less fortunate. They viewed government as an entity that was good, and effective, and a force for positive change.
What I didn't know as a kid, was that there was a name for these New Jersey Republicans I knew so well. They were disparagingly called Rockefeller Republicans, by conservative party leaders. The former Vice President and Governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller, was a liberal politician, and the moniker Rockefeller Republican has been used to describe moderate elements within the GOP, since the 1970's.
There were good local candidates for the town council, and good candidates for the state legislature, and many of them seemed to pass through my parent's living room. Both of my parents were like a local consigliere, freely dispensing advice and support, to these candidates. I got to know some terrific politicians, and worked hard to elect many of them. I vividly remember taking Senator Jim Wallwork, on campaign stops all over town. I took then Assemblyman Tom Kean, to a few high school football games over the years, and once stood for hours in the pouring rain with Tom, and his running mate Assemblywoman Jane Burgio, while they talked to constituents and campaigned to be re-elected outside a grocery store.
I remember hearing Episcopalian Tom, telling my Episcopalian mother, that he was going to support an Episcopal candidate for President named George Herbert Walker Bush. He said that he knew that Ronald Reagan was a candidate with a great deal of support, but that George Bush was the candidate with similar views to theirs, a more moderate voice, and asked that she do all she could to support Bush. While Bush withdrew from the race before the New Jersey primary, I know that my parents pulled the lever for George Bush that day, because of Tom's support. Tom went on to be a very popular governor, and was the Chairman of the 9/11 Commission.
The Republican party today has made a 360 degree turn away from the values and party platforms I remember as a kid. They used to be the party of Abraham Lincoln, and now they are the political party known for hating LGBT citizens and having hawkish views on war. The Republican party created the largest budget deficits in the history of our country, and have been responsible for starting culture wars, while employing inflammatory rhetoric around equal rights and marriage equality, to fan the flames of hatred to encourage evangelical voters to show up at the polls, to advance their cause. This is no longer the party of Abraham Lincoln!
While the blame for the mortgage and banking crisis can be attributed to both parties, and the multi-trillion dollar corporate welfare for wall street investment banks, sanctioned by the federal government in the Bush and Obama administrations, suggests equal blame for both political parties. The biggest travesty to me, aside from the culture wars, is the fact that Republicans want to cut taxes further, and in order to “pay” for this tax cut, and appear to reduce the federal deficit, they want to make substantive cuts in education, hospice care, student loan programs, medicaid and medicare. The GOP believes it's OK to give wall street trillions, but tells the unemployed, senior citizens, the hungry, disabled, and the impoverished, to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, because you have no clout, you don't have expensive lobbyists on capitol hill, and the Republican party doesn't care about you.
Last month the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, gave a commencement address at Catholic University. A large group of Catholic University professors wrote him a letter prior to him speaking.
“Mr. Speaker, your voting record is at variance from one of the church’s most ancient moral teachings,” these professors wrote. “From the apostles to the present, the magisterium of the church has insisted that those in power are morally obliged to preference the needs of the poor. Your record in support of legislation to address the desperate needs of the poor is among the worst in Congress. This fundamental concern should have great urgency for Catholic policy makers. Yet, even now, you work in opposition to it.”
Since Republicans passed a budget that cuts funding for the Women, Infants and Children nutritional program, Food Stamps, Medicare, and Medicaid, while giving tax cuts to wealthy Americans and corporations, they characterized the Speaker as being “anti-life.” That's the same term they use to characterize politicians who support a woman's right to choose. I don't appreciate the continual gay-bashing that Catholic leaders have been perpetuating for years, and yet I agree with the Catholic Professors, that Republicans embrace an anti-life platform that they will work overtime on, which is inconsistent with the very Christian values they claim they represent.
In the 2000 Presidential election I voted for Ralph Nader. In subsequent elections, I have voted Democratic. I fully confess, I am now a San Francisco Democrat! That's the term Republicans use to describe gay, hippie, patchouli loving, equality promoting, progressives – meant to be disparaging, and used to incite fear in the minds of voters. While the GOP continues to stumble their way around the corridors of power, extolling the virtues of extremely unpopular and inhumane positions, we wait for the chance to vote for their opponents, and throw them out on their asses.
The sounds of summer continues to punctuate the stifling humidity, and endless rhetoric, echoing in the halls of the Capitol, with the low hum of air conditioners, the swing of a GOP bat hitting a wall, while the sizzle and smell of a political party silently implodes, rejected by the people yet again. No longer welcome at backyard barbecues, and out of touch with most voters, their presence is accented by the strong smell of fossil fuels, that will carry them home after their certain defeat.