2007-08-17 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular

What's At Stake
Commentary by Stuart W. Mirsky

I registered to vote as a Democrat shortly after I got out of college. My father made me do it. Although he often voted Republican, he'd always been a Democrat and so had our entire family. There was something, we thought, unsavory about being a Republican. Of course, my father actually voted twice for Richard Nixon for president - not that he was a Nixon partisan or anything, he just couldn't abide the anti-war left which had taken over the Democratic Party. We couldn't believe he'd go for Nixon because we were all anti-war by then and Nixon was such an unpleasant sort, the antithesis of the polished and elegant John F. Kennedy who'd beaten him for the presidency in 1960. But that's what my father did.

My father and I didn't see eye to eye on very much and we certainly didn't on political questions. But some time in the latter years of Ronald Reagan's second term (my father had passed on by then), I began to see things differently. Although I never voted for Reagan myself, I was very much aware of the problems our country had gone through in the seventies under Jimmy Carter and I had to grudgingly admit that Reagan's lowering of taxes, cutting regulations and strong profile abroad had paid dividends. Perhaps it was just cyclicality and we were due for an upturn anyway, after the trough of the seventies, but if you blamed presidents when things went badly, didn't you have to credit them when they went well?

By the time the first President George Bush took office, I was sympathetic to the Republican argument. The Soviet Union had been beaten, our economy was back and getting stronger, welfare abuse was starting to come under control and wasteful government spending was being reined in. The Democrats weren't happy with the successes of the Reagan year and did everything they could to undermine his administration and the first Bush presidency. For his part, the elder Bush wasn't an inspiring sort, either. His voice was a bit on the whiny side and Margaret Thatcher, Britain's Iron Lady Prime Minister, famously had to urge him not to wimp out when the late Saddam Hussein annexed oil-rich Kuwait. Well Bush "pere" hung tough, though he left the job unfinished. Many of us thought that was to his credit at the time, since he had pledged that he was only interested in liberating Kuwait, not in unseating Saddam, and stuck to his guns. But he got pilloried in the press and by his Democratic opponents, nonetheless, for not doing the very thing they'd warned he secretly planned to do when they were opposing the effort to free Kuwait in the first place.

Ultimately, the elder Bush made some mistakes including breaking his "no new taxes" pledge as part of a deal to get Congressional Democrats to back his effort to boot Saddam. Lacking charisma or the ability to convincingly emote, he famously glanced at his watch during a presidential debate as the ever-smooth Bill Clinton talked him under the table. By that time I was already a registered Republican, though, having shifted after Bush's presidential campaign when I'd become disillusioned with the Democrats' seemingly endless efforts to damage his administration. I felt they'd sandbagged him on the tax thing and were engaged in political sabotage through Congressional investigations, legislative tactics and endless partisan attacks in the media.

Fast forward to 2007 and Bush's son in the White House. How have things changed? George W. Bush, who won the presidency in a hotly contested and still debated election in 2000, has faced what can only be described as the most rancorous, partisan opposition of any president in modern American history. He's been reviled and derided by the political left and the Democrats. Today's Democratic presidential contenders fall all over themselves to badmouth him without the slightest concern for foreign policy implications. Bush's efforts to keep the country safe after the attacks of 9/11 are routinely denigrated and demeaned while the decisions he's made and the legislation he needs continue to be the subject of bitter partisan wrangling.

When Karl Rove recently announced his decision to step down, one in a long line of Bush administration casualties to the vicious political wars, Democratic presidential contender John Edwards could only crow "good riddance," completely disregarding the years of service the man put in as part of Bush's administration. Sure, he was a political operative, but hey, they all are in Washington, aren't they? Their job is to win elections. Yet Rove, along with the other Bush personnel, has been the object of a special level of contempt by the Democrats. It reminds me of why I switched parties.

Now we're facing another presidential election and the two parties are choosing their standard bearers. Things look bleak for Republicans this time out. Through overconfidence and a certain thick-headedness in Congress, they managed to take their eyes off the ball and fulfill the Democrats' wildest dreams. John Kerry's famously unsupported 2004 quip about Republicans being a gang of "crooks" couldn't have been better demonstrated than with the scandal of numerous Republican politicos and operatives forced to resign, faced with indictment and prosecution. Sure the Democrats mounted an unprecedented campaign to get the goods on these guys but hey, they didn't have to be so obliging and provide them did they? Nor did they distinguish themselves as the party of fiscal restraint (for which the current President Bush bears some responsibility, too).

I started out as a Democrat but came to believe the Republican Party better represented my views. But being in one political party or another in this country is usually less about our views (or what undergirds them) than about our tribal affiliations. My tribe is made up of Democrats and, to this day, I spend hours at family gatherings defending myself, and George Bush.

In a democracy, of course, it stands to reason that the same party won't always win elections. Unlike the Democrats since 2000, Republicans have to be adult enough to know that sometimes you win and sometimes you don't. But there are issues some of us are worried about. In the early eighties, Ronald Reagan introduced policies that put us back on track and made us a nation to be taken seriously again. The current George Bush has kept us safe since 9/11, despite Democratic carping, and his tax policies have kept the economy pumping away. Despite everything else, few can seriously deny the prosperity we've experienced on Bush's watch, despite the economic shocks at the turn of the century. For those who aren't partisan in their commitments, whose allegiance to one party or the other isn't tribal, it's time to look seriously at the alternatives. The Democrats have shifted decidedly leftward again since Bill Clinton's day, promising to increase taxes and regulation and to put greater restrictions on our efforts to deal with the terrorist threat. They want us to pull out of Iraq before stabilizing that country. Republicans, on the other hand, are still the party of the Reagan years, which brought us back from the brink.

Party stalwarts will vote their party's line, of course. But those who make their decisions based on issues instead of tribal affiliations will make the difference as they always do. Choose wisely this time because the next president's plate is already full. rockirreg@aol.com

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