Home National Politics R.I.P to One More of a Dying Breed: Charles Percy, Liberal Republican

R.I.P to One More of a Dying Breed: Charles Percy, Liberal Republican

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When I was a kid, growing up in Connecticut in the 1970s, I thought of the Republican Party as basically a “Teddy Roosevelt Progressive” party. That’s why I joined on as a “Teenage Republican,” even handing out literature for Gerald Ford (I still have a Ford/Dole sign in my house). Yes, even in the 1970s the Republican Party was starting to move rightwards – a trend that would accelerated sharply in the 1980s, with the rise of the “Moral Majority” and of hardline Cold Warriors.” In addition, an increasing number of former “Dixiecrats” (mostly southern segregationists who hated the “Party of Lincoln” and thus were “Democrats,” but were certainly not liberals or progressives), like Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms who were moving over from the Democratic to the Republican Party.

On the other hand, at the time I joined the Connecticut “TAR”s (Teenage Republicans), there were also a boatload of moderate or even liberal, pro-environment Republicans who I admired. People like (this is a short list):

Sen. Charles Mathias; Lowell Weicker; Jacob Javits; Jim Jeffords; John Chafee; Nelson Rockefeller; Gerald Ford; Howard Baker; Bob Dole; Arlen Specter; Thomas Kean; Thomas Meskill; William Milliken; John Danforth; Nancy Kassebaum; Charles Percy; Edward Brooke; heck, even George Romney (Mitt’s father)

The reason I mention these people today is that I just heard about the death of yet another liberal and/or moderate Republican — Charles Percy of Illinois. As the Post article says, “In today’s polarized political climate, Sen. Percy would be described as a rare breed – an unabashed liberal and skeptic about military spending and war.” In other words, in today’s political climate, Charles Percy could not possibly be a Republican, as people who think like him have all been drummed out of the former “Party of Lincoln” (along with former presidents like Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, even Richard Nixon and George HW Bush in some ways).

Percy’s death comes just a few weeks after another liberal Republican, MarkHatfield of Oregon, passed away. Among other things, Hatfield “opposed the death penalty, the war in Vietnam and the balance[d] budget amendment. He fought for environmental protections and wilderness areas.” Can you imagine a member of today’s Teapublican Party holding those positions and not being challenged by a mouth breather from their (far, far) right? Nope.

Anyway, I just wanted to take a moment to mourn the death of these two great men, as well as the death of my former (first) political party. What happened? I’m not totally sure, but I’ve got a few theories, including: 1) the Idiot Box and specifically cable TV, which has had a pervasive “dumbing down” effect on America; 2) a decline in our educational system, probably related to point #1; 3) the increasing power of money and narrowly-focused special interest groups in politics, particularly on the right; 4) the rise as a political force of the “religious right;” 5) the creation of a vast, right-wing “noise machine” to spew propaganda 24/7/365, not really counterbalanced by anything on the “left” or even the “center,” while the “mainstream media” has become mostly mindless infotainment and “on the one hand/on the other hand” pablum. I’m sure there are other factors as well, like the increased power of corporations vis-a-vis workers; globalization; etc. But the bottom line is that today, the right wingnuts have completely taken over the once-great Republican Party, with the liberal and moderate wings dying out, both figuratively and – in the cases of of Percy and Hatfield – literally. Sad.

  • Dan Sullivan

    along with another who should be added to the list: Edward William Brooke, III.

  • kindler

    It’s not just that liberal Republicans have died out, but even conservatives who actually try to solve social problems — like Jack Kemp, one of my favorites of the old GOP breed — are condemned as RINOs today.

    The fact that Jon Huntsman is now considered the “liberal” in the Repub field speaks volumes.  He is in most ways comparable to the type of mainstream conservative candidate their party used to nominate — McCain, Dole, Bush I, Nixon, Eisenhower, etc.  But their party has become so intolerant of dissent from othodoxy, you have to wonder if he’d be tried for treason along with Bernanke if Perry or one of his ilk became president.  

  • Elaine in Roanoke

    As a nation, we are the poorer for the fact that extremists have extinguished the moderate voices in the Republican Party. So, we have no voice proposing alternatives from the rational right. We all are poorer for that.  

  • libra

    replaced the mastodons. And the curly-handled teapots replaced the elephants. As the world turns…

  • kindler

    …should put the few remaining examples of the species in a zoo and see if they can be bred in captivity?

  • jimsky

    Times have certainly changed–we worked closely with Sen. Mathias, Sen. Weicker as well as many Democratic Senators in those days–even the Democratic and Republican Senate committee staff sat and worked in the same office space.  So please add Sen. Ed Brooke to your list of Republicans to admire–he taught me what it meant to work effectively in the Senate–mutual respect, listening to other’s views, working to reach logical accommodation, and understanding when other Senators could not always be “on your side” but maintaining a relationship so that you could work together when views coincided.  We have lost so much since then…