My children are as allergic to today’s GOP as though it was a toxic substance. If it had not become the party of God and the vulgarian, double talker, Donald Trump, they might have become fifth generation Republicans.
Using the best examples from my family’s history I’d like to talk about the preceding four generations.
The Grand Old Party began its life a few years before my Great Grandfather entered New York harbor from Ireland in 1860 one month after Lincoln’s election and two months before his inauguration. “What’s the news?” called a passenger on his ship as they passed an outward bound vessel. “South Carolina has seceded from the Union,” was the reply. Thomas Robb was twelve years old. It would be four years of war plus seven years of Reconstruction before he could cast his first vote as a naturalized citizen.
Thomas was the son of a protestant land manager who had threats made against his life by Irish Nationalists. The men who left that threat attached to a prize bull they killed were largely Catholics in Ireland and Democrats in America. It’s not surprising then that Thomas would vote Republican.
If he had any doubts about his party’s virtues one incident sealed his thinking.
When a neighbor, Larry Lapsley, an escaped slave died he helped prepare the body for burial. His son, George, my grandfather, said his father came home in a dark mood cursing slavery when his work was through. My Grandfather suspected that his father discovered that Lapsley had been castrated by his owners.
When I was twelve my Grandfather told me what sealed his straight party voting in the election of 1916. He told me it was “the worst mistake of my life” voting for his first Democrat, Woodrow Wilson, because the candidate having promised to keep America out of war had broken his promise. As far as my Grandfather was concerned Democrats stayed true to Wilson’s legacy by regularly getting us into wars until at his death in 1972 when a fourth Democrat started war was raging.
My Father, Daniel Welty, was the next generation’s avid politico. He lived in Independence, Missouri, and attended school with the daughter of the third Democratic President to get us into war, Harry Truman. Between wars Dad was twelve and America was back to pursuing the great Republican cause – business.
Although my Dad’s family were reliable Republicans my father had drunk a deep draft of small town progressive politics and good government. I never knew anyone so enthusiastic as my Dad about the Hatch Act that prevented Federal employees from actively engaging in politics. Independence was next door to the oily, ethically compromised metropolis, Kansas City, with its infamously corrupt Pendergast Machine. My earnest Dad made up lists of trustworthy politicians for his parents to vote for at every election.
As I was growing up my Dad listened to all the coverage of every Presidential nominating convention counting the ballots cast state by state so that he could know who was endorsed before it was announced. He never missed one even when we were out camping on vacation.
Another war was raging when I was twelve, Vietnam. I heard Dad curse President Lyndon Johnson when he announced he was sending tens of thousands of new troops overseas. Nine years later when I graduated from college the war was still raging only with a Republican sitting in the Oval Office.
My Father had already voted for his first Democrat in 1964 because he didn’t trust Barry Goldwater with the hydrogen bomb. Even so, he kept on being a Republican although he faltered once again in 1972 by voting for Democrat George McGovern who wanted to end the war. I did likewise.
Like my father I was more politically flexible than my grandfather Robb. I attended Republican Caucuses, ran for office as a Republican and bit my lips when I and my party took different paths issue by issue. But like my Dad I voted not just for McGovern in 72, but for a maverick Republican, John Anderson, in 1980 and after my Dad’s death, Bill Clinton in 1992.
I gave Reagan a vote in his reelection because there was no denying he had surprised the hell out of the world and me by bringing the Cold War to an end. And his talk about the Republican “Big Tent” which included folks like me that didn’t always see eye to eye with him was seductive. Of course, his loyalists and imitators dispensed with that kind of talk after Reagan got dementia and labeled folks like me RINO’s purging our kind out of the party in primary elections even if that guaranteed a Democrat would win the General Election.
I made a stab at being a Democrat for about eight years before discovering my heart wasn’t really in it. Still, my two proudest votes were both cast for Barack Obama the most reasonable President since Gerald Ford and a hell of a lot more articulate. I have little but contempt for the leaders of the GOP who have convinced much of America that the Earth is flat and that Obama is a menace to the Constitution. Not one of them had the courage to stand up to the demagogues in the party like Rush Limbaugh who cackled about the size of First Lady’s derrière echoing the 19th century freak show exhibitors who charged audiences to see the naked African woman Sarah Baartman and then stuffed her body at death and put it display. And the RINO-free GOP began resorting to the “Citizens Council’s old tricks of voter suppression because the animating spirit of the Party is no longer Abraham Lincoln but that of Dixiecrat, Strom Thurmond, and the Citizen’s Council’s which denied black citizens the right to vote and lynched them for good measure when they got uppity. They were still doing both when I was twelve and I was glad I wasn’t a Democrat like them. Now I’m glad I’m not a Republican like them. They don’t miss me and why should they with Donald Trump speaking out of both sides of his mouth. He’s as funny as Rush Limbaugh.