When I was a kid growing up in Michigan we had a governor named William “Bill” Milliken. He was a popular politician, evidenced by the fact that he was repeatedly re-elected and served as governor for 14 years, making him the longest-serving governor in the state’s history. His longevity is even more impressive when you consider that Milliken was a Republican in a state with a lot of Democratic voters, including many that belonged to powerful unions, like the United Auto Workers.
The reason Milliken was so successful was that he was something called a progressive Republican. If you don’t know what that is, that’s because they’re exceedingly rare these days. They’re Republicans who are fiscally conservative, but well-informed and open-minded on social and environmental issues.
Milliken left the Michigan governor’s office in 1983, but stayed active in politics. During the 2004 presidential election he endorsed Democratic challenger John Kerry and said, “President George W. Bush does not speak for me or for many other moderate Republicans on a very broad cross section of issues.” Then in the 2008 election he endorsed Democrat Barak Obama after Republican candidate John McCain’s campaign began running what Milliken thought were objectionable attack ads. Milliken explained, “Increasingly, the party is moving toward rigidity, and I don’t like that. I think Gerald Ford would hold generally the same view I’m holding on the direction of the Republican Party.”
These days Republicans like Milliken are derisively labeled as Republican In Name Only (RINO) by the party’s right-wing extremists. This faction, let’s call them regressive Republicans, have become very powerful within the party. Subsequently, most progressive Republicans have left the party, or have had little success during the party’s primary elections.
A good indicator as to how far to the right the Republican Party has descended in recent years can be found in a recent report issued by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). The report found that the number of hate groups in the U.S. fell by 7% in 2013, and the number of anti-government “patriot” groups fell by 19%. One of the reasons for this decline, the report claimed, is that some right-wing Republican politicians have adopted the political views of these groups, thereby stealing their members. Owch!
You might assume I’m happy the Republican Party appears to be determined to self-destruct and become irrelevant since I don’t agree with many of their political positions. I must confess that I find it entertaining. But I think it’s bad for our country because we need a healthy two-party system for our nation’s long term political health. I think that Bill Milliken, who will be 92 this year, has always felt that way. Maybe more Republicans should respect their elders.
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