(Photos L-R: Flickr / AMSF2011, Gage Skidmore, Isafmedia)
In my book, The South Side of Boston, I tell stories of growing up in southern Williamson County, TN in the community of Boston. Our polling site for elections was our school, which was a half-mile from our house. My grandfather worked the polls every election. At the end of the day he would bring the vote totals home with him. Boston had only two Republicans. There was a stigma about being a Republican. They were good people and we all liked them, but there was a whisper of difference and I grew up thinking Republicans were "not like us."
In those days Williamson County Democrats were segregationists, fundamentalists, creationists, and suspicious of modern ideas and anyone who was, in my grandfather's words, "not our kind of people."
Party identification went through two significant phases in Williamson County. The Eisenhower/Stevenson election was a painful but demographically and regionally logical transition. For many years the Democratic primary winner for any office was tantamount to election in the general election. When the county became predominantly Republican the party decided to hold primaries for local offices that gave the primary winner an unopposed race in the general election. The phrase "Republican in name only" became a phrase of derision for long-time Democrats who reluctantly had to embrace the Republican label to be elected to local office.
Today, the RINO image has a new meaning. People like Senators Alexander and Corker, and Governor Haslam have become Republicans in name only. Let me introduce you to a word I just learned-atavistic. Atavism is "the reappearance of a characteristic in an organism after several generations of absence." Republicans held in high respect by both Democrats and their party members are being challenged by candidates on the right who bring to the political forum an anachronistic prejudicial, inhumane, regressive, illogical, and apocalyptic conservatism. This movement had its rebirth following the 2008 election and in 2010 won a few seats in the House and Senate and control of many state legislatures.
Since the 1960s and a series of Supreme Court decisions our two-party system has become aligned along liberal and conservative ideological lines. We sometimes use the terms in implied derogation, but we each embrace those labels as legitimate designations to identify our basic political and social values. We both find validation of our moral values in the teachings of traditional Christianity and our political theory in the writings of the Founding Fathers. To me being a liberal Democrat and liberal Christian are not contradictions in terminology. My Republican Christian friends use the word conservative to assign validity to their moral and traditional values. This is the logical differentiation that translates into the civil dialogue coming from preachers and politicians.
The new wave of political anomalies has cost the Republican Party some losses in recent elections. Unelectable advocates of extremism have defeated respected Republican members of Congress only to lose in the general election. As we look toward the 2014 and 2016 elections, we can expect to see a repetition of those challenges. The recent impasse that led to an interruption of government was enabled by the fragile rules of procedure and the handiwork of a few vocal and recalcitrant members. We are at risk of electing others of a similar ilk. If you are a Republican I urge you to support the traditional candidates labeled as Republicans in name only by the extremists in upcoming primaries. We need to restore the dignity of the label "conservative" and restore the traditional respect from those of us who wear the liberal label with the same enthusiasm and commitment.