“They talk about freedom and values, but they really don't believe in representative government.”

Former Minnesota Senator and lifelong Republican Dave Durenberger on the rise of the new Bush Republicans in Minnesota and elsewhere

CP:This is the focus on winning elections, the electoral process, that you're talking about.

Durenberger: Right, and the same thing is going to go on more. Destroying people and tearing down reputations and whatnot. They'll wrap it in things like "values." There are ways to package negativism that work, but it's still negative.

CP:Isn't it a basic tenet of good governance that you reserve the right to change your mind? The Bush administration is very good at sticking to their side of a particular issue, but is that good governance?

On GWB: "In my view, the problem is a chief executive who will never acknowledge a mistake, an error, or a fault. We saw it in the debates with John Kerry. I don't think the man believes that he's capable of making a mistake."
Bill Kelley
On GWB: "In my view, the problem is a chief executive who will never acknowledge a mistake, an error, or a fault. We saw it in the debates with John Kerry. I don't think the man believes that he's capable of making a mistake."

Durenberger: In my view, the problem is a chief executive who will never acknowledge a mistake, an error, or a fault. Talking about leadership is not leadership. Leadership is not just success winning the seat of the president.

From the time he was governor, and a presidential candidate, he said he never once--never once--gave a second thought to any Texan that he sent to be executed. I've got concerns about that kind of person as a leader. To never, ever give a second thought to that sort of thing.

We saw it in the debates with John Kerry. I don't think the man believes that he's capable of making a mistake. Even though he's made them in his personal life and acknowledged them in his personal life. When I say that to somebody, they say, "Well, you know the way the system works in America is that you say you made a mistake and the other side is all over you." My answer to that is, "That's America. That is representative democracy." Because at some point, if you don't acknowledge mistakes, they're gonna come back and haunt you. I mean, that's just history. I'm not saying it'll happen on Bush's watch, [but] it will come back to haunt us.

We use the words "national security" to justify absolutely everything that goes on in this country. And that's not American. But that's the track [Bush] is on.

CP:How did the rise of social conservatives in the party come about in Minnesota?

Durenberger: There's been a 30-year transformation of the GOP, I think, that goes back to Roe v. Wade. At that time, there were plenty of pro-life Democrats who suddenly had nowhere to go. [Abortion rights] became part of the Democratic platform. So there became this growing influence the Republicans sought over the pro-life vote. Then came this grassroots mailing machine. Jesse Helms was one of the first to tap into it, along with the Catholic Church. Soon this issue was the issue in every local election, from Congress down to the school board. And then that sort of mentality spread to other issues, like prayer in school and gay marriage. So you had a number of people entering into politics who made some kind of name recognition on those issues. And it was largely dictated by the religious. So you get people like Michele Bachmann or Mary Kiffmeyer or Mark Kennedy, who have made themselves known in communities by their stances on those issues.

There used to be those of us who might consider themselves progressive pro-lifers, people who were looking for root causes, people who would support Title X funding, including money to Planned Parenthood, things like that. If no one wants an abortion, then what is it that compels them? If you ever did a really good analysis of that, you'd probably broaden the social agenda.

CP:But it's not even talked about in those terms.

Durenberger: No, it can't be talked about like that. You've got to be pro or con.

The excesses of liberalism obscured the wonderful things about it. Most Republicans won't do this, but you need to read Garrison Keillor's Homegrown Democrat to understand some of the good things that came from liberalism.

CP:You like that book. What is it about that book specifically that grabs you?

Durenberger: It's the tolerance for, the thriving in, and the respect for diversity. Because this nation, of all the nations in the world, is the most diverse. It's hard to believe you would visit a representative democracy on this diverse of a society. But we've done it. We have taken this incredibly diverse society of immigrants from all over the world, rich and poor, and religions from all over the world. And we visit upon that a bill of rights and separation of power and stuff like that. It's true when people say, "It's the greatest nation on earth, blah, blah, blah," but what they don't understand now is that it's this incredible diversity and the celebration of it that made that so.

David Brooks writes about exurbanites, the people beyond the suburbs, using the analogy of golf. Their life needs to be like a golf course, where all the grass is clean, and cut to the same size, and the sand traps are all edged appropriately. That's the way they live, that's the way of a growing number of Americans. They want to go to churches where people are just like them, and go to malls that serve people and lifestyles just like them. This is Brooks's characterization, not mine. Increasingly, people want to vote for people who look like them, talk like them, and think like them. They go to church on Sunday, and they want to vote for somebody who talks to them the way the preacher does.

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