My father once told me of a college teacher of his (in the Post World War II era) who shocked his new students with his startling pronouncement about Communism. “Communism,” he’d say to the initial horror of his students, “isn’t such a bad idea. It just doesn’t work.” What he meant by that, of course, is that communism, with its supposed dedication to egalitarian societies — where all prosper regardless of their status — is without exception derailed by a powerful leader and ruling elite, usually a military leader and his fervent followers, who suppress the people’s rights as they exalt the virtues of their so-called egalitarian socialistic government. In addition, the oppressors live posh, privileged lives, while the masses suffer in poverty and under the extreme tyranny of an authoritarian police state. Basically, his message was that communism doesn’t practice what it preaches. You have to say the same thing about the new Republican Party. In theory, Republicanism isn’t such a bad thing. Even I agree with Republicans on a number of issues such as streamlining government, that is, making government more efficient. I agree with Republicans on the need for fiscal responsibility in government – judicious spending — and their belief that people should take charge of their lives. I agree with marketplace solutions to pollution, too, which allows companies to find innovative ways to reduce, preferably eliminate, pollution that do not require costly regulations. That is, I believe in solutions that add to the bottom line of American business while achieving much greater gains than the old-style command and control approach. It’s possible, and it’s being done. Finally, I believe in a strong national defense. Before you gasp in horror, though, take a look inside. I suspect that you too have, on more than one occasion, agreed with Republican ideals. After battling with a local or state government office — or the federal government – over some personal matter, you’ve no doubt muttered, “We really do need to get these guys out of the way.” Or, after hearing about some silly OSHA regulation, you’ve uttered, “That’s nuts.” And perhaps you agree with their contention that we can’t help everyone solve every problem by throwing money at it; people do need to take responsibility for their own lives. The problem is the modern Republican Party just ain’t what it used to be, and it doesn’t practice what it preaches to us. Consider the first allegation. Unbeknownst to many, many of the key environmental laws of the United States like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act were signed into law by none other than Republican President Richard Nixon. Unfortunately, the environmental progress of the 1970s is currently being hacked to pieces by a new Republican, a President who has never seen an environmental regulation he didn’t want to abolish. Behind the scenes, while Americans anguish over terrorism, a sluggish economy, loss of jobs to overseas markets, and who’s going to win the NBA finals, the Bush administration has taken its sharp axes to environmental rules and regulations, quietly and efficiently gutting protections their Party helped establish. How? They’ve done it, in large part, by appointing former corporate lobbyists and corporate leaders to numerous key posts in the very agencies that were designed to protect the public good. Each day dozens upon dozens of these officials who hail from the mining, oil, coal, forestry, and petrochemical industries wake up each morning, drive to work in Washington, D.C., to being hacking away at such frivolous protections as mine safety regulations, water pollution regulations, and so on in a frenzy that makes a mockery of their predecessor’s work. They’ve also accomplished their goals of weakening and eliminating environmental and worker protections by drastically downsizing budgets and enforcement staff in mine safety and environmental protection. Fewer watchdogs, means more violations go undetected. The problem, as many readers know, is that Republican Party has been hijacked by two rather dangerous factions, the Religious Right and the war-mongering Neo-cons. Many Democrats are upset, shocked, and dismayed at what’s happening to America and our cherished Democracy. But we re not alone. So are many moderate Republicans. Christine Todd Whitman, a former Republican Governor of New Jersey and head of the EPA under Bush for a while, wrote a book (It’s My Party Too) calling on fellow moderates to reclaim their party, to wrestle it from the powerful, radical right wingers. Whitman refers to the religious right hijackers of the Republican Party values as the “social fundamentalists.” About them she says, “The social fundamentalists…are pushing to use government’s power – and extend its influence – into even the most private aspects of peoples’ lives in an effort to impose their views on everyone.” Whitman adds, “Much of their agenda is simply inconsistent with true conservatism.” Moreover, she intones, “They seem to have forgotten that one of America’s greatest strengths has always been its ability to respect a broad range of ideas centered on a core set of values – freedom, opportunity, and diversity.” Moderate Republicans and Democrats rally around freedom, opportunity, and diversity. These are fundamental American values that built this country and made it strong. But they are quickly being eroded by the power-hungry radical right, the social fundamentalists. But wait, you say, George Bush and his neoconservative and social fundamentalist cronies that control the Republican Party, also rally behind “freedom, opportunity, and diversity.” As I’ve pointed out in previous pieces on this site, today, more than at any time in American history, politics is perception. Social fundamentalists parade behind these deals, giving us the impression they’re as invested in these foundational American ideals as the rest of us, but it is apparent that they embrace a much narrower and perverted definition of freedom: conformity. How can freedom and conformity be part and parcel of the same definition? It’s simple: According to the new Republican Party, Americans should be free in every way possible — so long as we conform to their beliefs. That is to say, we’re free to say and think and do what we want, so long as we all say and think and do what they believe is right. When heckled by audiences abroad, President Bush laughs at the hecklers and proudly announces in his relaxed style that free speech is the fruit of democracy. At home, he excludes potential dissenters from his taxpayer subsidized Social Security rallies. Today, he’s at a rally that’s “by invitation only.” But that’s not all: the media is squelched to limit criticism of the administration. So much for freedom. And what about opportunity? The new Republican party with Bush at the helm views opportunity in a equally narrow fashion: opportunity for all, really means opportunity for the superwealthy. America is quickly becoming a country of the wealthy, by the wealthy, and for the wealthy. Where’s the evidence of this? Look at the generous tax rebates that have gone principally to the upper 1%, America’s wealthy elite under the flimsy guise of trickle down economics. And then there’s the Republican party’s solid resistance to raising the minimum wage so more can have an opportunity to enjoy the good life. It is difficult to see how the New Republicans can brag of their support for opportunity, this fundamental of all American values, when their approach seems to seek every mechanism possible to ensure that the wealthy prosper no matter what it costs everyone else. And what about diversity? Diversity of opinion is certainly an endangered species in America. Bush’s new cabinet is a prime example of the value the Administration places on conformity. Any first-term cabinet member who voiced a dissenting view is on the streets. We’d be far better as a nation, say the Religious right and the neo-cons, if everyone embraced their values, talked their talk, and walked their walk – and they do everything possible to intimidate and censor those who do express a different viewpoint. While Bush appoints an ethnically diverse cabinet and is to be applauded, there’s more to the subject than the color of a cabinet member’s skin and his or her ethnicity. There’s diversity of choice. It too is under attack and may be out the window entirely as the President begins his assault on America’s judiciary, appointing conservative judges who will legislate their values from the bench. From my standpoint, there’s an important distinction between the Republican crazies who have taken the nation by storm and Democrats; and that is, Democrats actually practice what they preach. We believe in freedom of speech and a host of other freedoms. We believe in opportunity to create broad prosperity. We believe in diversity and tolerance. And we seek to manifest them. We practice what we preach. The New Republican party and the Bushites, on the other hand, subvert Democracy and all that it stands for like freedom of speech in America while fervently promoting it abroad. So not only is the modern Republican Party not what it used to be, many of those in power don’t practice what they preach. But here’s what disturbs and baffles so many Democrats: Many Americans continue to vote Republican, even though the party has been hijacked by neo-cons and religious zealots who seek to suppress the freedom and opportunity we all cherish. Why? Out of fear mostly. Fear of terrorism. And fear of higher taxes and big government. And fear of an erosion of values. Interesting. Never before has the threat of terrorism been greater. With most “tax relief” directed to the superwealthy, the top 1%, taxes are down only very slightly for the vast majority of U.S. citizens. Meanwhile, government is getting more powerful and more intrusive, more dictatorial. Never before have American values of freedom, opportunity, and diversity been more threatened. But don’t be dismayed, the excesses of the neo-cons and the social fundamentalists could torpedo the Republican Party and put an end to their tyrannical rule. Excess is always punished in American politics. Nixon’s wrong doings cost the Republicans the White House just as Clinton’s indiscretions a few years later cost the Democrats the coveted White House. Bush’s legacy could very likely be the same. As a progressive, you can help point out the frightening usurpation of American rights and privileges by the neo-cons and the social fundamentalists. Talk it up, write letters to the editor of your local newspaper. Talk to moderate Republicans, too. Be persistent. Be courteous, be kind. Ask questions about the kind of government they want and whether the current Administration is actually making that happen. Show the metal we are made of. Know your facts. Speak your values, calmly and with certainty, and remember: Friends Don’t Let Friends Vote Republican.