Restoring honor to Democrats - President Bush's most vital task

By Bruce Walker
web posted March 5, 2001

The most important work of President Bush may be the least noted and most understood: Restoring honor to Democrats. As a conservative Republican who has been pilloried by sneering liberal Democrats most of us life, I must confess that there is a grave temptation to secretly delight in the natural manifestation of sleaze and degradation that was the Clinton Democrat Legacy, and the discomfort of Democrats entangled in endless lies and vanities.

It is vital, however, to nurture honor and decency throughout the political and ideological spectra. Think, for example, how close Al Gore came to becoming President and Tom Daschle to becoming Majority Leader of the Senate. Integrity is the core to the long term success of any working democracy, and until now it has served America well.

President Bush's biggest step so far in pursuit of this vital goal has been his "surprise" reappointment of George McGovern as the United States Representative to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Program. Those surprised by this moved have not studied our new President well. Senator McGovern represented the most extreme left wing of the Democrat Party in 1972. Indeed, from the of ideology it is hard to find a more objectionable Democrat than Senator McGovern. Certainly, he was the most liberal Democrat ever to carry his party's banner.

So why did Bush do it? Senator McGovern is principled. The pious son of a Methodist minister, George McGovern served his nation and the cause of freedom bravely in the Second World War, in a B-17 flying out of Italy. His opposition to the Vietnam War, and to war in general, was terribly wrong-headed in terms of what was best for the America and the world, but it was sincere and heart felt. As someone who saw war first-hand, George McGovern believed that war was the most horrible human process imaginable. That is incorrect, but it is not immoral.

George McGovern

McGovern's strength of character was the antithesis of Clintonian politics. The American people overwhelmingly disagreed with McGovern and his pacifist Democrats, but McGovern stuck to his position in spite of being out of public opinion polls. He could have moved closer to the center in 1972 and been spared the ignominy of losing his home state of South Dakota and forty-eight other states. He placed principles above politics.

President Bush will always work with men like that, even if that does not always mean reaching common ground of policy agreement. Our President's willingness to embrace Democrats who have moral fiber will encourage Democrats to find those men and women to work with the President Bush and the Republicans. This is always a reason why the President is not reveling in the sewage of Clinton-Rodham-Gore and is instead moving on to areas of consensus.

Twenty years ago another Republican President did something much like President Bush did in his re-appointment of Senator McGovern. President Reagan re-appointed Senator Mike Mansfield our Ambassador to Japan, sending a strong signal to Senate Democrats (who had just lost power for the first time in twenty-six years) that he would work with decent Democrats. Mike Mansfield was Senate Majority Leader from 1961 to 1977, and although he was a liberal Democrat whose policies differences with President Reagan were doubtless much greater than his policy agreements, Senator Mansfield was also regarded by Democrats and Republicans alike as a man of integrity and decency.

President Bush would do well to build on his appointment of principled Democrats, because if character again becomes important in how Democrats choose their leadership, then the American Republic will be on much firmer ground. Perhaps those decent men from President Carter's Administration would be a good starting point. Pat Caddel, a key political advisor to Jimmy Carter, has been outspoken in his disgust with Clintonism. Hamilton Jordan, former White House Chief of Staff, has joined the chorus, as has recently former President Carter himself.

Should these past insiders of the Democrat leadership have spoken up sooner and more forcefully? Sure - but we have to start somewhere. They have now spoken, and these three no longer defend (as some Democrats do) the outrages of Clintonian corruption. President Bush and his advisers will know which Democrats have proven honest and humane, and he should cultivate those men.

The history of the Democrat Party is a story of tension. One the on hand are two rotten groups: (1) The one party Solid South, whose Klansmen insured that blacks, Jews, and Republicans were rare and invisible in one third of America for almost a century; (2) Big city machines linked to corrupt labor unions in northern states, especially industrial states. On the other hand were principled, ethical Democrats who, though often very wrong on issues, acted out of conviction. George McGovern, Eugene McCarthy, Hubert Humphrey, Mike Mansfield, and Scoop Jackson were excellent representatives of this group.

Big city machines have been replaced by countless federal, quasi-federal, and federally supported programs, bureaus, and offices whose national machine is no less real than Boss Daley in Chicago or Boss Hague in New Jersey. The Solid South has been replaced by equally intolerant and vicious groups: bitter feminists; hate-mongering "Civil Rights Leaders", whose nightmare is very different from Dr. King's dream; and any other angry pockets of alienated people in America (with Democrats cultivating this anger with great attention).

Today that combination is a minority. The disaffected, ethical Democrats like George McGovern, Eugene McCarthy, and Hamilton Jordan have sat on their hands, stayed at home, and kept their mouths quiet. This helps Republicans be an evolving majority party - and the interruption and unpredictably of party control is a vital and necessary tonic to the vices of decades of Democrat rule - but the other side of the coin is that those moral checks on Democrat Party calculations is gone (remember how, very briefly and very mildly, Bill Bradley raised the eight hundred pound gorilla in the living room: The most corrupt Presidency in the history of the Republic?). Our nation needs its second largest party to regain its conscience and its ethical bearings again. It is something that President Bush should want, and by all evidences, wants very much.

Bruce Walker is a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

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