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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Common Sense Republicans

Within the Republican party several descriptive catch phrases have emerged. As Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota begins to launch a potential presidential bid, we are reminded that he coined the term "Sam's Club Republicans", in his efforts to bring in potential voters from the blue collar working class. As hard as it may be to understand, certainly by those of us searching for common sense logic from political leaders, there has been criticism from the more conservative right for this approach. These critics haven't yet had the light bulb moment in the logic that more voters on your side of an argument is a good thing, a winning strategy, not a bad thing.

As the issue of health care/insurance reform took center stage in recent months, a new term has come to the forefront. "Whole Foods Republicans" are alive and well and working hard to keep our party viable and relevant. John Mackey, founder and CEO of Whole Foods, is a libertarian and wrote an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal last August. Conservatives embraced his common sense approach to health care reform and liberals were appalled, even angry. Liberals - for whom we are to believe are so open-minded and accepting of free speech - actually called for boycotts of Whole Foods stores.

Mackey nicely summed up what many of us believe as far as common sense and fiscal philosophy merge into political ideology. Far right ideologues mock people for a more progressive leaning lifestyle - recycling, clothing choices, consumer choice, while the far left ideologues also demand conformity in thought from their perspective. For instance, the very man hailed for his common sense approach to health care benefits, Mr. Mackey, is founder of a grocery store mocked by the far right as a store frequented by liberals. It is a wacky criticism, to be sure, but that is the problem with hard ideology, there is no room for common sense.

Wear Birkenstocks? You are mocked by the likes of Rush Limbaugh as a hippie - the very worst slur imaginable to some. Believe men and women are equal partners in life? You must be a femi-Nazi. Recycle? Support breaking our dependence on foreign oil? Think all religions are to be respected and not prominent in public schools? All of these ideas can be used as fodder in tirades from the far right. It's all about the social issues for some in the party and that is a destructive path.

Environmental issues are put into the liberal column. It is as though liberals think conservatives don't want clean air and water. Do they not realize we all breathe the same air and use the same water? Why isn't environmental purist Ed Begley, Jr. held up as a leader and center stage in the path forward instead of a charlatan like Al Gore? Begley has lived the philosophy for decades now in his personal life, unlike Gore who holds dear living large and makes up the bogus practice of buying carbon credits to offset his gluttony of natural resources. Not to mention Gore has been handsomely rewarded financially for his act.

Whole Foods Republicans are, according to Michael Petrilli, a Hoover Institution Fellow, "independent-minded voters who embrace a progressive lifestyle but not progressive politics. These highly-educated individuals appreciate diversity and would never tell racist or homophobic jokes; they like living in walkable urban environments; they believe in environmental stewardship, community service and a spirit of inclusion. And, yes, many shop at Whole Foods, which has become a symbol of progressive affluence but is also a good example of the free enterprise system at work." Nothing wrong with any of that, if you ask me.

The dirty little secret is that this last election, the one won by Barack Obama who is a Whole Foods shopper if we are to believe his campaign stump speech in Iowa that included arugula though Iowa has no Whole Foods stores, brought about a majority of higher educated voters casting votes for the Democrats for the first time since the 1970's. For the last several decades, those with college degrees voted Republican in greater numbers than Democrat.

Whatever the trendy term of the day is, Republicans have a history of advancing civil rights legislation, clean air legislation, educational opportunities for all students, and a freer world. It is silly to assume a woman wearing a pair of Birkenstocks must be a card carrying liberal. It is not productive to criticize Republicans who are a bit more libertarian in social issues than others in the party. Fiscal conservatism is the key to a strong Republican party.

I wear Birkenstocks almost every day. They are good for my feet, it's as simple as that. I recycled before recycling was cool and worked for it to be available to my community as curbside pick-up, just like ordinary trash pick-up over 20 years ago. I remember the first Earth Day in the early 1970's when we thought the earth was suffering from an approaching Ice Age, not global warming. I have a college education with a major in Political Science. I'm a Baby Boomer and amused at those coming behind me who think we are selfish and not Republican enough. I believe in a strong national defense and in the exceptionalism of the United States. My husband works in the oil drilling industry and I support all avenues to energy independence, including expanding offshore oil drilling and natural gas production.

I shop everywhere.

We are at a fork in the road, we Republicans. Either we embrace the tide of independent voters disillusioned with a Democratic dominance in Washington, D.C. and welcome those who are with us in fiscal conservatism as they begin to support Republican candidates again or we allow a minority on the ardent far right to use social issues to divide us. The finger pointing and name calling from within will destroy us.

Let's embrace our inner Happy Warrior. Let the Democrats be the voices of exclusion.