Where is the like of Hubert Humphrey when the Republicans so desperately need him — particularly when it comes to the Iowa GOP caucuses?
The late Democratic U.S. senator and vice president (1911-1978) came to mind because of the continuing failure of just about any Iowa Republican, save one or two maybe, to speak up against how the evangelical right controls the Iowa GOP. So tight is the grip of the religious right in Iowa that it has delusions it can determine who the nation will have as the Republican candidate in the 2012 presidential election.
That delusion will continue at least until after Jan. 4, 2012, the day after the Iowa GOP caucuses give their blessings to whichever candidates strike them as the most extreme on issues of anti-abortion, immigration, waterboarding, homophobia and the rest of the religious right’s agenda.
For a suspected closet moderate like Mitt Romney, the only hope for a finish in the top three rests upon (a) the right fielders dividing the extremist vote and (b) an uncharacteristic turnout of responsible GOP voters who could lift Romney to the soaring heights of maybe 20 percent of the vote — with only 80 percent of the caucus goers against him.
Assuming the likely, a Romney third- or fourth-place finish, then perhaps New Hampshire and other states will dutifully reject the Iowa choice, just as U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann was rejected by non-Iowans after paying the Iowa GOP enough to win the party’s Straw Poll in August.
But back to Humphrey.
He came to mind not as senator or vice president, but as mayor of Minneapolis when he took on the extremists in his party in a 10-minute talk at the Democratic Party’s 1948 national convention. He challenged the racists in the party, calling for the adoption of a minority plank in the party’s platform — a plank that endorsed civil rights.
Among the resonating lines from that speech was this: “To those who say, ‘This civil rights program is an infringement on states’ rights,’ I say this: the time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights!”
That sentiment so enraged many Southern Democrats that the Mississippi delegation and half of Alabama’s walked out. The so-called Dixiecrats nominated their own candidate, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina for President, joining the GOP’s Gov. Thomas Dewey in opposition to a beleaguered incumbent, President Harry Truman.
Truman won, thanks in large part to support from minority groups, labor and others energized by Humphrey’s courage and, incidentally, the convention’s narrow adoption of the minority plank that, of all things, called for federal legislation against lynching, an end to legal school segregation and an end to job discrimination.
Humphrey took on extremists in his party — the Southern base, if you will — in a display of political courage seen too seldom in American politics. So it is that many Iowa Republicans have been driven out of the party or opt for silence in the face of the religious right. Perhaps they hope they can survive until the party comes to its senses without their having to put their political careers at risk.
The silence of Iowa Republicans who know better is not only deafening, but prohibitive. It aborts all but the far right candidates from an active presence in the Iowa caucus process. The likes of Romney and Jon Huntsman, along with other GOP senators and governors who might qualify for even the label of “sort of moderate,” are conspicuous by their absence in Iowa.
Who can blame them, given how the Iowa religious right has silenced opposition and made political courage an even scarcer commodity?
One of the exceptions is a former Republican state legislator, Jeff Angelo, who created Republicans for Freedom, an advocacy group for conservatives who support same-sex marriage. Angelo says he was wrong when, as a legislator he co-sponsored a bill that would get a process under way for a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. As reported in the Des Moines Register, Angelo “said his views have evolved because of his friendships with Iowans who have same-sex couples in their families. Those families deserve the same protections of marriage as similarly committed opposite-sex couples.”
In today’s Iowa GOP, however, Angelo is a voice in the wilderness.
Small wonder, it is a joy to go back and listen to Humphrey in 1948.