Ive Witnessed the Decline of the Republican Party – The Atlantic

I grew up in a family of Democrats. My maternal grandfather, who had emigrated from Russia to escape czarist pogroms, moved to Minneapolis and became a labor leader, a member of the small kitchen cabinet that convinced Hubert Humphrey to enter politics and run for mayor of the city. My idols, growing up were giants of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, including Humphrey, Orville Freeman, Walter Mondale, Art Naftalin, and Donald Fraser.

I was a young student at the University of Minnesota before I talked to a Republican at length. Thats where I met Doug Head, the state attorney general. He was a thoughtful intellectual and, like the core of the Minnesota Republican Party, a moderate conservative, far more center than right. His emphasis on public service made a lasting impression, helping me understand that I could share a common commitment with people who disagreed with me on policy.

I came to Washington in 1969 on a congressional fellowship. Although I was working for Don Fraser, William Steiger, a young Republican representative from Wisconsin, soon became another mentor. Steiger loved the House and the congressional-fellowship program, and opened his door to me regularly to come and talk about politics, governance, and careers. He seemed destined for a major leadership role, before he died of a heart ailment at 40.

When I moved to the Senate for the second half of my fellowship in 1970, I was assigned to George McGovern. He had put together an informal committee to push for a vote to end the Vietnam War. I worked closely with Republicans, including Mark Hatfield, Charles Goodell, and Jacob Javits. The task was not easy for themafter all, they were directly challenging President Nixon. The work was sometimes intense. I saw, up close, a bitter confrontation over Vietnam between McGovern and Bob Dole. But later, I would watch them develop a working relationship to combat hunger, and then forge a close friendship that lasted four decades, until McGoverns death.

William J. Burns: Polarized politics has infected American diplomacy

Plenty of the Republicans I dealt with in the past were fierce partisans, including Dole and John Rhodes. But when pushed, they put country firstthat was the basis on which they could forge bonds across the aisle. I had strong relationships in years past with a number of Republicans currently in the Senate. But none of them have, in recent years, behaved in a fashion that would meet the values of the party of Domenici, Steiger, or Dole.

The country obviously needs a major change in its politics, a purging of the status quo. It faces challenges both societal and structural that go beyond Trump and the two parties. The United States must recover from the pandemic and rebuild its economy, while confronting head-on the issue of racism. But we cannot long operate as a democracy without two problem-solving parties that aim to compete for genuine majorities in the country.

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Ive Witnessed the Decline of the Republican Party - The Atlantic

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