This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Friday, August 5, 2011

The Last Good Republicans

            As a wool-gathering exercise the other day, I made up a list of politicians I didn’t always agree with but respected for their political attitude. Morals aside (a few of them got into trouble that way), they made the list because a) they showed a longstanding pragmatic concern for making government work or b) they at some point stood up against interest groups or party orthodoxy for something that was right:
            John Sherman Cooper, Nelson Rockefeller, Hugh Scott, Margaret Chase Smith, Frank Murphy, Donald Grunsky, Bruce McPherson, Thomas Kuchel, Earl Warren, Goodwin Knight, Charles Percy, Edward Brooke, Frank Murphy, Frank Lanterman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, William Scranton, Everett Dirksen, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, Jacob Javits, Kenneth Keating, Charles Mc. Mathias, Robert Packwood, Mark Hatfield, Barry Goldwater.
            You may have noticed a trend here: They’re all Republicans, and none of them is holding office today.
            Seventeen of the names on that list are politicians who were prominent in the sixties and seventies and who were generally considered “moderate” Republicans. They were skeptical about the extent of what government could do, but ready to use the government when needed. Most of them supported bipartisan efforts on civil rights, the environment, and, to a lesser extent, social services.
            Two of them, Dirksen and Grunsky, were principals responsible for major and much-needed legislation. Dirksen pulled together enough Republican votes to override the Southern filibuster that had been blocking the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Grunsky, a generally conservative Republican from Watsonville, was a California State Senator who authored the legislation, subsequently approved by voters, to create the California Coastal Commission in 1972, establishing lasting protection for the state’s coastline.
            Only two of the above served since 2000. McPherson was a pro-environment, pro-education California Assembly member and State Senator fro Santa Cruz, who went on to become California’s Secretary of State. Schwarzenegger made the list for being pro-environment and pro-gay rights at a time when his party was in denial on the first issue and red-baiting on the second.
            Barry Goldwater is on the list for standing up for the right of gays to serve in the military (“You don’t have to be straight to shoot straight”) and for speaking out against the intolerance of some of the religious right. If he were still around, you’d have to wonder what he would be saying about the Tea Party movement today.
            For those who don’t remember or never heard of him, Frank Lanterman was a California Assembly member for more than a quarter of a century. He represented a conservative part of Southern California and typically ran up near-perfect voting scores as measured by conservative and business organizations and near-perfect negative scores from the groups I tend to agree with.
            But Lanterman was a strong supporter of the mentally ill and developmentally disabled. He was the lead author of the bipartisan 1967 Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, which established firmer guidelines for involuntary commitments under the 72-hour mental holds used by police. His name lives on in the Frank D. Lanterman Regional Center, serving people who suffer from developmental disabilities.
            Near the end of his career, when Gov. Jerry Brown was planning to close state mental hospitals and release many of their patients into the community, Lanterman was a voice in the wilderness against it. I’m a small-government conservative, he said, but there are some things only government can do, and taking care of the mentally ill is one of them. You might want to think of Lanterman the next time you see a disheveled and disoriented person in the street, swatting at imaginary flies while people walk by trying not to notice.