The Opposition Is Not the Enemy

A column by Steve Russell about the Repubican Party.

The news of the day after the Michigan Republican primary is not so much how Rick Santorum blew his chance to slow down Willard Romney by insulting working class people in an attempt to insult the President (do you know anybody who does not want an opportunity for college for her children?).

The news is Olympia Snowe's exit from her lonely post as sane Republican representing the state of Maine, and her parting statement where she committed a terrible sin in the current environment. She told the truth.

I implore progressive young people, Indian and non, to understand that Snowe's sanity did not used to be so odd.

Indian policy proceeds in a trajectory independent of the left and right divide in American politics, but that does not make the divide irrelevant to Indian interests. It just means tribal leaders have to assert our interests government-to-government no matter who is in power and it’s probably wise to reserve our bloc voting to the efforts against overt Indian fighters like former Sen. Slade Gorton (R-WA).

This is not to say we have no interests riding along with the interests of others, one obvious interest being that sanity prevail in Washington. It’s only recently that insanity adopted the name Republican.

The roots of civil rights law are in the Republican Lincoln.

The roots of anti-trust law are in the Republican Theodore Roosevelt.

The top marginal tax rate of over 90 percent, and much major wealth-spreading and education-spreading took place under the Republican Eisenhower.

If the Republicans had not voted with the mainstream Democrats to break the Dixiecrat filibuster, we would not have gotten the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects Indians as well as African-Americans.

Republicans used to be interested in governing rather than burning witches, but there's a whole generation of voters out there with no experience of sane Republicans, and it's a damn shame.

When I lived in Indiana, I used to lobby my senators about foreign policy. I was much more satisfied with the responses from the Republican Dick Lugar than from the Democrat Evan Baye. This would be the same Sen. Lugar who co-sponsored with Sen. Obama a bill to fund the decommissioning of Soviet nukes and deliver the resulting power plant fuel to the US. The same Dick Lugar who is as we speak getting primaried by the witch hunter branch of the GOP.

While they were both funded ultimately by corporate interests, there used to be two parties with differing ideas about the role of government and both parties used to be interested in governing rather than running about with pitchforks and torches. To that end, they worked toward the common good by their own lights. Indians might agree or disagree with either from time to time and issue to issue.

The Democrats had since the New Deal been a permanent numerical majority because they represented the working class and the Republicans represented big business. Neither side denied this, and the Republicans would win when they had a beloved leader on their ticket (Eisenhower) or when the Democrats split (Nixon).

Then the Democrats ran off the Dixiecrats, the racists, the final straw being the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Dixiecrats went Republican.

The so-called "Moral Majority" quickly gave up on influencing the Democrats in the seventies, when their religious program, consciously anti-sex, played out as anti-women just when women were coming to leadership. The Moral Majority went Republican.

A group of intellectuals devoted to perpetual American military hegemony even at the cost of perpetual war, the neo-conservatives, abandoned the Democratic Party en masse over the influence of the peace wing that hadn't seen a war they liked since WWII. The neocons went Republican.

All these disgruntled ex-Democrats found a home together in the minority party and they have set about cleansing it to their liking.

The questions for our time are two.

Will the voters buy domestic policy from the Moral Majority and foreign policy from the neocons in one package?

If not, will the GOP survive? Will the conservatives who really want to govern become Democrats or start their own show? People who really want the responsibility of governing don't remain independents for long.

I suggest that if we wind up in a period of one party rule, very little lasting good will come of that. There are legitimate arguments about democracy as multi-party or two party, and points in favor of each. There is no sensible argument for one party rule—state, federal, or tribal.

Remember this before dancing on the Republican grave. There's a lot of history for the GOP to be proud of, along with missteps easily matched by Democratic missteps.

There will be no democracy without a loyal opposition.

Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at