January 3, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Was Gerald Ford a "RINO"?

The funeral services for President Gerald R. Ford in Washington National Cathedral and in Grand Rapids, Michigan today raise the touchy question of what has become of the Grand Old Party. In today's Washington Post, Dan Balz and David Broder wrote, "the Republican Party that spawned Ford and his brand of Midwestern conservatism barely exists today." Indeed, the way many Republican activists talk these days, someone like Ford would be castigated as a "Republican In Name Only." Balz and Broder cite praise for Ford from former Rep. Vin Weber, a moderate and very intelligent Minnesotan who got burned by the Religious Right in the 1990s. It will be interesting to see whether the occasion of President Ford's passing away leads to the kind of "soul-searching among Republicans" that Balz and Broder wish for.

In today's News Leader, Mike Radoiu expressed similar thoughts, asking "Who'll be the new Gerald R. Ford?" Mr. Radoiu grew up in Michigan and thus had a special appreciation for President Ford's old-fashioned virtues:

I also saw in him that self-effacing and common sense style so familiar to me while growing up in the Midwest. This was a world that valued practicality over partisanship, cooperation over rancor and that always preferred to build bridges rather to burn them down. In his world, negotiation trumped gunslinging machismo and consensus building ruled the day. ... The irony is that Mr. Ford's party, having taken a sharp rightward and radical turn in the past two decades, would have pilloried him today as too moderate, too accommodating and simply not conservative enough.

It saddens me to acknowledge that quite a few Republicans today fit that description. I would like to think that it is possible to be strongly in favor of conservative policies without becoming part of the hard-edged nastiness à la Tom DeLay and Karl Rove, but such a distinction may be too subtle for most people. If so, and if the zeitgeist in America really has turned decisively toward the center of the political spectrum, the prospects for honest conservative reform may have slammed shut for the foreseeable future.