Mary Pitt: Revelations Of A Reformed Republican
Revelations Of A Reformed Republican
by Mary Pitt
I never questioned why I was a Republican. I was born a Republican. My daddy was a Republican, my mama was a Republican, and so, of course, I was a Republican. It never occurred to me to doubt it. This commitment was reinforced by listening to the conversations of my elders as they talked about how that "good old Kansan", Alf Landon, was going to beat that smart-aleck Franklin Roosevelt, go to Washington, and "straighten out the country." That was good!
The mood changed markedly when "good ole Alf came a cropper" and lost resoundingly, leaving us with that smirking, arrogant aristocrat, (who was certainly going to lead us to our doom), in charge of our fate. The first thing he did was to close all the banks and to "take people's money". (The fact that we had no money in the bank or elsewhere did not enter the conversation.) Then, (horrors!), he made hungry people stand in line for the privilege of being given food! The recruitment of the young men into the Civilian Conservation Corps was seen as "depriving farmers of their help" which they were accustoned to hiring at the enormous wage of a dollar a week or twenty-five cents a day. Of course, the CCC wages were sent home to their families by the government but that didn't "get the crops in". In addition, the Work Projects Agency was employing family men to work on the roads, "standing around, leaning on their shovels", and taking a paycheck home to feed their hungry little kids. And it never entered my young mind to wonder at the dichotomy when the war started. At the same time Mr. Roosevelt was cursed for trying to "kill off our boys", the old battery radio was turned on every night to keep up with the progress toward "putting Hitler in his place" and "wiping that grin off ole Tojo's face".
Every four years there was agony as another stalwart Republican tried to vanquish the hated Roosevelt. Wendell Willkie..... Thomas E. Dewey..... the best and brightest of the Republican Party went down to defeat amidst great grief in our household. In the meantime, solace was found as one Republican after another paraded through the Kansas Statehouse. And, finally, FDR was gone! Of course, we were then "saddled with that Pendergast man", Harry Truman but, at least, he was from the middle of the country and understood farmers. Finally, with the election of "Ike", the Republicans were in our heyday. He would cut taxes and restore prosperity, he would cut out all the government spending and get us back on the right track!
There had been great moaning and gnashing of teeth when Mr. Roosevelt had pushed through the Social Security legislation. It was such a stupid idea, making people pay taxes all their lives so they could "retire"! Retirement, as such, was all but unheard-of in farm country. A man worked as long as he could and then "turned things over" to a son, the two families merged, and everyone did as much as they were able until death intervened. Of course, initially, farmers were not included in either the payments or the retirement plan but they hated it anyway. For some twenty years, the money that had been paid into the Social Security fund had been "just a-sittin' there" in the national Treasury and a considerable amount had been accumulated, even at the depressed and frozen wages of war-time.
With the expenses of lend-lease during the war and the foreign aid assistance through arrangements like The Marshall Plan, President Eisenhower found a lot of complaints about "deficit financing" to be a political liability within his own party. It seemed, at the time, to be a good idea to "roll in" the Social Security funds into the General Fund in order to hide the true amounts of the deficit. Having that amount added to the debit side would improve the picture of national solvency even though none of those funds were actually to be spent. However, human nature being as it is, that amount was listed as "available" to the budgeteers and soon it was allocated for current expenses along with the rest of the available funds. What started as a simple bookkeeping procedure had become a "candy jar" which Congress simply could not resist and the money was soon routinely "borrowed" and spent.
I'm not sure when my opposition to the policies of the Republican Party began. I believe it was more of an evolution, begun in the years spent among and sharing the plight of those desperately poor souls who emigrated from the central areas of the country to the Pacific Northwest to work in lumber mills as the result of the lack of work in their former locations. This was particularly hard for the women, living in rudimentary shelters which could only be called "shacks", trying to feed and clothe numerous offspring and to make a "home" of their cramped hovels while fighting eternal homesickness and displacement. These were "company houses" owned by the men who owned the mill where they worked and the rent was taken from the paychecks of the men on payday. If you lost your job, you lost your home as well. Running cold water was furnished but only one of the three dozen or so houses were not graced by outhouses in the back yard.
One particular lady lives in my memory. She looked to be an ancient crone with wrinkled and weather-worn face and intermittent gaps where her teeth should be, her shoulders stooped from hard work and heavy lifting. Nine of her ten children lived in her house, the eldest, a seventeen-year-old, living nearby with her husband and two children. The neighbors learned that this venerable matriarch was thirty-five years old! And then, one morning over coffee, she divulged the fact that she was pregnant....... again. The primitive birth control methods were unreliable, her husband "didn't like" condoms and Mother Nature had taken its course. An abortion would require a visit to an illegal practitioner of questionable medical abilities and the odds were pretty good that hemorrhage or infection would result, leaving almost a dozen small children motherless. This heroic woman steeled herself for the ordeal of another hungry mouth to feed and another underfed body for which they could not afford medical care. It occurred to me then that it just might be better if abortions were legal and could be obtained from a licensed professional and under sanitary procedures.
Later I joined the white collar workforce and became a "Girl Friday" in service to a millionaire merchant. After a year of faithful and diligent labor, I had received one raise and was required to be duly grateful for that honor. When the time came for me to leave, a man was hired to replace me. When I was informed of his starting salary, in the course of my duties of compiling the payroll, I was startled to learn that his salary was to be nearly twice what I was currently earning. When I queried my employer as to the reason, the answer was, "Because he is a man and has a family to support!" ("The Man" was sorely under-qualified and was gone within the month) This in spite of the fact that the boss was well aware that I was the primary bread-winner of my family. A few experiences like that could well turn a nice Republican girl into a "women's libber".
However, I was not yet ready to give up my in-born Republicanism. The policies and practice of the Northwestern Republicans were at that time kindly, caring, and progressive. During the "Carter Energy Crisis", we returned to the Midwest and found ourselves living in a "whole 'nother country". At that time the Equal Rights Amendment, affirming full rights of citizenship for women and making sexual disrimination illegal, had passed in Congress and was still trying to gain ratification by the majority of the States. I recall one instance at the local grocery store when a lady was expounding at length to one and all that, "Them wimmen don't need that big pay. They have men to take care of 'em!" I politely inquired whether she had ever know any woman whose husband had died, become seriously ill, or left his family for the favor of another woman or any woman who continued to work to provide the necessities of life for aging parents. The only reply was, "Humphffff!"
I was also finding it more and more difficult to see the error in feeding hungry children because some mothers might be taking advantage of the system or whether there was justification for ending a program that assured a healthy adulthood for those children who were underpriviled in order to punish a few women who had made a career of becoming "Welfare Queens". I had seen and experienced the good that these programs had brought about for families of my acquaintance as opposed to the poverty of my own childhood.
The religious extremists were already in virtual control of the party and Ronald Reagan did not seem at all as desirable as presidential material as he once had. His administrative policies bore out that judgement. The economy at the lower levels did not live up to his promises as the rich got richer, in the usual pattern of Republican administration. I was puzzled by the Iran-Contra thing which really did not seem to have been something that we should have done but applauded with all the rest of the faithful as that handsone Oliver North stood valiantly and "took a bullet for his Commander-in-Chief", but I bolted the party rather than to support "The Wimp", George H. W. Bush. I really tried, but could see nothing presidential about the man and truly felt that "my party" could have done better.
When Bill Clinton was elected, (without my vote which went to a third party candidate), I applauded his promise of "welfare reform". He had a sound plan for encouraging welfare mothers to work by offering education and childcare supports with continuing assistance while they climbed the employment ladder and re-organized their lives as the family breadwinner. However, what finally got through Congress was something entirely different, simply placing a cap on the eligibility and offering childcare only in some places and for a limited period of time. The next Congressional election resulted in a Republican majority who were honest and open about the fact that they had no empathy whatever for the less fortunate. On the day after I saw Newt Gingrich on the television news, stating that the answer to "welfare mothers" was to "build more orphanages", I changed my party registration.
Since that time I have been a "searcher", totally out of sync with those in control of our nation today. It is alien to my culture to accept the rehabilitated Iran/Contra crooks that are warmed-over from the Reagan administration as well as the new ones that were shipped in from Texas and imported from the Neo-Con think-tanks. However, the "loyal opposition" has proven to be too loyal and to demonstrate too little opposition. The Democrats allowed themselves to be stampeded into giving President Bush carte blanche to "do whatever is neccessary" in retaliation for the World Trade Center attacks and to sit meekly by while the Neo-Cons diverted that permission into an attack against Iraq because of imaginary "weapons of mass destruction". Then they sublimely accepted a Patriot Act that gave even more dictatorial powers to the President even though they had not even been given the time to read it!
Time after time, this performance has been repeated. The great groundswell of populism was squelched by the Democratic party machine and its manipulation of John Kerry into the presidential candidacy. His campaign was loose and disorganized and the best "messages" we heard were delivered by his wife and by his running-mate, John Edwards. Then we were treated to another spectacle on election day that almost equalled the 2000 results in Florida as hanky-panky was conducted at the polling places. Apparently few of the Democrats in Congress were put off by this as they went right back to their old practice of agreeing with the President that we need to stay in Iraq, we need to renew the tax cuts for the rich and the hated Patriot Act, we need to cut unnecessary, (social program), expenditures, and we absolutely MUST spend even more on the military and pork!
The national debt is equalled only by the trade deficit, more citizens of Mexico live in the United States than remain in Mexico, the military is exhausted and their equipment old and in tatters, the middle class are suffering from unemployment and insecurity as their jobs are bleeding first into Mexico, then into the Orient and now into Central America, our personal rights are at the tender mercies of the President and Jerry Falwell, and our Social Security system is under attack! Meanwhile, with all this "honesty and decency" that has been restored to the White House, we have Karl Rove who will "eff" anybody who angers him, a vice-President who feels free to tell a Senator to go "eff" himself, and a President who is quick to offer the one-finger salute to the media, the Congress, and the American people.
It is not easy to confess to having spent a lifetime marching to the wrong drummer and I do understand those who still have a problem with it. I am still not pro-abortion, feeling that it is a tragedy, but sometimes tragedies happen and I am willing to allow others to make their own decisions with their own bodies and in their own lives. I am not anti-American for I have revered my native land for the better part of a century and do not intend to stop now. I love every one of our brave young men who have been placed in harm's way for the unfulfilled ambitions of a small cabal of evil men, and I pray constantly for their safe return. I will vote for a good person of either party whom I feel will truly represent the people rather than special interests, and I will contribute my small bit to support the return of truly democratic government to its rightful place.
But I will never again waste my vote in suppport of any person or program that is based on the destruction of our Constitutional rights or our traditions of freedom, just because I have "always" done so. It is well past time for the American public to wake up, realize that they have been horn-swoggled, and to exercise their God-given right to think for themselves..