The Loyal Opposition

It’s fair to say I’ve been a lifelong Democrat, although that may actually have begun with Kennedy. My father was an Eisenhower Republican; my mother likely a closet Kennedy Democrat like me. But I had no qualms at all in voting for a Republican woman, Senator Margaret Chase Smith, in the Illinois Republican primary back in 1964 when she was running against Barry Goldwater. Was that the beginning of the end of the respectable Republicans? Lincoln, Grant, TR, Eisenhower. Were there more of which the country can be proud? I don’t remember. They are all gone now.

If Goldwater was the beginning of the end (Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice), then Nixon (Well, I screwed it up real good, didn’t I?), and Reagan (Unemployment insurance is a pre-paid vacation for freeloaders) were signs to come. But it was Senator Mitch McConnell who opened the floodgates to the ultimate irrelevance and eventual destruction of the once Grand Old Party, when he announced that his only job was to see that President Barack Obama was a one-term President, embracing Rush Limbaugh's encouragement to "make him fail".

The reforms that the Democrats squeezed through Congress in those first two, almost halcyon years, might have been better had McConnell realized that health care really was something the American people wanted, had he summoned his caucus to dive into the numbers to make certain that the bill had a Republican stamp of cost-cutting and efficiency built in, to take some of the credit.

But that would have left Obama with a sackful of credit of his own, and to McConnell’s mind, that would never do.

Our system of government has long been assume to govern, no matter who is in power, with a loyal opposition. How, in the best of all possible worlds, would that function?

I looked up a few definitions of “opposition.”

Three definitions describe McConnell’s actions, and the actions since that time of the Republican Party writ large:

  • An act of setting opposite or over against: the condition of being so set
  • Hostile or contrary action or condition
  • Offers strong opposition to the advance of the enemy

It is the condition of being so (hostile and contrarily) set, and seeing the opposition as the “enemy” that has opened the door to the Age of Trump and very nearly scuttled the Ship of State as well as the Republican Party. Consider the measures that McConnell had to vehemently oppose in his quest to make Obama fail:


So opposed were the Republicans to any program that might make Obama look good, that they have committed themselves to oppose any health care reform that does not essentially dismantle the ACA entirely, all of its provisions and goals now associated with the enemy.

Gun Control

After Sandy Hook, the Obama administration made sensible gun safety reform a priority, championed chiefly by Vice President Biden. People may blame the ensuing failure on the NRA lobby and the threat of contribution withdrawal, and that likely has had a strong effect. But more importantly, to my mind, is the concomitant position that ANY restrictive gun legislation is something that is espoused by the enemy, and MUST be opposed, no matter the circumstances, no matter the consequences.


Today’s Republican Party seems to be entirely incapable at looking at the facts on the ground. They make assumptions about who is coming over our southern border, how many, and why. Trump made it easy for them in 2015 when he described them as rapists and drug dealers. That was all he had to say. That was all they had to hear. There may be some of them who know better, who are curious, who want to find out the reality of the situation and make policy incorporating both empathy for those who come and the realities of our ability to absorb them, as well as fairness to those who wait in line. That is a very tough row to hoe, I realize, but as things stand now, it’s a fallow field. Even the Dreamers are expendable, possibly because it was Obama’s policy, and even though the polls show that it is a very popular idea, it must be drowned, like the rest of good government, in the bath tub.

Climate Change

How is the Republican Party like the Roman Catholic Church of 1615? Who is playing the part of Father Niccolo Lorini, who submitted Galileo’s theories of heliocentrism to the Inquisition? Someone must be. How else are agencies, which are supposed to be committed to studying and preparing for such exigencies, banned from using words in their reports suggesting that climate change is real? Why is the very subject of climate change verboten in the U.S. Congress?

There is, however, another definition of opposition:

The relation between two propositions having the same subject and predicate but differing in quantity or quality or both.

In this definition, we can designate the United States as a nation and the people thereof as both subject and predicate, with the two major parties having the well-being of both in common, differing only in quantity or quality. With this definition, how might the Republicans view the subjects highlighted above?


It’s been obvious for years that the U.S. is way behind other A-List countries in making good health care available to all of its citizens. Both parties acknowledge the need for a major overhaul. Let’s role play. Democrats propose a single-payer system. How should a loyal opposition respond? A) reject entirely; B) accept the premise, but propose more efficient and economical ways to bring about the best outcome; C) ???

Gun Control

It’s been obvious for years that the U.S. has an issue with domestic gun violence. Both parties acknowledge the need for a major overhaul. Let’s role play. Democrats propose a wide variety of gun control legislation, ranging from background checks through mandatory safety tests to outright banning of several weapons. How should a loyal opposition respond? A) reject all proposals because 2nd Amendment; B) support those proposals they think most likely to produce an immediate beneficial effect, including a ban on military-style weapons, without impacting legitimate gun owners of legal guns; C) ???


Do we have an immigration problem? Yes. Are immigrants “streaming across our southern border”? Sometimes it seems so. Do we need a practical, humane process to deal with this? Yes, we do. Do the children brought here by their parents need a way to stay in the only country they know? Of course they do. Both parties acknowledge the need for a major overhaul. Let’s role play. Democrats want to give Dreamers a permanent home here and have thoughtful hearings on all other illegal immigrants to determine whether or not they had imperative reasons to leave their homes and come to the U.S. How should a loyal opposition respond? A) insist that everyone not a citizen or legal resident be deported; B) acknowledge that a fair and humane process is needed and work to find the best, most efficient and economical way of proceeding,; C) ???

Climate change

Scientists across the world agree. There are physical manifestations of the truth happening in the real world. Both parties acknowledge the need for a response. Let’s role play. Democrats want drastic reductions in the use of fossil fuels and carbon emissions. Republicans A) deny that those measures will negatively impact business and won’t have the desired effect; B) work with Democrats to pass measures that will reduce the need for fossil fuels and significantly reduce carbon emissions, while granting businesses time to adjust; C) ???

It was George Norquist who famously said he wanted to make government small enough to drag it into the bathroom and drown it in a bathtub. George was not running for office, nor had he ever held a position of responsibility for the citizens. If that doesn’t give one pause, I would think that the fantasy of drowning anything in a bathtub might make one question his intentions.

I recently read a piece about an Indiana mayor who should have a brilliant political career ahead of him, but because Indiana, may have no further to go. A shame, because his view on government may not be as bumper-sticker ready as Norquist’s, but it doesn’t involve killing anything.

I found that in my personal experience, freedom is secured by good government just as it’s threatened by bad government.

And good government requires a loyal opposition.