Scene from the Musical, "Showboat"
"It is a fundamental tenet of the Republican Party that government ought not intrude in the private lives of individuals where no state purpose is served, and there is nothing more private or intimate than who you live with and who you love.
" -- Wisconsin Governor Lee Dreyfus, February 1982
Twenty-five years ago Wisconsin's Republican-controlled legislature passed the nation's first civil rights law for gays and lesbians, and the then Republican Governor, Lee Dreyfus, signed it into law in February 1982.
The bill became law during the last days of the period when the Republican Party lived by conservative principles, just about the time that Ronald Reagan was inviting the Christian Right to take over the party, much to the disgust of constitutional conservatives like Barry Goldwater, who believed in protecting the liberty of individuals under the constitution, fiscal sanity and small government. Goldwater, who was no fool, had clear eyes and could see where Reagan's political greed was going to take the GOP.
In the twenty-five years since then, the Republican Party has become almost unrecognizable. Republicans have become a self-contradiction -- still talking the talk of Republican principles while doing everything possible to destroy those principles.
The Republican Party, now beholden to the Christian Right for its existence, is engaged in a war on individual liberty, ranging from the Patriot Act to the assault on gays and lesbians, is building up deficits at a pace that boggles the mind, and is expanding the power and reach of the government into areas reserved by the Constitution for the states and into the private lives of individuals.
What is even more remarkable is that the Republicans are doing all this while denying it all.
Wisconsin's Republican-controlled legislature, hoping to gain short-term political advantage by tying Democrats to gays and lesbians, led the state down the path to Alabama last fall
, but at their own peril. As it turned out, the Republican Party lost big, losing the Governor's race, losing control of the State Senate, and narrowly averting a turnover in the State Assembly.
The Republicans in Wisconsin, who bullied Democrats and ran roughshod over state politics while in the majority, have changed their tune, they say, and now want to cooperate with Democrats to "build a better Wisconsin". It remains to be seen, and I wouldn't count on it.
But whether or not Republicans are willing to walk the walk of responsible compromise instead of just talking the talk, I am certain of one thing: The Republican Party as we've known it since the Reagan years is hearing the sound of its own death knell.
And, oddly enough, it is the Republican Party's embrace of the Christian Right that is setting the death bell swinging.
I read conservative blogs, and I'm intrigued by the blogs written by young, Christian conservatives who vote Republican. Almost all of the blogs sound like they were ghost written by Fox News, for the most part -- with one exception. A significant number don't buy into the "faggot, faggot" drum pounding, and are warning that unless the Republican Party moves off fag-bashing, the party will loose more and more young people.
The young -- including Republican young in their twenties -- don't buy into it, because they know gays and lesbians, and accept them as human beings. They know firsthand that the President is full of shit when he plays the "end of Western civilization as we know it" game, and they -- even those who self-identify as "conservative Christian" -- can see past the "faggot, faggot" curtain.
My guess is that it won't be too long before these young Republicans start to see through the other
curtains, as well. After all, if these young Republicans have come to know that the centerpiece of Republican political orthodoxy is based on deception and lie, what is to keep them from looking more closely at other areas of Republican orthodoxy?
My guess is that they will, in time.
I'm stunned, reading their blogs from the perspective of sixty, how uninformed they are, on the whole, about the last thirty or forty years, and how ignorant they are about the basic facts of American society. If these young adults are any indication, our education system needs a kick in the behind.
My kids are no different, although better educated. The world is complicated and young people are quick to draw conclusions based on half-fact because they are too young to have any perspective. I was that way, too, when I was twenty-something.
Most of us get over it as we get older. The kids now just coming into full adulthood will, too. As we grow older, we are informed by our own experience in life, and the experience of others who we've know.
And that is why, in the long run, the Christian Right doesn't stand a chance of stopping the slow but continual acceptance of gays and lesbians into our society as full and equal citizens. The young, from the limited experience they've had in life, know better than to believe them. As they grow older, more and more people in this country will see gays and lesbians for what they are -- no different, really. The Christian Right is fighting a rearguard, losing battle against reality.
I wonder, sometimes, what it must be like to be Julaine Appling or James Dobson or Pat Robertson, knowing that you are on the wrong side of history and will lose the war, all the while having to talk through your teeth to muster the troops for yet another battle.
I wonder, particularly, about Julaine Appling, because I've met her and debated her, and so I feel an empathy for her that I don't feel for James Dobson or Pat Robertson.
Julaine is intelligent, and she seems to be thoughtful enough, although she is as prone to both self-deception and deception of the public as the rest of the Christian Right.
And so I wonder whether she ever thinks about the sweep of history.
It seems to me that she must.
Julaine is a product of the segregation times in the Deep South, now gone, and of Bob Jones University, which, although it now accepts interracial dating, is an institution relegated to the fringe of American life. Julaine is, in a nutshell, a product of a time and culture that has been swept away by history, as surely as the myth of the "happy darkie" portrayed in "Showboat" has been swept away.
I cannot help but imagine that she looks back at her childhood and youth, when racial verities seemed so certain and fixed in stone, and sense how shaky the ground that the world of her childhood and youth was built upon.
Commenting on the civil rights bill signed by Governor Dreyfus in 1982 in the Capital Times last week, Julaine had this to say: "We certainly wouldn't celebrate it. It's the first time we, as a state, have given special protection to a group of people based on a behavioral preference.
Julaine said that she remembers thinking, when Dreyfus signed the law in 1982, "Why is this necessary? I don't see it as necessary now. I think it was a political move to meet the demands of people who were being quite overt and quite demanding in getting this special recognition, if you will, in state law.
And yet even Julaine knows that she cannot turn the clock back, as much as she might wish to do so, and that the law will stand, and be celebrated.
And so, I cannot help but imagine, she must, at times, see that her prolonged battle against gay and lesbian equality is equally doomed. I don't suppose Julaine dwells there, but I wonder what it is like to get a glimpse that your life's work is a useless battle against human progress, and that you will be remembered, in posterity, with pity.