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Gary Horton: The GOP: still not principled leadership

Full Speed to Port!

Posted: March 30, 2010 5:20 p.m.
Updated: March 31, 2010 4:55 a.m.
One of the wonderful things Carrie does for me is keep scrapbooks filled with every column I’ve written for The Signal in these past 5 1/2 years, each surrounded by news clippings of the events of the day shaping the essays.

The other night during a long supper together, she opened one of the books to the date of our last presidential election. Scott Wilk had authored a column proposing that post election defeat, the Republican Party needed to recover from its political hangover from the Bush years. The House and Senate had partied with Bush all the way down to rock bottom and were staggering under a lack of principled direction. Wilk suggested a fast detox back to responsible, conservative leadership to get the party back on its feet again.

I ran further with his metaphor, and subsequently wrote a scorching essay equating the Bush presidency with a drunken bus driver recklessly crashing his busload of Americans off a steep cliff. I really ran with it. It was a graphic, emotional column. And while many viewed it as a fair metaphor, the imagery itself was unnecessarily provocative and inflammatory.

Shortly thereafter, then-friend Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon protested I’d been reckless and needlessly rough. “No,” I insisted. “I was just using metaphorical imagery.”

But the damage was done. McKeon rightfully spurned association with a columnist so inflammatory to his interests. He felt for me to use such imagery was disrespectful of the man, the office and hurtful to public discourse. While the column may have been impacting, there were more constructive ways to express the same thoughts and opinion.

I wish my theretofore-productive friendship with McKeon hadn’t been lost over that column. But looking back, I understand he had a legitimate sense of boundaries.

Yet Wilk had made a strong point. Ultimately, Republicans had provided undisciplined leadership over those prior eight years. Wilk concluded his column expressing hope that Republicans would heal quickly and lead down a practical, principled, conservative course. Good suggestions, but I believe evidence shows those suggestions went unheeded.

Readers, take a good look at the image at the base of this column.

This is currently the official home page of the Republican National Party. This is its No. 1 message sent to the whole world via its official Web headquarters:

“Fire Pelosi.”

That’s it. Just, “Fire Pelosi.”

Isn’t this just a little childish and perhaps (excuse the pun) unnecessarily inflammatory? Aren’t there more productive expressions of serious discourse and leadership?

This image is about kicking, scratching and schoolyard bullying and fighting. This image is about anything but leading or co-leading America into the future as she works off a monumental recession, as she copes with a daunting technological future and as she grabbles to educate her workforce in a hyper competitive world.

No addressing real challenges. No solutions offered. The GOP just wants to get back into power and “Fire Pelosi.” That’s its home page message.

So I would ask, does this imagery reflect the productive, principled leadership many hoped to see from Republicans after the 2008 election? Does the Republican Party’s radicalized behavior of the past 17 months portend hope for our future?

McKeon told The Signal he cheerleaded a crowd of “tea partiers” the day of the health care vote. No doubt there were a lot of energetic activists speaking their minds. But some in the crowd carried denigrating signs.

A few were later seen calling Democratic congressmen crude epitaphs as they entered the House to vote. McKeon appropriately denounced this outlandish side of the crowd.

But I ask, are these “tea party” scenes reflective of the principled Republican Party many have hoped for?

Why all the debasing, inflammatory images? Why toleration of Sarah Palin’s “kill the Democrats” theme? Why embrace crowds carrying signs equating Obama to Hitler and Stalin, when such comparisons are patently absurd, unnecessarily divisive and below reason? Why such rough GOP images as the “Fire Pelosi” home page?

Is all this really the meat and message of today’s Republican Party? Santa Clarita Valley conservatives, does all this militancy and GOP provocation reflect who you are? Clearly, inflammatory rhetoric is counter-productive to our greater good. McKeon appropriately schooled me on this 17 months ago — and it was a valuable lesson then and now.

What’s happened with the Republican Party of today? Has provocation and sensationalism become the new, “principled” conservative leadership many hoped for?

Gary Horton lives in Valencia. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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