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Who Wants To Go Back Into The Big Tent?

Monday, May 10, 2010



The standard-bearer of moderate Republicanism was the late Senator John Chafee.  Back in the day, when you called yourself a Chafee Republican, everyone knew what you meant. 



John Chafee’s political philosophy expressed itself in fiscal restraint, a live-and-let-live attitude, environmental stewardship, and an active concern for those in need.  He had faith in the ability of government to improve people’s lives, but a suspicion of government that grows so big that it lives people’s lives for them.  Neither hawkish nor isolationist, he was a great proponent of diplomacy, international cooperation, and free trade.  He recognized the importance of profitable businesses to the economy and labor unions to the well-being of workers, but had a tolerance for the excesses of neither.  And he insisted on civility at all times.

Not too long ago, citizens who believed these things had a comfortable place under the Republican Party’s Big Tent.  But these days, many of the old Chafee Republicans inhabit a virtual tent city for the politically homeless.  Some feel pushed out of the party, and others have run screaming away, alienated by the extreme social agenda and the name-calling.   

God bless Gio Ciccione and the RI Log Cabin Republicans for fighting for the notion of the GOP as the Party of the Big Tent.  Will their efforts be enough to win the moderates back – especially now that there are competitors for their hearts and minds?

The Moderate Party is luring some, with its platform that is altogether silent on social issues.  Others think Linc Chafee had the right idea.  He became an Independent and clearly relishes being his own man, unfettered by party affiliation.

One wonders what John Chafee would make of today’s political landscape.  Would he have seen the writing on the wall after his son and every other moderate Republican in New England was swept out of office in 2006?  Or would he have hung in there, like the Log Cabin Republicans, believing that he owed it to Rhode Island to be a part of a small but credible opposing force to the Democrats’ essentially one-party rule?

As I watched events unfold last week in Arizona and Oklahoma, I began to think that this was the week that might have put him over the edge.  New England moderates had felt aligned with the national GOP because of a shared belief in limited government.  But the new laws dealing with illegal immigration and abortion are stunning intrusions of government into people’s lives.  Regardless of what one believes about illegal immigration or abortion rights, this much is true:  the laws enacted last week in Arizona and Oklahoma are sweeping expansions of government – and in direct conflict with a core Republican principle.

With Big Brother alive and well in Arizona and Oklahoma, it’s a much harder sell for Gio here in Rhode Island to convince people that the Big Tent is the place to be.  But Chafee Republicans, wherever they’ve landed politically, should be grateful to him for trying.


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