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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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Gio closed the Republican party years ago with his antics - so much so that even elected Republicans abandoned the party in droves - his recent token efforts for the Log Cabin Republicans, which have little support from this year's standard bearers for the party, will not erase his history.

In Rhode Island, we had the Circus Tent Party and the Pup Tent Party long before the Tea Party knocked over the pup tent.

Comment #1 by Jacob Loupus on 2010 05 10

"But the new laws dealing with illegal immigration and abortion are stunning intrusions of government into people’s lives."

New? What they enacted was surprisingly similar to the Federal Laws currently in place, with the key difference being that Arizona would actually like to do something to stem the tide of a flood of illegal immigrants entering their state, while the Feds have ignored the problem for decades.

Comment #2 by Erich Sturn on 2010 05 10

Jacob, you say that as a result of Gio's leadership, "even elected Republicans abandoned the party in droves." He has served as chairman since 2007 - to what droves of elected Republicans are you referring?

Comment #3 by Bruce Saccoccio on 2010 05 10

I agree Mr. Ciccione deserves support for what he is trying to do - and can't help but he's been critical of John Chafee's son, Lincoln - perhaps with good cause. Like him, I've been very disappointed with Linc Chafee's campaign.

His father told the people what they NEEDED to hear regardless of how that affected his election chances. That's why he was the Man We Could Trust.

If he were around today he'd be fighting to make the state more business-friendly, and would be rallying support for public employee pension reform.

Public employees today on average earn more than those in the Private Sector and have benefits and pensions that have no companion in the businessworld, where no one retires with a full pension before 65 regardless of how long they've been working.

Linc Chafee's opposition to further reforms to unaffordable and unsustainable public employee pensions and pay suggest he's telling the State's largest voting block what they WANT to hear, in the hopes of gaining their votes. His proposal to raise taxes to pay for thse pensions is only going to drive away more businesses too.

The Moderates aren't silent on Social Issues - they're just getting back to where the Chafee Republicans were. Are you Pro-Choice or Pro-life, etc.? State your position and let's move on to the most vital issues of the day like Education and the Economy.

That's the way it was done and can be done again. But people need to demand that elected officials and candidates tell them what they NEED to hear - not what the powerful special interests WANT to hear.

Comment #4 by Swamp Yankee on 2010 05 10

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