I grew up in a Republican household in a Republican stronghold in what was then a fairly mixed State. (It still is, counting governorships and legislatures, but in presidential politics it's solidly GOP). Like John Prine's grandpa, my people voted for Eisenhower 'cause Lincoln won the war.
Yes, it would have been easy to become the proverbial preacher's kid, what with the temptations of drugs and race music and braless, nubile, accommodating coeds and their creamy spread thighs, that strangely compelling musk which even now calls me in my sleep, but with the help of public men I've always been picked up by the armpits whenever the trail got rough. Here's a partial tip o' the hat.
• The principled conservative opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. Obviously, the clash between the Constitutional principles of "One Man, One Vote" and "Too Far, Too Fast" deserved a fuller airing. Yes, reasonable men may differ, but I think time has shown us that a more organic development--say, a local limited equality--would have brought us to the same point we are today, where Americans of whatever background can go to the polls without wondering whether their votes will count or if they've somehow been given the wrong address.
• Respect for the Flag. Democrats just don't care about it, at least not enough to try to impregnate the very cloth it's made of with their temporal partisan positions, let alone trying to do that with plastic, which is considerably trickier. The ubiquitous flag decal of the Vietnam era touched me emotionally, dammit, stirring up memories of the brave sacrifices required to ignore everything that was going on there. Though I did have to give up wearing hats, as I got tendonitis from saluting every other Plymouth Fury that went by.
• Symbols, Part Two. Without Republicans, I would never have realized that the so-called "Peace" symbol was actually a broken Cross and might have gone straight to Hell with those Quakers and other hippies. And time, of course, has proven that correct. It turns out you can catch Eternal Damnation in all sorts of ways you wouldn't imagine. Or want to.
I have a small confession here: when I was a lad we lived down the street from a county sheriff, and he put one of those "Footprint of the American Chicken" bumperstickers on his squad car. I ratted him out and it was gone in a week. I'm not proud of what I did, but it wasn't really politically motivated. I hated his dog. By the way, I can't be positive that it was my complaint that led to its removal as my letter was anonymous. I was thirteen, but I wasn't stupid.
• Richard Nixon. What more can I say? What youngster wouldn't have wanted to be just like him?
• Ronald Reagan. There's a lot to say here, but unlike most Reagan worshippers my admiration is not heavily nuanced. I just loved his stint as governor of California. I was quite taken by the example of a man in late middle age who was not afraid to base his entire public worldview on fashion trends among those thirty years his junior. And threatening a bloodbath over a local park sit-in, and delivering, was certainly an inspiration to our citizen soldiers throughout the state of Ohio, to say nothing of Mississippi. Not to mention his subsequent transformation, in just twelve short years, into everybody's good old Gramps. I understand they named an airport after him.
• The battle over the ERA. People in this highly partisan age could learn a lot from the respectful opposition back in the day. Today phrases like "bull dykes" and "legalized interracial rape" are merely common incendiary devices. In those days they were wielded like gentle, loving cudgels. And though I by then had grown to young adulthood, I admit the spectre of unisex bathrooms have not occurred to me. It's a lesson today's Suffragists could stand to learn.
• The Hunting of the President. I have to admit I'm a bit puzzled that in this day of Bush Hatred Which Is A Hundred Times Worse I haven't been able to locate any Republicans who actually took part in this, but I remember it clearly. There are a lot of so-called "facts" which get in the way here, but the larger lesson is clear. The principles of this country are too important not to make them up as we go along. And I'm still convinced somebody got away with that $40,000.
• Bill Bennett. One of the real glories of the above was the popular emergence of the nicotine-addicted former Drug Czar. Yes, there may have been less outrage than we'd have hoped for, prompting some slight exaggeration in certain quarters, but Bennett's tightly-reasoned supra-factional arguments gave me hope that the grownups would soon be in charge. I'm a grownup, and I vote grownup. If that's wrong, then I'm wrong.
And even though I'm a grownup, I can still learn a thing or two! Bennett faced the multiple goring of his own oxen by averring that it was better to be a hypocrite than to have no morals at all. I was glad to learn this. I dropped Philosophy 101 my freshman year when I learned there was reading involved.
• The Dustbin of History Books. One really can't help but be inspired by Republican resourcefulness. The Democratic party, to my knowledge, has never made effective political use of a Cabinet department they'd pledged to dismantle just five years earlier. The democratic ideal of putting scientific belief to a vote has shaken the very foundations of the materialism of the last Century. As I understand it, those foundations were so rotten anyway they will implode any day now.
But for me it's more a matter of the heart, of learning to be open to the tender mercies of God's Love and accepting the fact that the people He reveals Himself to are generally the ones you'd least expect. I never knew there was even such a thing as a Judeo-Christian tradition, and I'd still be groping in the dark if it weren't for the necessity of courting constituencies with empty phraseology designed to touch our skin-deep respect for those who are different. And I swear they taught me in grade school that the Founders were mostly Deists. Turns out they were evangelicals. This is why such things matter. Future generations.
• The Election of 2000. Yes, it got ugly. Our country has been blessed, and there's so much money to be made just by grabbing one's own bootstraps or velcro enclosures that it's almost inevitable some of it will be used to rent angry mobs. But I like to look beyond, to remember the stirring acceptance speech of one George W. Bush before that angry crowd of disenfranchised citizens in the Texas state legislature, how he poured oil money on troubled waters. The masterful way he stopped just short of acknowledging there'd been a little problem. The way he reached across the aisle to those reasonable people among the majority who'd voted against him, and pledged to let them climb aboard the Mandate Express his people were about the announce, no questions asked, you've got one week.
• President George W. Bush. Well, he hasn't had the opportunity to do much yet, but I'm expecting great things. He's a uniter. He's going to surprise Democrats, I'm sure. And I just like the cut of his jib. A lot of people say he's the kind of regular guy you'd like to have a beer with. I go further than that. I'd like to split a case. And I'm buyin'.