10 July 2011

What We Can Learn From Republicans

Yesterday, Betty Ford died. In reading the press reports a several themes came up repeatedly. One read or heard repeatedly that Ford faced a series of personal problems with courage and generosity of spirit. One read or heard, again and again, that Ford spoke her mind in public even when that was not entirely politic. And one read or heard, again and again, that Betty Ford - Republican - supported abortion rights and the equal rights amendment. In short, Ford represented a time - not so long ago - where Republican politics was not all sound bites and talking points and where one did not need to be a blithering reactionary to play a prominent role in party politics.

I've just finished reading this cover story from The New York Times Magazine - a profile-slash-interview of Sheila Bair, who is leaving her position as head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The FDIC is the outfit that insures your bank deposits. The author of the piece is Joe Nocera, whose other work for The Times, has not always been terribly impressive. Nocera depicts Bair as virtually alone among government officials who, in the face of the depression of 2008, kept her eye on what was best for taxpayers, bank depositors and homeowners. (Hint! The other guys have been looking out for the bankers and bondholders.) He portrays her as occupying that lonely role under both the Bush and the Obama administrations. On Nocera's account Bair is "a member of that dying breed, the Republican moderate." There's the reason I started by talking about Betty Ford. Two things are pretty obvious from reading Nocera's profile of Bair. First, she is far to the left of the current Republican mainstream. Second, she seems to be pretty far to the left of the median member of Obama's economic policy team.

Bair is, I will remind you, a Republican. Obama, I'd like to remind him, supposedly is a Democrat. No need to dwell on the obvious, however.

My reason for dwelling on Betty Ford and Sheila Bair is not because I think them saintly. This post is not about ethics or personal integrity even though both women clearly display both qualities. Instead I am relying on the two women as a prism from which to identify the lunatic way our politics has veered to the right as Republicans have grown more extreme and mainstream Democrats have sought to mollify them in increasingly craven ways.

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