THE ROBERT W. WHITAKER ARCHIVE

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A MAN WITH A CONSCIENCE LOOKS AT THE JEFFORDS DEFECTION | 2001-05-25

Unlike conservatives, Jeffords is more interested in principles than in the Republican label. Wayne Morse, who made the same switch in 1955, also valued his liberal principles over the party label.

This fact leads us directly into another fact of history that liberals never mention, and that conservatives - ALL CONSERVATIVES BUT ME - have kept hidden: That fact is that Republican conservatives have NEVER valued principles over party.

No conservative Republican has ever considered the future of America more important than the Grand Old Party of Abraham Lincoln (Please see December 16, 2000, THE THING THAT WOULDN'T DIE).

In 1932, 1934 and 1936 the Republican Party almost ceased to exist outside of New England. Liberals took over the national Democratic Party, but conservatives stayed with the Democrats because they had enormous power in Congress because of their seniority. By 1936, less than a FIFTH of the House of Representatives was Republican and many of them were liberal Republicans.

In 1936, conservative Republicans had no power anywhere. If they had had any interest in conservative principles, they would have left the Party of Lincoln to its handful of liberals and voted for conservative Democrats. There is no record of any conservative Republican ever considering such a move.

So what did conservative Republicans do after the 1936 rout? They could have chosen to join their fellow conservatives in the Democratic Party and rule the country. At that time and for a generation to come, the American electorate contained a solid majority of Southern and ethnic conservatives, especially Northern Irish, and conservative Republicans in the Northeast and Midwest and West.

But putting principle before party never even occurred to Northern conservative Republicans. They simply gave their national party to their liberal-moderate minority. After 1936, to save the party label, Republicans began to nominate one moderate after another for the presidency.

From 1940 until very recently, conservative Southerners, Westerners, Midwesterners, and socially conservative Northeastern ethnics made up a solid majority of American voters. But liberals ran our national politics.

Because party labels meant more to conservatives than did principles, they were fatally split. The base of the Democratic Party was made up of Southern and ethnic conservatives. The base of the Republican Party was Midwestern and Western conservatives.

The South voted for anybody with a Democratic label. The Midwest voted for anybody with a Republican label. Conservatives would vote for anybody with the right party label, no matter what they stood for.

So liberals held the balance of power.

In plain English, the party label was more important to conservatives in both parties than the fate of their country or their principles.

It was conservative Democrats who finally put principle above party.

Finally, beginning in the 1950s, we conservative Democrats began to support the Goldwater-Reagan wing of the Republican Party. Ronald Reagan was one of those who left the Democratic Party to pursue their conservative beliefs.

We had a hard fight. Most Republican conservatives remained loyal to the moderate and liberal Party leaders. They backed Nixon. They backed Ford, Bush, and Dole. If there hadn't been so many Republican conservatives who backed them the party would have stayed conservative after 1960.

Lincoln Republicans are still at it. NATIONAL REVIEW, the magazine that represents respectable conservatism, is now conducting a vicious campaign against the Confederate flag. It demands that all conservatives unite behind the principles of Abraham Lincoln.

So Jeffords is not the real traitor. He is working for his leftist principles. Anyone with a conscience would rather have a Jeffords on their side than NATIONAL REVIEW and its kind of "conservatives."