Outside and Inside The Big Tent
by Jo Freeman
'A Big Tent' is what Republicans who feel left out of their party wish it would be. They want in, or back in, to a party that they feel rejects those who don't toe the line on socially divisive issues. Two of these groups independently characterized their fundraisers as 'Big tent' affairs.
Outside the "Big Tent"
The Republicans who want 'in' are the Log Cabin Republicans. At noon on Tuesday about 160 GLBT conservatives paid to hear former Arizona Cong. Jim Kolbe tell them that "we are making great progress" in becoming an inclusive party. Elected to Congress in 1985 from a moderate district in southern Arizona, Kolbe was outed by gay rights activists in August 1996 after he voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act. He continued to be re-elected until he retired in 2007. Other gay Republican Representatives have chosen not to run for re-election after being outed because socially conservative Republicans threatened them with well-funded primary opponents.
Log Cabin President Patrick Sammon praised John McCain, whom he described as having a long and friendly association with the group. Michael DuHaime, the National Political director of the McCain campaign, asked the LCRs to "reach-out" and bring all voters to McCain. He said that McCain is a "very inclusive" guy. This is "great progress" from 1995, when Bob Dole's campaign returned the group's $1,000 campaign contribution.
The Republicans who want back in are the moderates, formerly known as liberal Republicans, or Rockefeller Republicans. They trace their roots to Teddy Roosevelt's progressives and still view themselves as "the real majority" in the Republican party. While they can win some offices on the east and west coasts, it's been decades since they welded influence in the national party.
The issue which brings them together, and separates them from the rest of the party, is abortion. That's why they call themselves the Republican Majority for Choice. For years they fought — and lost — the inclusion of anti-choice language in the Republican Party Platform. In 2008, they didn't even try.
Several hundred of them paid between $250 and $5000 to go to a "Big Tent Celebration" in Dove Hill, the most elegant private residence I've ever seen from the inside. Among other attractions was Norman Lear's traveling copy of the Declaration of Independence.
There they heard Minnesota Cong. Jim Ramstad state that he was confident that McCain "won't put social issues up front" because he believes in "less government in our lives." Former NJ Governor Christine Todd Whitman, Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, and former Connecticut Representative Nancy Johnson spoke about the importance of choice and moderation.
Johnson, who was the leading Republican feminist in the House until her defeat in the 2006 Democratic tidal wave, said that "the difference between legal and illegal abortions isn't in the number of abortions, but in the number of women who die from abortions."
Meet the real Hillary hold-outs — at the Republican convention.
The Republican tent may not be big enough for those who differ on matters of sex, no matter how loyal to the GOP they are, but it has plenty of room for crossovers.
Both parties like to put renegades from the other party on display; several Republicans and ex-Republicans spoke from the podium at the Democratic convention. The Republicans showed off theirs at a Tuesday press briefing, where all but one of the new Citizens for McCain were supporters of Hillary Clinton. Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard who is a high level McCain supporter, introduced them to half a dozen members of the press.
Silverio Salazar, a Democratic Party precinct worker and cousin of Colorado Democrats Rep. John Salazar and Sen. Ken Salazar.
Cynthia Ruccia, a former candidate for Congress from Ohio who was introduced as a women's rights activist.
Brian Golden, former Massachusetts state representative.
John Coale: former fundraiser for Bill and Hillary.
Jennifer Lee, a worker on Hillary's California campaign.
Mark Erwin, a North Carolina real-estate developer who was appointed to the management board of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) by Bill Clinton in 1997.
They weren't exactly new news. Ruccia and Salazar were two of the four Democratic renegades introduced at an RNC press conference during the Democratic convention. The other two — Debra Bartoshevich, Democratic delegate from Wisconsin, and former MN Rep. Tim Penny — weren't present in St. Paul. All but Golden worked on Hillary's Presidential campaign. He left the state legislature to serve in Iraq. He made a personal commitment to McCain in 2007.
The five who had supported Hillary stressed the importance of how she was treated by the Obama campaign and the media in shaping their decision to support McCain.
Jennifer Lee praised the Palin decision. "We need more women in power in this country," she said, "so that the issues that women talk about will be on the agenda."
Ruccia concurred. As a Hillary supporter, she was "thrilled about Palin."
Coale claimed that the Obama campaign just doesn't get it on sexism. McCain does, he claimed.
Erwin pointed out that "having a woman in the White House is one of the greatest things we can do." He said that Palin"has proven herself to be a leader."
Carly Fiorina, who was not a Hillary supporter, also praised Palin. She said "Palin has made more executive decisions than Obama." She "reflects the struggle by all women to balance the demands of home and family life with those of work."