“To Dare Mighty Things”

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”
                 —Theodore Roosevelt

I’ve known a lot of brave people. I’ve even got pieces of paper from the Air Force labeling me brave, but I never bought it; holding an airplane aloft with your sphincter muscle needs a different adjective. What young people do in combat is not courage of the greatest sort. Your buddies’ regard for you is more powerful than fear to a soldier. Fighting alongside each other is wired into young men, eclipsing any notion of courage or your own good sense. The peer group and its pecking order is the most powerful force in all our lives.

The highest courage would be to purposely alienate yourself from the peers with whom you have worked hard and won victories and whose respect you have earned. To do so on a matter of principle is the rarest form of courage.

So it is with deep humility and amazement that I’ve learned that Michael Cudahy, a successful Republican Field Commander, has decided he can no longer tolerate the Neo-Conservative clique which has hijacked the Grand Old Party of my and Mr. Cudahy’s parents. This is no abstract event. Cudahy ran 8 states for Dubya’s dad, spending the 1988 Pennsylvania Primary season as a guest in the home of of his friend Tom Ridge. Go read his declaration, it’s more eloquent than any comments I have:

“Over the last 15 years this country has witnessed the emergence of the neo-conservative wing of the Republican Party. During this time traditional Republicans have witnessed a serious deterioration of respect for traditional party principles by GOP leaders. A great party once firmly rooted in the thoughts and policies of visionary presidents like Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower has lost touch with its history.”

It’s a stunning announcement. Imagine a German official declaring in 1934 that he no longer believes in the Nazi party; that he will instead be supporting Polish independence. Further, he announces his intention before he leaves for Warsaw or has been formally embraced by the Poles. Our hypothetical German would be notable even if he announced it standing on a podium before the Polish people, but to do so before your new partners even understand your motives is courage on a Hancockian scale.

Rescuing his Inner Idealist

That’s what Michael Cudahy did yesterday. Somehow his inner idealist won. There are two internal forces competing for the loyalties of successful people in any hierarchy. You are proud of your principles, which you nonetheless compromise more each day as you gain skill at working the politics of your workplace or worse, your government. You go along and get along as a trusted team player until the linkage between your youthful values and your mature realities comes apart. Usually it’s the idealist who drowns.

“This country is hungry to put an end to the partisan warfare that has consumed this nation for the last 15 years — at least.

That hunger, and a deep discontent with the status quo keeps reasserting itself. It raised its head in ’96 with the hope that Colin Powell might run. It reemerged with the McCain insurgency, and I believe that it will finally succeed with the candidacy of Howard Dean.”

The interesting part is that Cudahy’s not going to stop being a Republican. He understands the great things that Republicans have done for America, starting with Lincoln. He’s still proud of his party and should be. What he’s ashamed of is the behind-the-scenes insurrection managed by ingenious kleptocrats. Instead of becoming a Democrat, he wants to use his skills to attract Republicans and Independents to the Dean campaign:

“Do not be afraid of all Republicans, because there are millions of Republicans who are wonderful caring people. Citizens who embrace the traditions and policies of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower . . . reach out to them . . . and create a radical center where all of us can work together — even when we disagree.

Please do not tar us all with the same brush. Like all Americans, we love our country, its values and the principles that have made it great. Equally important, we are committed to the vision of the founders of our party who believed, in the words of Abraham Lincoln that, ‘This country with its institutions belongs to the people who inhabit it.’

You should also know that those of us who dare to suggest to Republicans and Independents that there is a better way — have been threatened and harassed.”

Mystic Chords of Memory

“It is my hope that we can organize this effort with the sentiments expressed in the final paragraph of Lincoln’s first Inaugural address:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

That’s it! We’re all in this together! What a concept. On Tuesday night in New York, Howard Dean was introduced by Lowell Weicker, the legendary Republican-turned-Independent who taught everybody something about Republican principles as the young hero of the Watergate hearings:

“Republicans do not cover up. Republicans do not threaten. Republicans do not commit illegal acts. And God knows that Republicans do not view their fellow Americans as enemies to be harassed! But rather I can assure you that this Republican and those whom I serve with look upon every American as human beings to be loved and won.” 1.2MB CNN video clip (get QuickTime)

Apparently it now takes real courage for a Republican to base action on principles. Ask informed Americans if they’re willing to risk the personal wrath of Karl Rove and most will decline the chance to stand up for their principles. It doesn’t occur to practical people to ponder the real problem:

Anger an advisor to the President or his Attorney General and any American is in actual peril. How did that become part of the American experience?

Howard Dean’s early opposition to the Iraq War s
eemed courageous at the time but now looks like prescience. I’m sure Michael Cudahy is proud of his own courage but intends to attract enough others that his valor will also be transmuted into good sense. I’m convinced that the country is full of high-principled Republicans who will join him when called upon. If you know one, send them to Michael Cudahy’s Statement.

Circle the Welcome Wagons

If the Dean campaign wants to attract the radical center, as Cudahy calls the most of us, it has no greater opportunity than to embrace as many Republicans as possible, as fast as it can, using any means available. That requires profound cluefulness about how to make Republicans comfortable with a Democratic campaign.

Each of us has certain forms of etiquette which we expect and without which we feel dislocated. Among Democrats it’s tie-dyed shirts, women in comfortable shoes and 20 splinter-movement signs at every rally. Among mainstream Republicans, it includes a solid career, good grooming and a respect for the chain of command. Superficial profiling? Perhaps. But it’s a legitimate part of the complex calculus of managing a movement rather than a campaign.

It just never occurred to the Dems that the Rainbow Coalition might include people with shined shoes. This might be the party’s real test of its diversity.

Whether you’re an idealist nurturing a campaign into a movement, or a cynical operative coldly calculating electoral votes, you’d jump at the chance to build a Republican Safe House. You might even find a guy with proven principles and courage to run it.

4:52:22 PM    

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