Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Price Of Being Right


These are sad days for the Illinois Republican Party. Once the party of moderation that produced the likes of Everett McKinley Dirksen and three-and-a-half-term governor James R. Thompson, in recent years the Illinois GOP has run a spate of extremist candidates from Alan Keyes’ failed senatorial bid in 2004 to Tea Party favorite Joe Walsh, who was elected to the House of Representatives in 2010 and lost his reelection bid in 2012.
Then, on Tuesday, this happened (via WBEZ):
Illinois State Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady resigned Tuesday morning, following months of GOP infighting sparked by his public support for same-sex marriage.

Brady planned to email his resignation letter to party officials early Tuesday.

Brady rankled his more conservative rivals on the GOP’s State Central Committee in early January, when he unexpectedly released a statement announcing his “full support” for a pending same-sex marriage bill in Springfield, a stance that contradicts the Republican Party platform. But he also ostracized some more moderate party bosses who complained that Brady didn’t even notify them before he made his bombshell announcement.
What did Brady’s offending statement say? Just this:
More and more Americans understand that if two people want to make a lifelong commitment to each other, government should not stand in their way. Giving gay and lesbian couples the freedom to get married honors the best conservative principles. It strengthens families and reinforces a key Republican value –that the law should treat all citizens equally.
And that, apparently, was enough for his fellow Illinois Republicans to call for his head.
I’m not a Republican and I have no connection to the Illinois Republican Party. (Shocking, I know.) Just the same, I take this kind of personally.
In the past, I’ve regaled readers of this blog with tales of my father’s involvement in the local civil rights movement in our little suburb just outside Chicago. So I won’t repeat myself other than to say that a little over 40 years ago, my dad, along with a colleague, drafted our public schools’ first diversity policy, and, as a member of the elementary school board, helped to implement that policy for the 1972-1973 academic year. That original policy, modest by today’s standards, challenged our public schools “to educate children in an atmosphere free of the narrowing and stifling influences of social, religious, and ethnic prejudice” and “to take positive steps to ensure that the children of this community are exposed to the real world of people, both historical and contemporary, that they develop a respect for cultural and racial differences and a full appreciation for the contributions which all races and people have made to the advancement and enrichment of humanity.”
While most of our community supported my father’s work, he was not universally heralded for it. I learned only later in life that he received hate mail and threatening phone calls – along with a significant amount of support – which he kept from us kids, some of whom were still quite young. In the Catholic parish were we attended church regularly (where, in fact, many of us kids were baptized, made our first communion, and were confirmed), he and my mother were treated coolly for my dad’s involvement in integrating the public schools. Eventually, my father broke with the church altogether, but, to his credit, he never said a harsh word about it. That must have pained my dad, though, given that he’d attended a seminary high school and even contemplated the priesthood – that is, before he met My Sainted Irish Mother™ and sired (ahem) eleven children.
So, my dad paid a price for doing what was right forty years ago. Remarkably, though, it didn’t change him. In fact, in the late 1980s when the public high school held hearings to consider expanding its diversity policy (which was nearly identical to the one my dad wrote for the elementary schools) to encompass and protect sexual orientation, my old man, child of the depression, World War II combat veteran, marched his retired self down to the high school auditorium one Saturday morning and spoke eloquently and at some length (Dad always spoke eloquently and at some length) in favor of the proposed change. I’m embarrassed to say that at the time, I wasn’t quite sure how he viewed gay rights, but of course he supported them. Of course he did.
But I digress.
The point is, by the time my dad went to that meeting to advocate in favor of protecting the rights of gay and lesbian high school students, our town had changed dramatically. There was no hate mail; there were no threatening phone calls. Instead, he was greeted as something of a village elder. The proposed changes passed (not without some raised voices and consternation, mind you, but they passed), and my dad returned to blissful retirement.
So it’s sad to see Pat Brady ousted from the chairmanship of the Illinois Republican Party – the party of Everett McKinley Dirksen – for nothing more than supporting civil rights. What Brady said about marriage equality is exactly correct: It does, in fact, honor the best conservative principles. The best liberal principles too. So it ought to be non-controversial, and it most certainly shouldn’t have cost the man his job.
Well, Pat, if it’s any consolation, my old man is on your side. And that might be the only time my old man would be on the side of an Illinois Republican.

2 comments:

  1. Good on your dad, Dave; good on all of our dads who did what they could to lift themselves from the place of prejudice.

    Paying a price is what the committed do. The irony is that those folks who like to wave their Gadsden flags and say, "Freedom isn't free!" are the first to desert their principles when the shit hits the fan.

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  2. Yeah, and the whirring sound you hear in the background is Ev Dirksen, whom I respected despite the fact that he was a Republican, spinning in his grave.

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