So, I am now officially registered as an unaffiliated voter.
This unaffiliated status follows fifty-five years as a registered Republican. The first President I voted for was Democrat John F. Kennedy. I was twenty-two. The last Democrat I voted for before becoming a Republican in 1965 was Lyndon Johnson. I was twenty-seven.
I am a product of Washington, DC, where I grew up and spent the early years of my career. After graduating from the University of Maryland, my first job was in marketing research as a project director for a small, well-respected marketing research firm in Washington, Walter Gerson, and Associates. One of my clients, a trade journal, accorded me press credentials, which turned me into a lifelong political junkie. I was present, front and center, at the Capitol’s east portico for John F. Kennedy’s Ask Not What Your Country Can Do for You, Ask What You Can do for Your Country inaugural address. I attended every Administration press conference I could whether it pertained to my client’s business or not. I loved being in the city, if not the room, where it happened.
After that, I became Vice President for Marketing Research for a Washington-New York advertising agency, The Manchester Organizations. I thoroughly enjoyed doing opinion research for a diverse clientele during those early years, including broadcast networks, food chains, national publications, consumer product companies, and a politician here and there.
In 1964, the late Larry Hogan (the father of the current Governor of Maryland) and I became partners in a public relations, advertising, and Washington association-management firm. I was twenty-six. Larry Hogan and I liked the idea that we, as partners in the business, were in different parties. After all, some prospective clients might be Democrats, and some might be Republicans.
But I left the Democratic Party and became a Republican in 1965 when I realized the extent of Lyndon Johnson’s deceit during his 1964 election campaign against Barry Goldwater. I had voted for Johnson. At a campaign appearance in Ohio in the fall of 1964, Johnson promised, “we are not about to send American boys 9,000 or 10,000 miles away from home (to Vietnam) to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.“
However, Johnson’s plan to escalate the war immediately after the election was already baked into the cake. On February 13, 1965, and less than a month after his inauguration (I remember because it was my 27th birthday), President Johnson authorized Operation Rolling Thunder, the continuous bombing of North Vietnam. A month later, the first 3500 US marine combat troops were on the ground, and by the end of the year, 185,000 US troops had followed them there. By the end of Johnson’s second year, he had called up over 400,000 men, among the first of 2,700,000 who would eventually see combat there. Fifty thousand would never return.
Frankly, it wasn’t the war itself that bothered me so much—not at first, anyway. Then, I had no way of judging the justification for the war, and I had completed my military service years earlier. As did most Americans at the time, I also believed that the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which was the linchpin for Rolling Thunder, involved an unprovoked attack on one of our ships in international waters. Subsequent investigations have determined that it was simply not true. No, it was, simply, Johnson’s bold-faced deceit during the ’64 campaign regarding his plans for the war that infuriated me.
Barry Goldwater had been warning that we were in a war in Vietnam, while Johnson was campaigning that we were not, nor were we about to send American troops to such a war. Johnson even campaigned that Goldwater would get us bogged down in war, but he would keep us out of the war. His clever but outrageous daisy commercial that suggested a Goldwater election would lead to nuclear annihilation is still an iconic reminder of just how deceitful Johnson’s campaign was.
He was lying about his intentions to escalate the war. I was furious and perhaps naïve. Notwithstanding Johnson’s remarkable success in passing the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964, I became a Republican, and I remained a Republican for the next half-century.
I was not merely registered as a Republican, but, in those early days, I was an active Republican. I was a senior strategist in one of the greatest Republican congressional upsets ever (Maryland’s 5th congressional district – Hogan vs. Machen, 1968). I wrote numerous campaign speeches (and even delivered a few when there were conflicts in Hogan’s schedule). I designed and managed political polls, participated in campaign strategy meetings, and handled all campaign advertising.
Larry Hogan and I sold our agency following his election to Congress to avoid any semblance of conflict, given that many of our clients required Washington representation.
In 1972, after Republican Larry Hogan had won three successive elections in Maryland’s heavily Democratic fifth district, my wife and I and our two young children relocated to Chicago where I joined the senior management team of a, then, newly public company, Waste Management, Inc., and there I remained for the next twenty years.
Since retiring I spend much of my tme writing historical fiction and publishing these weekly essays, of which this is the 485th. The first of this long series, “A Stimulus That Would Work,” was published on July 21, 2009.
So, I have been a Republican for over 50 years. What were the Republican principles that appealed to me? Well, mostly, that rampant growth of government sooner or later becomes burdensome to the very people government is there to serve, and that chronic deficits and excessive debt do matter.
I also believe that protectionism and trade barriers are, on balance, inconsistent with healthy global trade and not in the United States’ best interest. Nations that consume more goods than they produce will always have trade deficits, and we are one of the most consuming nations in the world. We will probably always consume more goods than we produce. Trade deficits are not a hobgoblin.
I believe that unfair trade practices should be dealt with collectively through international agreements. Unified action is preferable to the unilateral imposition of protective tariffs and the trade wars they produce. Generally, tariffs simply keep the cost of goods artificially high, and I believe they are inconsistent with promoting a robust and healthy economy. America’s position in high-tech, artificial intelligence, and other services will grow and play an ever-increasing role in world trade even as facets of the more traditional goods sector face growing pressure from rapidly emerging nations.
Tariffs will not provide long-term protection for industries that face competition from suppliers abroad who offer competitive products at a competitive cost. For example, steel tariffs are applied to the importation of imported raw steel but not to imported finished goods. So, foreign finished goods produced with foreign steel now compete with US finished goods made with steel that is now more expensive because of the tariffs. As a result, the Federal Reserve estimates that the steel tariffs have already resulted in the loss of 75,000 American jobs.
Tough tariffs provide pseudo-tough politicians with swagger, but they do not do much for the economy. Need proof? Our trade deficits have increased every year since Trump imposed his tariffs over what the trade deficits were when Obama left office. Our trade deficits in manufactured or agricultural goods with China are today approximately the same as they were when Trump imposed his tariffs. In the meantime, China’s retaliatory response decimated sectors of our agricultural industry, which in turn has necessitated tens of billions of dollars of aid to our farmers.
Our trade deficit in manufactured or agricultural goods during the Obama Administration’s last year was $346,825,000. Last year, with Trump’s tariffs, the trade deficit was 345,204,000, and the year before that, the deficit was $418,953,000. Lots of swagger, but not much difference in deficits.
My major issue in leaving the Republican Party isn’t with President Trump as much as it is with the GOP, my Old Party with the Grand awol. President Trump is neither true nor faithful to his Party nor its traditional principles. That’s not surprising, given that he has changed party affiliation five times. The Republican Party has become besotted with the President, principles be damned. For this, I suspect the Party will pay a stiff, and perhaps, a long-enduring penalty.
The Republican Party’s lockstep conformity with President Trump’s whims and wishes, at least until it dawned on several Republicans that the nation was taking note, has been harmful to both the country and the Party itself. It may very well cost the Republican Party both the Presidency and the United States Senate in a couple of days.
Hyperbole is common in political campaigns, but Goebbelsian shameful whoppers such as “I saved your suburban neighborhoods,” or “I beat the pandemic,” or “we’re turning the corner,” as the pandemic exceeds 100,000 new cases a day, or “I’ve done more for black Americans than anyone since, maybe, Abraham Lincoln,” or that “I produced the greatest economy the world has ever seen,” or his boast that he has a beautiful relationship with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, who simultaneously brandishes brand new monster nuclear missiles the size of Trump Tower capable of reaching any city in the United States.
When President Trump brags about the great pre-pandemic economy, he is largely praising the economy President Obama left him following the disaster Bush 43 handed Obama. Economic growth, employment growth, and household income improvement are all marginal incremental additions to Obama’s final years in the White House.
Specifically, Under Obama, from 2014 to 2016, GDP grew at an average annual rate of 2.5%. In Trump’s first three years, 2017 through 2019, real GDP expanded by an annual average of 2.6%—incremental and marginal growth. The US economy added 6.6 million jobs in Trump’s first three years, shy of the 8.1 million payroll gains in the last three years under Obama.
From the end of 2016 to the close of 2019, the nation added 1.27 million blue-collar jobs in construction and manufacturing, although factory jobs flatlined in 2019 thanks largely to Trump tariffs. During Obama’s last three years, construction and manufacturing gained 1.13 million jobs. While unemployment rates among Blacks, Asians, and Latinos dropped to their lowest rate in history under Trump, the actual change (or improvement) was greater under Obama.
Comparing Obama’s last three years as President, with Trump’s first three years, median income grew by 8.4%, slightly better than during President Trump’s first three years as President.
Both political parties have had their ups and downs over the years. The Republican Party has produced some of America’s most beloved Presidents. Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan quickly come to mind. Republicans have also had their Warren Hardings, Herbert Hoovers, and Richard Nixons. But Donald Trump seems to be in a world of his own, and just about the entire Republican Party has embraced Trump’s world.
The Nixonian Watergate nightmare represented a dark time for the Republican Party, but many Republicans acquitted themselves honorably when their President acted dishonorably. My former partner and dear friend, the late Larry Hogan, comes to mind. He became the first conservative Republican on the Rodino House Judiciary Committee to announce that he was voting for all three Articles of Impeachment against Nixon. His statement to the Committee is a veritable civics lesson. You can watch it by googling, “Larry Hogan Watergate.” He knew his decision meant he would lose what had become the safest Republican seat in the House. He knew his own Republican Party would turn him out in the next primary. I know that to be true because he called me the night before the vote. He was heartsick, but he knew what he had to do. Republican Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee was a dogged pursuer of facts during the Senate Watergate Committee hearings chaired by Democratic Senator Sam Irvin. Barry Goldwater went to the White House to tell Nixon he was through.
Today’s Republican Party has become the Party of Trump. The Party is silent on his demagoguery, on his dog whistles, on his tariffs, gargantuan deficits, and super-spreader, inane name-calling rallies. Far too many Republicans are eager to embrace his highly exaggerated claims of great accomplishment, either afraid to cross him or hopeful that his followers will also follow them. Such sycophantic behavior rarely turns out well.
One of the most treasured books in our library is an original edition of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self Reliance.” It teaches reliance on one’s introspection rather than the noise of the crowd; serious critical thinking rather than groupthink. Great leaders take their counsel in the realm of serious reflection rather than the rancor of raucous rallies.
I didn’t sign up for unwavering loyalty to a man, any man, when I became a Republican fifty-five years ago. Sometimes party loyalty can, indeed, demand too much. So, I’m out.