The Universal Notebook: Bring back compassionate conservatism

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., got in hot water last week for saying, “I don’t know how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican, OK?”

Obviously, such a politically incorrect statement incorrectly suggests that all people of Hispanic heritage think alike. But I know exactly what Reid meant.

These days, given the extremism that has infested the Republican Party, I don’t know how anyone who is not a white male making more than $250,000 a year could be a Republican. If you a member of any minority – ethnic, religious, sexual orientation – the newly virulent GOP not only doesn’t have anything to offer you, it just plain doesn’t want you.

Here in Maine, where we still have mainstream Main Street Republicans and socially progressive Republicans such as Sens. Snowe and Collins, we’re somewhat insulated from this GOP extremism. But if Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage wants to get the Tea Party monkey off his back, all he has to do is repudiate the Republican state platform, a viper’s nest of the nastiness that’s going on elsewhere in the country.

And even LePage has played the ethnicity card, suggesting that when people question his support for creationism they are attacking him for being a Franco-American Catholic, as though all Franco-American Catholics are creationists.

Back in 2000, when George W. Bush campaigned as a “compassionate conservative,” I had no idea what he meant. The two words seemed contradictions in terms to me. But a decade on, Bush’s party would do well to consider being a little more compassionate.

It seems as though every day in this August political silly season, a GOP leader somewhere espouses some perfectly unkind, unconstitutional and un-American policy. Where President Bush advocated immigration reforms that provided a path to citizenship, for instance, no Republican candidate today seems interested in any form of immigration reform that doesn’t involve jail time or deportation.

While Tea Party conservatives angrily wave the Constitution, they are busy attacking the Fourteenth Amendment for providing birth-right citizenship and equal protection to gays and lesbians. And while they thump their Bibles, they want to deny Muslims the religious freedom to worship in mosques. Here in Maine, we see through this hysterical hypocrisy. At least when a mosque in Portland recently ran into a little official opposition, it was just a matter of parking ordinances.

The xenophobic vision of America currently coming from the national Republican leadership is not a vision any true American could support. It is a vision that sees all people of Hispanic heritage as illegal aliens, all Muslims as terrorists and all foreigners as enemies. Anyone who needs public assistance is a welfare cheat. Climate change is a liberal conspiracy. All taxation is robbery. All government is tyranny. And any attempt to find political solutions to social problems is socialism.

Harry Reid’s GOP opponent, Sharron Angle, when she isn’t busy ducking the media and trying to get her foot out of her mouth, is out campaigning to eliminate Social Security, the Environmental Protection Agency and all forms of entitlement. And, incredibly, she is sometimes cheered on by the very people who will suffer if she wins – folks on Social Security and people who collect pensions as retired teachers, military personnel, defense contractors or law enforcement officers.

To tell you the honest truth, I sometimes wonder how anyone could be a Republican these days. George W. Bush, for all his failings, is starting to look pretty darn good compared to the 2010 crop of misanthropes leading the GOP.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.