WHITHER THE REASONABLE REPUBLICAN?
by Jonathan Pedde, Contributing Columnist
Published on Monday, October 25, 2010
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Reading the op-ed pages of America’s left-of-center newspapers, it would seem that the Republican Party is being overrun by angry, homophobic, anti-immigrant crackpots. For centrists like me who believe in the importance of having two sane national parties, this would be a terribly depressing prospect. But, just when one could be forgiven for thinking that all hope is lost, Fred Karger comes to the rescue.
Who is Fred Karger? That’s exactly what I asked when I first heard of him. He is a former political consultant who is considering running for president as an independent Republican in 2012. He got his start in politics in 1964 working for Nelson Rockefeller. Most recently, Karger founded the watchdog group Californians Against Hate and was active in the campaign to stop California’s Proposition 8, which outlawed gay marriage. If he decides to run in the 2012 Republican primaries, he will be the first openly gay person to run for president.
While there are many adjectives that could describe Karger’s outlook on life, angry is not one of them. Karger spoke at Dartmouth on Oct. 14. Including myself, about 40 people attended. During his speech, Karger emphasized how he wants to bring a sense of optimism back to America. He particularly admires Ronald Reagan’s ability to remain optimistic, even during the depths of the nasty recession of the early 1980s. For pragmatists like myself who are looking for more than mere sentimentality in a politician, there is also a very important practical side to Karger’s optimism: When the economy is deeply depressed and interest rates are stuck at zero, consumer and business expectations of future prosperity (or lack thereof) can become self-fulfilling. Perhaps a president who irrationally maintains a sense of optimism in the worst of times wouldn’t be such a bad thing right now.
More importantly, I think that Karger may actually be a politician who will be able to reach across the increasingly polarized partisan divide. For starters, unlike some of our current elected officials who sold themselves as “post-partisan” candidates, Karger is willing to criticize members of his own party. In fact, during his speech at Dartmouth, Karger had more bad things to say about Mike Huckabee alone than all of the Democrats combined. I agree with some of Karger’s criticisms of Huckabee (especially on Huckabee’s comparison of homosexuality to drug abuse and polygamy) and disagree with others (that we need to be tougher on crime than Huckabee was a governor). But the fact that Karger is actually willing to look at his own party with just as critical an eye as he does for his opponents is an important quality nonetheless.
Furthermore, Karger is actually willing to break with his party’s orthodoxies when his conscience dictates. Not only does he support immediate repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell as well as the legalization of gay marriage, he also supports immigration reform. He wants a path to citizenship for immigrants already living in the country as well as improved border security to discourage future law-breaking. When asked how he would go about “improving” border security, Karger replied that he wasn’t sure, but had an open mind on the issue. As the grandson of German refugees, I especially appreciate Karger’s statement that immigrants are not here for a hand-out, but for the opportunity to succeed by working hard. Likewise, Karger is excited about wind and solar energy as well as energy conservation. To him, the possibilities seem obvious: “Why do people wear sweaters in their air-conditioned homes during the summer?” he queried during the speech.
Actually, Karger’s ability to reach across the partisan divide isn’t just hypothetical. During the 2008 California elections, Karger and Californians Against Hate sided with organized labor — not exactly the kind of organizations with whom you would expect a Republican to be working — in the campaign against Proposition 8.
Karger is exactly the kind of Republican that I would like to see succeed: Optimistic, willing to engage in serious self-examination and able to work for the good of the country even if that means working with the Democrats. It is very telling that, during the 2008 presidential elections, he supported Hillary Clinton, but no Republican candidates. He knows that he “probably won’t win” the primaries, but a Rockefeller Republican like Karger is exactly what the country needs right now.