My father is a member of the Greatest Generation. He is 89-year-old -- a military man who served in three wars, on three continents, over three and a half decades. After retiring at the rank of colonel from the U.S. Air Force, Dad worked a second career as a banker. He is conservative, especially on fiscal matters. He is smart and well-educated, with a BA he earned on the GI Bill after WWII and an MBA he earned a few years before retirement. Dad believes in hard work, achievement, duty, family, responsibility, honesty, and integrity. He also believes in freedom and personal accountability. He is a practical man who often says, "One's idealism is in direct proportion to one's distance from the problem." Dad has been a lifelong Republican ... until a few years ago.
Today, Dad calls himself "a former Republican." He didn't leave his political party -- his party left him. "It's not my Republican party anymore," he says. "It's been hijacked by the Christian Right, and I have to tell you, they scare me more than any Muslim terrorists." Dad is leery of extremists of any stripe, having witnessed firsthand the terrible lengths to which extremists will go in the name of their cause. Muslims, Christians, Jews -- it doesn't matter the religion -- it's the absolutism, it's the "my way or the highway" mentality that worries my father.
Dad was horrified and heartbroken when President George W. Bush started the war in Iraq. "A bad war, a very bad war," Dad said at the time, shaking his head in sadness. He knew the price we would pay in life and limb. "War should always be a last resort," Dad says. "You only go to war after you have tried everything else to resolve the problem. Only after you've exhausted all other options do you resort to war. Even then, you do so reluctantly. War is hell ... you don't want to go there unless you absolutely have to."
Dad was right, of course. Thousands of young American men and women are dead, tens of thousands maimed, and hundreds of thousands emotionally and psychologically traumatized for life. In addition to the human price, there's the enormous financial price tag for that misguided war -- billions of dollars, much of it squandered, wasted, or lost -- and billions more will be spent in years to come as we continue caring for those legions of veterans who will require a lifetime of medical and psychological support. Bush's Folly is America's tragedy. "Bush is the worst President of my lifetime," Dad says, "... probably the worst in American history."
Gallagher Family, 1951: Dad, Mom, and me in Tachikawa, Japan
My father doesn't recognize his party anymore. This is not the party of Eisenhower and Reagan and certainly not the party of Lincoln. Today's Republican party is anti-intellectual, anti-education, anti-government, anti-taxes, anti-reasonable debate and anti-sensible solutions -- it is the party of "no." Today's GOP is not about shared financial responsibility for the greater good -- instead they have adopted "no tax increases" as an article of faith. "It's a religion to them," Dad says, "and you can't argue with religion, because people believe in it no matter what the objective facts are. Decades of economic history have shown that so-called 'trickle-down economics' doesn't work, but the Republicans still believe in it. It's become their religion and you can't reason with true believers."
My father is now a man without a party. It must be hard for Dad, no longer having a political home, no community of intelligent, practical, moderate, civic-minded people with whom to share a common vision, a common goal, and common values. It must be lonely. It must be disheartening. It must feel weird to have your tribe, your team, your political community change so dramatically right before your very eyes. It's as if a herd of intelligent elephants suddenly, inexplicably made a sharp right turn -- with no rhyme or reason -- and stampeded right off the cliff of insanity.
I can feel my father's frustration when we talk politics. He voted for Obama in the last two elections -- not because he necessarily supports everything Obama stands for, but because he respects the president. Dad sees Obama as intelligent, thoughtful, pragmatic, moderate, willing to compromise and work toward practical solutions in an incredibly complex world. Dad sees his former party as having lost its collective mind -- and its soul.
My father is a member of the Greatest Generation. His party used to be known as the Grand Old Party. Both are dying -- but sadly for Dad, it seems his party has predeceased him. R.I.P. GOP.
BJ Gallagher is the author of over two dozen books. Her latest is "The Power of Positive DOING" (Simple Truths).