My Kind of Loser

Harry Welty

My Republican grandfather had a soft spot for Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater. When, after the 1964 presidential election, he learned that his daughter (my mother) had voted for a Democrat, Lyndon Johnson, it almost broke his heart. That election put conservativism out to pasture for the rest of the decade and made Goldwater a byword for loser among the young, liberal, JFK worshiping crowd I went to college with. 

In 1971 I got an opportunity to spend the summer in Congress as a college intern for a good-natured Republican Congressman, Ancher Nelsen. He was so reviled for being a Republican that no one from the neighboring college, Gustavus Adolphus, was willing to work for him that summer. That was good fortune for me as I was about to become a sophomore at Mankato State College. It gave me the opportunity to attend lectures by some of the leading lights of the 1970’s. 

At the time my political hero was one of the last Republican liberals, Senator John Percy of Illinois. I eagerly attended a lecture he gave to an auditorium full of college interns. Although I didn’t know it Senator Percy had a hearing aid. When he kept asking students to repeat their questions some of them began to let loose loud histrionic sighs of disbelief and impatience. For these rude, young progressives Percy, liberal as he was, was a detested Republican. His hearing disability only served to inflame and stiffen their condescension.

If John Percy received a rude greeting from my intern peers I hate to think about the welcome they gave my Grandfather’s hero, Barry Goldwater. I did not witness it because, like my parents, I was not a fan of his. Nonetheless, despite Goldwater’s defense of American involvement in Vietnam and skepticism of the civil rights movement I felt he was owed respect. When I later heard how raucously he had been treated by my fellow interns I was incensed. These self-righteous young jerks might just as well have insulted my Grandfather as far as I was concerned. This episode helped coax me into the arms of the College Republican as the 1972 presidential election gathered steam. I still had no intention of voting for Richard Nixon. My candidate was the ex-marine and anti-war Congressman Pete McCloskey who got a single vote for President at the Republican National Convention in Miami. Much to his chagrin, it deprived Richard Nixon of a unanimous vote.

On Saturday a second, conservative, Arizona Senator “loser,” John McCain, died. Even in death McCain was treated with more disrespect than his predecessor Goldwater was treated by those liberal college kids back in 1971. However, the rude treatment heaped on the departed McCain came at the hands of the sitting “Republican” President of the United State. I’ll never forgive the draft dodging Trump for calling McCain a loser because the young aviator was caught, imprisoned and tortured by the Vietnamese. Compare Trump to Pham Minh Chuc, one of McCain’s torturers, who showered his former prisoner with accolades upon hearing of the Senator’s death. 

Unlike McCain’s predecessor Goldwater, I stood one hundred percent behind McCain in the 2000 Presidential election. That was the year that “Deep State” big money Republicans sabotaged McCain ahead of the racially sensitive South Carolina primary by robo-calling Republican voters to tell them that McCain had fathered a black daughter. Later that year the newly Republicanized Supreme Court took away the decision to rule on the results of Florida’s presidential vote from Florida’s courts to insure a Republican Presidency rather than one lead by Vice President Al Gore, a Democrat.

Its been hard for me to sympathize with self-righteous Republicans since that election even though I think I cast a reluctant vote for Bush. I took that election to heart because I was effectively the head of the Duluth for McCain campaign. As such, I put a website up for McCain as well as a homemade four-by-eight-foot lawnsign in my yard.

What the Republican Party did to John McCain helps explain how it managed to make Donald Trump’s snake oil look more honest to the latest iteration of the “Republican base.” If the Party of Lincoln is to survive Trumpism it must somehow rediscover the soul of the second Arizona Senator to be called a loser and hope that it rises again from the ashes like the bird for which Arizona’s capital takes its name. 

Harry Welty is a local eccentric, and “perennial candidate,” who also pontificates on his blog: www.lincolndemocrat.com