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April 24, 2012


Roy Meachum

There have many press complaints – including mine – about how American parties have turned radical. For my sin, I must say “mea culpa.” It’s the very essence of politics: promise anything to win the people’s favor. All over the world. Elections don’t have to be at stake. “Uneasy the head that wears a crown” is not a recent saying.


In democracies, incumbency rates as very favorable among many voters. We daily witness the shenanigans of the party “out” trying to get back “in.” Democrats or Republicans, it doesn’t matter. After the Civil War, the GOP adopted “the bloody shirt” to beat on their opponents. During the Great Depression, adherents of Franklin Delano Roosevelt rode high.


The Washington Post hired me in the wake of “McCarthyism” that reached its height during the Cold War. (By the way, I was assigned to cover Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy’s “last day in Washington,” caused by his drinking himself dead.) Arizona’s Barry Goldwater was not defeated by Lyndon B. Johnson; fear of his self-pronounced “extremism” did him in. Americans tend to select leaders who veer not too broadly in either direction. In the GOP presidential primaries, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul fared not well with his libertarian views that seemed at least “exotic” to party voters.


Named as the favorite months ago, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had a helluva problem pinning down the nomination because he was “not as conservative,” as a noisy band of Republicans called for. The recently presumptive GOP candidate must be careful not to swing in the ultra-conservatives’ favor. Friends have turned into radical Tea Partyers in the current political climate; they deny their extremism, calling it “common sense.” Perhaps in deference to my age, we don’t talk much about the subject.


In the spiritual arena, my columns have long rued the disintegration into a dictatorship of the Roman Catholic Church that I grew up in. Safely from a pew in New Market’s Grace Episcopal Church, I watch Pope Benedict XVI march both the curia and membership into the 19th century reactionary policies of Pius X. The Vatican’s latest coup came against the leadership conference of American nuns that is accused of basically acting like priests and men. Vocations, for both women and men, have reached a crisis stage.


The Holy Cross College I lived in for six years used to be staffed by brothers, nuns and two priests. The last time I returned to New Orleans there was not a sister’s cowl and Roman collar in sight. Speaking of extremism, Benedict XVI appears to be determined to shrink the church into a small, “manageable” congregation, safely removed from all dissenters. At age 85, this pope displays little concern in steering the church into the 21st century.


Ron Paul is not the only American politician who wants to propel the country into a slightly askew position. Others want to go back to the 18th century when the U.S. Constitution was framed. The National Rifle Association is firmly fixed on the Second Amendment written while the new nation relied on a militia that could provide their own arms and ammunition. There have been numerous constitutional classes offered lately that ignore legal or social changes in the last 223 years.


Financial anarchy I can understand forces humans to search for weird as well as conventional solutions. But the economy is now righting itself. Dow-Jones stock index poises around 13,000 again, the way it was before Wall Street kicked it to the knees.


The only advice I can come up with: Calm down, people – of every political persuasion.


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