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Is Party Affiliation Conviction or Tradition?
Jimmy Moore
May 9, 2002

Last week, Rush Limbaugh had a young, articulate and conservative-thinking African-American man on his show explaining how he tries to convert his diehard black Democratic friends to become Republicans. He detailed to Rush how he lays out the general philosophy of Republicans, such as lowering taxes, getting rid of government intrusion in peoples lives, etc. without identifying which party favors those ideas. When the friends become interested, he tells them that the ideas he described are exactly what Republicans want to do. As soon as the word “Republican” is used, most of his friends change their minds and immediately oppose all of those ideas.

This was an interesting concept to me. However, I dismissed it as a problem that was limited to the issue of race. Unfortunately, an experience I had just this past weekend revealed to me that this issue of party affiliation goes much deeper than the color of our skin!

I attended a retirement dinner in Martin, Tennessee for one of my political science professors and faculty advisors at the University of Tennessee at Martin last Saturday evening. Dr. Ted Mosch, the professor who is retiring after 30 years, has been the token conservative political science teacher on campus amongst the rest of the established liberal faculty. He was probably the first person I ever heard who could clearly articulate conservative principles on a practical level. His influence on my life is also a big reason why I am so active in the Republican Party today!

Dr. Mosch used to assert that he believes most of his students are fiscally conservative, but socially liberal. He came to this conclusion after seeing the problems that students had with alcohol, illegal drugs and promiscuous sex during college throughout his tenure as a professor. These same students would come to his classes and espouse policies that would make Trent Lott smile. However, many of these students grew up in generations of families who have been Democrats their entire lives.

I was astonished to find that about 99% of the friends and former students who were in attendance at the retirement dinner for Dr. Mosch were Democrats (Another interesting sidenote is that about 90% of Dr. Mosch’s former students who were in attendance were also attorneys! And all the attorneys were Democrats!). Needless to say, a lot of laughs were thrown at Republicans and at Dr. Mosch throughout the evening because he associated himself with the Republican Party.

One example of this was during a slide show tribute to Dr. Mosch. I overheard some of the other political science professors responding to a picture they saw of Dr. Mosch standing with some elephants in Mexico. One of them quipped, “there’s Mosch hanging with the Republicans again!” Dr. Mosch got back at them when he got up to speak and said that he would have to go back to Mexico so he could get some pictures made with him sitting on a donkey! The joking about party affiliation was all in good fun, but it opened my eyes to how deep-rooted the tradition of being a Democrat is to people in Tennessee.

Even as I was talking to one of my former classmates during dinner, he told me that he is running for a local political office in the small town he lives in. After he found out that I am pursuing work as a political consultant/campaign communications advisor, he asked me what advice I could give him for his campaign. Before I realized what his party affiliation was, I asked him to tell me more about his opponent in the race.

He nonchalantly said that his rival is a “Newt Gingrich-like Republican.” When I heard this, the first thing that crossed my mind about the Republican candidate was that he must be a principled conservative who has great ideas for changing government. However, the next words out of my former classmate’s mouth in continuing his description of his Republican foe was “he’s a lightning rod!” That immediately clued me in that this remark that I had assumed was a compliment about his opponent was actually an insult. Nevertheless, I was cordial to him and offered some campaign advice for him to follow.

I was amazed over and over again as I was talking to people how faithful they are to the Democratic Party in Tennessee. They are in the midst of a very similar race for Governor as we have in South Carolina. The only difference is the party affiliations are switched. The incumbent Governor is a weak Republican named Don Sundquist and he is being challenged by a boatload of Democratic candidates who are in a hotly contested primary race. Sundquist’s reelection poll numbers are very similar to the ones that Jim Hodges has right now.

Surprisingly, as I was talking to these “Democrats,” what I heard coming from their mouths was nothing short of astounding! Many of them are in favor of conservative platforms such as lowering taxes and school vouchers. If they had not told me they were Democrats, I would have never guessed it! But, as soon as I said that I was a “Republican,” you would think I cursed their mother.

They would go into a tirade about this and that about why they hated Republicans. I was listening carefully to see if I could hear ANY good reason from them why they have such a distaste for Republicans and choose to be Democrats. Not once was this explained in any of the conversations.

In fact, one of my other former professors, Dr. Richard Chesteen, even decided to chime in. Because he knew I was an active Republican, he decided to take a shot at the Republican Party at my expense. He said to me in front of the group, “yeah, Jimmy, even I would support and vote for an honest, upstanding Republican who is the right man for the job over a Democrat anyday. However, I haven’t found one yet!”

As I was thinking about this experience on my drive back to South Carolina on Sunday, my thoughts went back to that young African-American man on The Rush Limbaugh Show. His ordeal with his friends mirrored what I saw at the retirement dinner. As long as the party affiliation was left out of the conversation, many conservative principles were favored. But as soon as the word “Republican” was brought into the mix, it’s as if these “Democrats” turned off their brains!

Here is a question for you to ponder: Switch the party affiliation around and don’t we do the exact same thing as Republicans in South Carolina? Whenever the word “Democrat” comes up, are we not quick to ridicule Jim Hodges and Dick Harpootlian (don’t get me wrong, I think they deserve it!)? But there is a deeper question that needs to be asked.

Is party affiliation conviction or tradition?

What I see across this country are a lot of conservative thinking people walking around who like issues such as lower taxes and less government who are and will always be Democrats. For many of these people, who live primarily in the South, their ancestors have always voted Democrat. It was like a family heirloom passed down from generation to generation. The first Republican that many of them ever voted for, reluctantly, was Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984.

I remember my mother telling me that her mom would roll over in her grave if she knew that my mother had voted for a Republican when she voted for Reagan. I do not understand this nor do I want to. This kind of undying commitment to a political party without any basis for supporting it is foolish. And we conservative Republicans wonder why Democrats keep getting elected to office over and over again. Much of the Democratic Party is comprised of these programmed, mind-numbed robots!

The question we should be asking ourselves is whether Republicans are any different? Are we Republicans because our ancestors were and passed it down to us as a political legacy? If so, then we are just as guilty as the Democrats.

Nevertheless, there will always be some voters, even in South Carolina, who will always vote for the Democratic candidate over the Republican candidate without blinking an eye. That’s the only way I can see Jim Hodges getting any votes in the general election this November!

With South Carolina’s past history as a Democratic Party stronghold, I sincerely doubt that the sweeping wind of conservatism that now blows across our state has much to do with family tradition. It is my contention that people who call themselves Republicans in South Carolina identify themselves that way because they have a strong conviction within themselves to support the principles that are espoused by the Republican Party. If this is true, then the Republican Party faithful are to be commended. It is up to each individual South Carolinian to determine for themselves why they belong to the political party they choose.

Then and only then will they know if their party affiliation is based on conviction or tradition.

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