By BOB RUSSO
As a teenager growing up in Newark in the 1950 and ’60s, I helped my father run his small business while attending great public schools. I saw him support President Dwight D. Eisenhower, his hero from World War II, after serving his country proudly to defeat the dictators of Europe. My father was a “Progressive Republican” who supported New Jersey’s popular pro-labor Republican Sen. Clifford Case, Republican Congressman Matthew Rinaldo, Congresswomen Flo Dwyer and Millicent Fenwick. He eventually became a Democrat when the Republican Party nominated right-wing candidates for president and Congress, who tried to undo all the progress for middle class families from the FDR New Deal. “Ike” was the last Republican president my dad felt comfortable supporting, since he continued most of these economic and social policies, even sending troops into Little Rock to integrate the schools!
I have been teaching about American political parties for many years at Montclair State, Kean and Rutgers universities. My students have all studied the important history of the Republican Party, since its first great president, Abraham Lincoln, saved our union and ended slavery. They have marveled at the progressive leadership of our youngest-ever president, Theodore Roosevelt, as he fought big corporations on behalf of the working families and unions from 1901 through 1908. In 1912, TR was forced to run as an independent “Progressive Party”candidate because his own party bosses and wealthy interests prevented him from reclaiming the presidency, even after he won every Republican primary!
What has happened to the party of Abe Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt and Ike? I am a lifelong “Kennedy Democrat” who also admires all of these past progressive and moderate Republican leaders. They worked with many Democrats to pass civil rights legislation and welcomed the diversity and strength that “a nation of immigrants” brings to our America.
When I supported a “Welcoming Community” resolution recently at the Montclair Township Council meeting, I and my colleagues were accused of being “anti Trump.” I responded to that unfair accusation by saying “we are not against Trump; Trump may be against us!” We are not anti-Trump or anti-Republican, but we ARE against policies that are anti-Montclair values. The current administration’s cabinet appointments are anti-public education, anti-environment, anti-civil rights, anti-affordable housing, anti-union, anti-immigration, anti-universal health care, anti-fair taxation … in short, anti-Montclair and anti-New Jersey interests and values.
We need moderate/progressive Republicans like John Kasich, Tom Kean and Christie Whitman, to retake their party and work with progressive Democrats like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Jerry Brown, to solve our nation’s pressing problems in a bipartisan coalition, “a team of rivals,” like the one Lincoln forged during the Civil War. This may seem impossible now, but it has been done in the past, when the Republican Party was at times as “progressive” as the Democratic Party is today!
No, we are not anti-anybody, we are pro the great American tradition of progressive leadership which both parties have at many times reflected throughout our nation’s history.
Bob Russo serves on the Township Council as councilman-at-large, and was mayor of Montclair from 2000 to 2004.