On a rare visit to Republican state headquarters last month, we saw a picture of Herbert Hoover on the wall but none of Abraham Lincoln. This is the sort of thing that scares you about Republicans.
Lincoln was the greatest Republican president, of course, maybe the greatest American president from any party. (The only competition among Republicans was Theodore Roosevelt, and we didn't see his picture either. George W. Bush was conspicuously present.) Hoover was a historic flop, unable and/or unwilling to help the millions of Americans who were ill-fed and ill-housed during the Great Depression.
Indifference and ignorance are qualities the Republicans value, evidently. Not only do they turn Lincoln's picture to the wall, they've just elected a state representative from Hot Spring County who gives speeches and writes letters to the editor saying what a sorry bastard Lincoln was. A Confederate sympathizer, the new legislator seems to carry a grudge over that Emancipation business.
It's hard to expect anything positive from people like this. And yet, we must. America is the land of the freest and most hopeful, and there's a connection. People who think there's no hope of good government stop working for it. Despair is the enemy of democracy.
Maybe the Republican gains in Washington and Arkansas will not be quite as awful as they now seem. Sometimes, greater authority brings greater responsibility. It's easier to be intemperate when you don't have to stand behind your remarks, or try to win support from people of differing views. With more skin in the game, Republicans may realize that saying "no" is not enough, that the American way is to be for something occasionally, that hurling threats and insults at non-Republicans may be fun but it's futile.
Amazing but true, some of the Republican candidates who didn't win were even worse than those who did, and surely there are Party members who will notice and learn. Republicans can't accomplish anything worthwhile by continuing to indulge far-right extremists like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich. To be relevant, governmentally and politically, Republicans will have to move toward the center.
Hugo Black was never a Republican, so far as we know, but he was a Ku Klux Klansman and that's pretty close to teabagger Republicanism. Yet he went on to be a great Supreme Court justice. So did Earl Warren, who as a Republican attorney general had herded Japanese-Americans into concentration camps. People do learn and they do change, now and then. Remembering that will perhaps make Christmas and the New Year a little less unhappy.