The Republican Party has given us great moderate leaders: Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower. It's given us flawed leaders who were nonetheless great Americans. I think of Ulysses S. Grant, of Thaddeus Stevens, who won the Civil War and was a true believer in reconstruction.
I don't know where the tradition I've just described broke off and this new thing took over. I think it was the passage of the Civil Rights bill in 1964 - when the enemies of civil rights flipped from the party of Jefferson to the party of Strom Thurmond. Or maybe it was the Supreme Court ruling banning prayer in public school.
But what we have today is different, deeply different from the party that fought slavery and championed conservation.
I listen to Palin and Gingrich and Bachman and Huckabee and what they believe. I listen to Romney and Pawlenty and now Trump trying to talk their language and I think we're talking something very different than mainstream Republicanism - the kind that has long won in the independent, moderate suburbs, won with the people I grew up with, with my family actually.
Palin talks like thinking isn't necessary; it may not even be good for people. Gingrich uses his mind to say truly hateful things. Huckabee is a theocrat, someone whose statements about the Mideast are downright incendiary. Mitt Romney knows better. So does Pawlenty. I'd hate to see Haley Barbour start dueling in these woods. He might be smart enough to beat these folks at their own game.
But beware, Haley or anyone else who's thinking of joining the jamboree. The evidence out there is that in the Republican Party today you can't say you believe in science, in evolution, in climate change, in gay rights, in separation of church and state. If you do, you lose the zealots, and the zealots will be waiting in Iowa to make you eat your words.
John McCain tried to beat them, once. The family values types went after his family. George Bush's father tried to take them on. Ronald Reagan managed to charm them but he was a rarity. The danger today is that the only way to win the Republican presidential nomination is to get past the gate keepers of the right, and they aren't looking to let anybody past who isn't dead right like them.
Maybe this is God's will, that Obama not have a reasonable opponent. How's that for an incendiary statement?