Readers might think from the tenor of my writings that I am a Democrat. But since I first began voting in 1956 I have always considered myself an independent with no firm commitment to any particular party or ideology.

Until the presidential election of 2000 I had voted for exactly the same number of Republican as Democratic presidential candidates. My logic? Neither party has all the answers but by maintaining a flexible balance we can navigate that elusive political, economic and social middle road on which so many Americans aspire to travel. And throughout most of my early years this strategy seems to have worked exceedingly well. But then along came the 1960s and the “Big Switcheroo.”

This ideological divide actually began when President Truman integrated the armed forces in 1948 by executive order. Then early in the 1960s President Lyndon Johnson, to his everlasting credit, pushed civil and voting rights legislation through Congress. In reaction South Carolina Senator and 1948 Dixiecrat presidential candidate J. Strom Thurmond defected to the Republican Party and the stampede was on. Almost overnight the once Democratic “Solid South” became solidly Republican.

Since Reconstruction times a political and ideological balance of power existed in Congress. The Northeast-West Coast liberal establishment was balanced by an “Unholy Alliance” of Midwest conservative Republicans and southern segregationist Democrats. But although politically and ideologically opposed the two parties worked together and compromised on legislation for the overall good of the country. But after the 1960s divide they are mired today in a “hell no, never!” confrontational deadlock. “Democrat” and “Republican” have become mere synonyms for “liberal” and “conservative.” The former mutual cooperation for the good of all Americans is mostly unworkable today.

It is common knowledge that whenever newly elected legislators arrive in Washington they must immediately begin working on financing their next election. It’s all about the money today. But before we criticize too harshly let me ask an uncomfortable question: How much did each of us donate to our candidates’ campaigns in the last election? Notice that I used the first-person pronoun “us.”

Contrary to what we are often promised, change is not going to come from the top down. It must start at the grass-roots level: school boards, county commissioners, sheriffs, tax assessors, et. al. And it will be a long, hard, uphill effort to restore our working democratic republic, but we can pull it off, that is, if we really care.

Around sixty years ago a bunch of young rank amateurs up in Hamilton County, Tenn., with little money and no political experience whatsoever organized themselves, rang doorbells, made phone calls, put out candidate signs and bumper stickers and elected Bill Brock, a candidate with no previous political experience, as Congressman from Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District. Brock went on to become a noted senator and a widely respected Secretary of Labor. About all these young amateurs had going for them in the beginning was a willingness to work and the fact that they deeply cared. It was a classic example of grassroots political action at its best. We desperately need some type of volunteerism and initiative in our body politic today. But where is it going to come from?

George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at reed1600@bellsouth.net.

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