The Political Pendulum


The nation’s Capitol at sunset. Photo by Callen Harty.

Back in 2003 Wisconsin’s former governor, Lee Sherman Dreyfus, won the first-ever Courage Award from OutReach, Madison’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) community center. It was a long overdue recognition for his signing of the nation’s first gay rights law in 1982. In his remarks at the awards banquet that night Dreyfus talked about the Republican party and how he didn’t recognize it anymore. He more or less said that his party had been hijacked and was no longer the party that he knew and loved.

Two decades before that night there was an article in Madison’s Isthmus about how the conservative Christian movement intended to take power in this country. They felt that things had swung too far to the left and they had a grand plan to change that. They would start small, by winning seemingly inconsequential local elections, many of them uncontested, such as school board seats, city council seats, and the like. Once they became entrenched there they would start running for seats with a little more power, such as county boards. After securing places at the table at that level, they would start running for state offices and follow that with national offices. They would be patient. It could take decades to get into the most powerful positions in the country, but it was a long-range goal and they could wait. They knew they didn’t have the numbers or the support to start big, so they would start small, gain positions which would allow them to appoint and anoint others and little by little insert themselves into the political scene at every level. Their patience paid off.

Already by the early 2000s Republicans like Dreyfus had become aware that their party had been infiltrated and taken over by people whose agenda no longer resembled anything they had spent their lives working for, but they recognized it too late. The Republican party had become the party of religious zealots who were determined to undo Roe vs. Wade, the gains in LGBT rights, unions and workers’ rights, and any other progressive milestones they could. The Christian right had entrenched themselves so thoroughly into the party that there could no longer be such a thing as a liberal Republican and even moderate Republicans became afraid of opposing anything the right-wingers supported. They gave in and followed like herds of mindless sheep. Those who didn’t were challenged in elections in which races were judged by the media according to who had the largest war chests, not who had ideas or who cared the most about their state or nation. Whomever could raise the most money became the way to determine who was the best candidate and most likely to win. When the Citizens United decision was handed down by the U. S. Supreme Court it made the money mandate even clearer.

As the years passed the right-wing became even more determined. The Republican party kept pushing farther and farther to the right and along with it the Democratic party also tilted further right. They felt they had to in order to survive. The Christian right had convinced the country that “liberal” was an evil word and those who had previously considered themselves liberal tried to deflect any association with liberalism in order to woo voters. They no longer wanted to claim what they truly believed. Even if they remained liberal they chose to hide that instead of proudly proclaiming it because the word had become anathema to the masses of voters. To win elections they pandered at best to the middle and at worst veered off-center to the right. For votes and power, they sold themselves out. With the exception of a handful of politicians like Bernie Sanders, Dennis Kucinich, Paul Wellstone, and a few others, most politicians in both parties were shifting further and further toward more conservative and archaic views. Bill Clinton led the Democrats to the middle and then to the right of middle in order to ensure getting elected and staying in power. And as the Democrats abandoned their heritage the Republicans gained more and more power. It began to feel like a return to the Dark Ages.

Today, the age is even darker. Neither of the two major political parties resembles what they were even thirty or forty years ago. Imagine a George McGovern being nominated today. It’s out of the realm of possibility. Ronald Reagan would be too liberal for much of the country these days. Politicians who half a century ago seemed conservative would now be considered left-wingers. The Christians of several decades ago are also unrecognizable. While there are some ministers and churches that still preach love, compassion, generosity, and other teachings that used to be the cornerstones of Christian theology, Christianity today is dominated by megachurches and ordained men and women who preach the gospel of prosperity. Pastors who are supposed to be men of god denigrate the tired, the poor, the huddled masses, the wretched refuse of society, the homeless, and the tempest-tossed. Their god is not a merciful, loving god. Their god is money and power. If Jesus were to return as they say he will he would upend the altars of the money-changers in the temples. This modern-day Christianity is unrecognizable. It claims the Bible but only uses the book to justify political positions. The passage of rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s, will likely disappear from newer translations of the Bible.

We are living in a time in which church and state are colluding to rob from the poor to give to the rich. Every gain that has been made for the betterment of society in the last one hundred years is being examined and overturned. Laws that protected common citizens, the environment, and more are being reversed so that the money-lenders and the wealthy have more and more while most of the citizens have less and less. Somehow the citizens elected a reality television star to the Presidency and he has thrown us into the most unreal of times, where racism is on the rise, common sense laws are being trashed, and we are sinking into a political, social, and moral abyss. It feels like we are witnessing the decline and fall of the American empire.

It’s amazing how the press is now calling the battle between Mitch McConnell and Roy Moore the battle for the soul of the Republican Party. As if it hadn’t already lost its soul. As if either man, whether it be the heartless party leader who sold his soul to corporate America ages ago or the man who sold his to the devil and molested teenage girls decades ago, could claim any kind of moral compass or standing. If these are the claimants to the soul of the party, then there is truly nothing left to salvage. We are sinking, and sinking fast. Maybe, like an alcoholic hitting rock bottom, we had to fall this far–and hopefully no more–before we could rise again a renewed and better nation.

One can hope that this is the furthest right reach of the political pendulum. Perhaps the grand plan has succeeded too well and Americans will wake up to the reality that the far right-wing politicians and ministers in this country are leading us into hell so that they can reside in a heaven of their own making. There are some signs that maybe there is a new morning in America. The recent elections in which several women and minorities were elected around the country, another Democratic state Senate win in Oklahoma, the few Republicans standing up to Trump and naming him for the charlatan he is are all hopeful signs that the end of this far right-wing reign of error is about to start its decline. Those who care about the tired, the poor, the huddling masses, those who care about the future of this nation need to do their best to see that it happens. It is time for the pendulum to swing back. It is time for Democrats to return to their roots or for a new progressive party to rise from the ash heap of our modern society. It is our only hope.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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