Paul Greenberg

"If the Republican Party cannot get some grip of the actual world we live in," he prophesied, "and from it generalize and actively promote a program that means something to masses of people - why, somebody else will. There will be nothing to argue. The voters will simply vote Republicans into singularity. The Republican Party will become like one of those dark little shops which apparently never sell anything. If, for any reason, you go in, you find, at the back, an old man, fingering for his own pleasure, some oddments of cloth. Š Nobody wants to buy them, which is fine because the old man is not really interested in selling. He just likes to hold and to feel."

Whittaker Chambers' observation remains relevant every time an American political party ties itself to its true believers - and winds up wondering why it lost.

The moral of the story: If the Republican Party wants to become a permanent minority, one sure way to do it is to embrace the nuttism of its Jim Holts. Because their political fortunes aren't likely to improve as the years pass and the country's Hispanic population grows.

Jim Holt had a simple "solution" for all the questions raised by the country's broken immigration system. It boiled down to denying illegals government services, including medical attention and any college scholarships their children might have earned. Or just deporting mama and papa - no matter how long they'd been here or how hard-working they were.

That's not the kind of thing the American-born children of immigrants are likely to forget. Indeed, they tend to remember how their parents were treated with even greater feeling long after they're grown - and voting. Wouldn't you?

Simple demographics should send an unmistakable message to the GOP: Alienating the newest and fastest growing group of Americans is no way to become the majority party - in Arkansas or anywhere else in the Union.

Whatever their transient appeal, ideologues represent a danger to any great party hoping to unite the country. For a time they may be a useful source of new energy. But when they begin to dictate the party's agenda, it's headed for defeat. See the fate of the Goldwater campaign in 1964 - and the McGovern debacle in 1972.

When the Republican Party was still young, one of its promising leaders, Abraham Lincoln, never turned down any support from the Know-Nothings, the radical nativists of his time. But he wasn't about to let them control him, any more than he would make their prejudices his own. As he wrote his old friend Joshua Speed in confidence:

"I am not a Know-Nothing; that is certain. How could I be? How can anyone who abhors the oppression of Negroes be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneration appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation we began by declaring that Œall men are created equal.' When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read Œall men are created equal, except Negroes and foreigners and Catholics.' When it comes to this, I shall prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty - to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy."

Radical supporters may contribute to a political party's success, but if they come to dominate it, that party may soon enough find itself about as inviting as just another dark little shop.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.