Saint Jack is at it again. The former United States Senator and Ambassador to the United Nations has published a book condemning the religious right. When he was a Senator John C. Danforth was known as Saint Jack, not as a term of endearment but of sarcasm. Danforth pretended to know everything. My only contact with him was during the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation debate. Thomas had worked for Danforth and Danforth was Thomas' staunchest ally in the Senate. Or was he?
After much debate, the Senate entered a unanimous consent agreement to vote on Thomas at a time certain. Meanwhile, the Senate was voting on the Family and Medical Leave Act. A cloture petition had been filed. If cloture were invoked it would make the Family and Medical Leave Act the pending business. Thus, the unanimous consent agreement would be out the window. The vote on cloture was so close that it came down to Danforth's vote. If he voted to invoke cloture the carefully negotiated unanimous consent agreement would be gone. One after the other his colleagues pleaded with him to stick with them and vote against cloture. The vote on the Thomas nomination would have been held on a Friday. The vote count seemed that Thomas would be approved by about 65 to 35. When confronted by the leadership of his own party Danforth told his colleagues that he simply disagreed. His stubbornness meant that the Thomas vote had to be postponed. Guess what? That next week, while the Thomas nomination was in limbo, one Anita F. Hill appeared on the scene and into history. She so damaged the reputation of Thomas that the effect of what Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) has called a pack of lies is still felt. All the evidence demonstrated Thomas' innocence. By the time the Senate did get around to voting, Thomas was approved by a slim 52 - 48 margin. Thanks, St. Jack.
Another example of the Danforth all-knowing attitude came after the conclusion of a major study by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW). The biggest issue in the 1970s and early 1980s was whether welfare should be extended to two-parent families. Then it was a state option. The liberals said that denying welfare forced fathers out of the home and thus weakened the family. Conservatives held that welfare eroded economic bonds and increased family break-up. So HEW launched the Seattle/Denver Income Maintenance Experiment "Sime-Dime." This study was designed to show how welfare would help two-parent families. The results were to be presented to the Senate Finance Committee, upon which Danforth served. An HEW (now Health and Human Services) careerist, not a Reagan appointee by any means, told the stunned Finance Committee that two-parent welfare seemed to increase family break-up, especially among Hispanics. An angry Danforth yelled at this poor career guy who was just reporting on the findings of the study, "If that's what your study shows, then it's wrong."As Danforth seeks again to be a leader of his party, it is useful to remind folks that the last time he did so he ran against Senator John G. Tower (R-TX) to be Chairman of the Senate GOP Policy Committee. He got six votes out of the 43 GOP Senators then voting. If they had put Danforth in a leadership position they would have had to endure endless pontification.
What Danforth argues now in his new book, and has argued for some years, is that the addition of evangelicals, fundamentalists and conservative Catholics to the Republican Party has forced the Party to deal with issues such as marriage and abortion and stem-cell research and this, according to a still angry Danforth, is wrong.
Is it really? When the religious right joined with the Republican Party in the late 1970s the first fruits of that marriage came in the form of unexpected victories of Roger Jepsen as Senator from Iowa and Gordon H. Humphrey from New Hampshire.
Next election was 1980. Ronald Reagan won a landslide election. With him came a raft of new conservative Senators, giving the GOP control of the Senate for the first time since 1954. The Senate shifted back and forth until 1994, when the Republican landslide was so deep that the GOP picked up 52 House seats and controlled that body for the first time in 40 years. The Senate also came along in that landslide year and mostly has been in Republican hands since.
What Danforth argues for is the Republican Party of the mid-1970s. Republicans were a minority but, hey, who cares when you are having fun. When the Congress did consider a rare moral issue his colleagues did consult St. Jack. After all, he is an Episcopal priest.
The country clubbers will love St. Jack's book. While they are out on the links discussing it, it is our people who will be manning the precincts. I know. I just spoke to a large group from all around Pennsylvania. St. Jack couldn't gather a group like that if his life depended on it.
It is said that the Republicans are the stupid party. If they follow the advice of St. Jack they will prove that moniker to be true.