Republican for a day

By Michael H. O’Donnell

It’s Mother’s Day.
And although the ancient Greeks and Romans held festivals to celebrate motherhood, our American event was invented by Anna Jarvis in 1908 to commemorate the sacrifice her mother and other women made to tend to wounded soldiers during the bloody days of the Civil War.
It took Jarvis six years of hard campaigning to get the second Sunday in May national recognition. A short time later she became disillusioned by the power of greeting card companies to capitalize on the special day.
More than a century of breakfasts in bed, cards and flowers later, Mother’s Day is going strong.
And mothers continue to be the center of political and commercial manipulation.
Which fittingly gives birth to the focus of this column – politics.
This Tuesday the Idaho Republican Party will hold its first “members only” primary election. There are numerous races in the state where Republican candidate races will be the only contested ones. In fact, in many Idaho counties GOP races at the county level for sheriff or commissioner will determine who serves. The primary is the only election.
It’s pointless to debate when it happened or why, but for a big share of Gem State residents being Republican and an Idahoan are synonymous.
The problem lies with a substantial segment of the voting population that prefers to remain independent and beholding to no major political party.
Because state Republicans won a lawsuit paid for by taxpayers of all political affiliations, no one can vote in Republican races unless they declare themselves to be a Republican at the polls next Tuesday. The voting is closed to members only.
Which brings me back to women.
From 1956 to 1964 American television launched the era of “reality” programming with a goofy piece of jingoistic fantasy called “Queen for a Day.” Women were pulled from the audience to vie for a tiara and some prizes. To win them they had to share personal financial and emotional struggles and the audience chose the best women with an “applause meter.”
Here’s the strange part. No matter how gut-wrenching or painful the personal stories were, the host would remain upbeat. If one of three children was crippled in a horrible car accident, the host would say something like, “Well it’s great you have two healthy children.”
If the women began to cry, the host would hand them a tissue.
With domestic prizes like a new washer or fridge awaiting the winner, a queen would be announced at the end of the show and given the “royal treatment.”
My mother hated this show. She thought there was something cruel about extracting personal stories from women and then handing them the keys to a washer or dryer as if that represented hope for the future.
To her, just declaring someone queen didn’t make them one.
Which brings me back to politics.
It’s my hope that Idaho voters will understand the wisdom in my mother’s observations. Declaring yourself a Republican – if only for one day – does not make you one. Next Tuesday independent votes and even Democrats can slip into a robe of minor deception and exercise their right to choose a county commissioner. If not the GOP, God will forgive you for this little white lie.
The strangest aspect of this charade to limit Republican candidate selection to only pure Republicans is that it’s pure baloney – bologna if you’re a purist.
About two years ago the Republican Party in Idaho felt the full weight of a Tea Party movement pushing it so far right of center that the entire party lost balance. Zealots in the GOP wanted blood oaths of allegiance to a platform filled with state currency, homegrown militias and concealed weapons. They even wanted members to sign off on a declaration of war against public schools.
Moderate minds prevailed and most of the extremism was held at bay. Not all of it went away, just most of it.
Extreme conservatives in the GOP accused those dirty Democrats of diluting the outcome of Republican primary races and catapulting moderates into office. They wanted to put a stop to this blatant democracy of ideas. They wanted a closed clubhouse so bad that they sued the state and won.
There’s just one problem. Membership can’t be limited by extreme tests of allegiance. Voters can’t be hooked up to a polygraph and asked pointed questions about civil rights or health care. People can only be required to say they are Republican.
You can’t deceive someone about your intelligence or ethnicity, but pretending to be a Republican for a day is a snap. It requires a simple signature at the polling booth. You can fulfill your democratic dreams.
If you change your mind Wednesday, Idaho has legal a cooling off period for consumers.