Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, speaks after a House GOP meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, October 15, 2013
October 28, 2013
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Lowell Weicker served three terms in the U.S. Senate from Connecticut as a Republican, before being defeated by then-Democrat Joe Lieberman – with an assist from influential conservatives – in 1988. Two years later, in a rare feat, he won Connecticut’s gubernatorial election as a third-party candidate.
In a Friday interview, Weicker – now 82 – slammed the modern GOP, scorched his old foe Lieberman, and urged an upheaval in how America funds public schools. A condensed version of our conversation follows.
What went down in D.C. over the past month – has it told us anything about the Republican Party that we didn’t know?
I suppose the obvious answer is that the party is so far off to the right that it can’t even come to grips with reality in America today. Now, that’s the easy answer because it’s clear that the Republicans, through their most extreme members, are showing that tendency. But I think the time has come to focus the blame where it belongs, and that’s with the American people.
You cannot have a government where 46 percent vote for president, about 35 percent vote for Senate, about 25 percent for congressmen. When you get to those total local percentages, that means that any dedicated group within the percentage can have an enormous weight, way beyond their numbers, on policy.
Why do you think it is that the conservatives you’re talking about have been able to wield that outsize influence?
Let’s say out of the 35 percent of Americans that are voting for senator, there’s 5 percent that are dedicated even, and that’s it … As the conservatives stick together, then they can go ahead and outvote everyone else …
The Republican Party started to purge its moderates … starting in about ‘86. I was part of that purge in ‘88 when I lost as senator. Now you’re left with the religious right and the rural votes — and that’s it.
What do you think caused that purge?
A bunch of dedicated conservatives. I mean, don’t forget you had back in the ‘80s William F. Buckley and his conservative movement, and they decided to — rather than be an independent party, they figured that they would go ahead and worm their way into the main Republican Party. And they did that very effectively.
If you were running for office again, would it be as a Republican?
Oh, I don’t think so. I think that if the Republican Party stays as it is now, I would still run as an independent, as I did when I ran for governor. The problem would be that if I ran as a Republican, then I’d be subject to Republican primaries and Republican conventions. Anybody that runs has to kowtow so far to the right that they become unelectable come election time.
What do you think is the solution to the voter participation problem you identified?
That’s a very difficult question, and I’ve thought about it a lot. You could certainly have mandatory voting … I’d hate to see that kind of mandatory participation. But I think that we’ve come to the point where we’ve got to get people out to the polls. Now I think it can be done, but it has to be done by exciting candidates and intelligent candidates. And that brings me to another point: Everybody is so down on politicians, and so it really discourages young people from getting into politics … Rather than condemn people that are politicians, I think we ought to encourage them to go into public service.