Recently, former New Mexico Gov. David Cargo visited Las Vegas, as he has done so many times before. And true to his nature, this lifelong Republican found friends at every turn in this overwhelmingly Democratic town.
On radio and at this newspaper, he told the tales of his political trials and tribulations as though he were reliving the glory days of his illustrious past. Anyone who is familiar with him knows he’s quite the storyteller — he has a lot of fun remembering days gone by.
Politically, Cargo has always been a progressive, and if ever the Grand Old Party needed a man of his disposition and conviction, it’s now. Unfortunately, however, his liberal wing of the party was pushed out years ago, so that now the Republican Party is dominated by what many would define as right-wing extremism.
Cargo has become a rare breed of Republican — fiscally conservative yet keenly aware of the need for government to serve those who have been oppressed. But in his day, he wasn’t so unusual. In the 1960s, when he was elected governor, he belonged to a party that stood up for civil and individual rights. Not all Republicans were progressive in their thinking, but many were actually quite liberal, including Nelson and Winthrop Rockefeller, governors in New York and Arkansas respectively. During those turbulent times, Cargo was in good company.
Today, that sort of Republican Party seems so very far away. Now, there was only a few exceptions to the GOP rule that demands at least lip service to “conservative values” — whatever the heck that really is these days. Republicans such as Colin Powell are about as moderate as they come nowadays, and they are scarce. In fact, the reason why Republicans are capable of the kind of unity that was demonstrated in their collective “no” vote for the Democrats’ health-care package is because dissenting voices have been pushed out of the party. It’s sad but true.
Listening to Cargo, one has to wonder why he sticks with the GOP. He is, after all, completely out of the mainstream of Republican thought these days. So we asked him: Why not just switch to the Democratic Party? In his typical transparency, he responded, “I don’t know.”
That surprised us. We expected an answer spiced with a history lesson: The Party of Lincoln, after all, has an honorable past, so maybe he can help to bring them back to the center.
But that’s not what he said. Instead, he couldn’t think of a reason to stay.
If we could answer for him, we’d say that he needs to stick with the Republican Party because it needs him now more than ever before. Nearly a half century ago, he made a permanent mark on this state by helping to create a viable two-party system — a necessity in the battle against political corruption. But he never intended to create the “party of ‘no’.” He never intended to see the word “liberal” become a dirty word in his party. He wanted government to make people’s lives better — and he still does.
We hope Cargo, Powell and other moderate Republicans stick with their party. The GOP needs a bigger tent, to keep the better part of its past alive. Maybe the Democrats would benefit from being the sole representative of moderate political convictions, but America needs two viable parties to keep them both in check.