Sunday, June 17, 2012
Old School: Father's Day Reflections on My Dad's Republicanism
In early January 2011, I received an e-mail from my late colleague, Professor Derrick Bell, asking me whether I was the child of Rod and Carla Hills, the couple who had been supportive of him during his years in Los Angeles back in the late 1960s. I had joined the NYU Law Faculty in 2006, but I had never had spoken to Professor Derrick Bell before (NYU's is a big law faculty, and it is easy to go a long time without meeting all of one's colleagues). Although I knew Professor Bell by his scholarly reputation, I had no idea that he knew my parents, much less that he regarded these two Republican stalwarts as supporters during the 1960s. It turns out that, unbeknownst to me, Dad and Professor Bell had worked together in the aftermath of the Watts riots, when Professor Bell running the Center on Law & Poverty at USC Law School while my Dad was practicing management-side labor law at Munger, Tolles, Hills, and Rickershauser. (Mom and Dad had founded Munger, Tolles -- now Munger, Tolles & Olson -- with five other lawyers back in 1962).
How odd do these statements sound today? A management-side labor lawyer at a corporate law firm collaborating with a left-leaning lawyer dedicated to civil rights and income and racial equality? Dad was hardly politically neutral: He had spent a lot of time with Mom helping to elect young Republicans, recruiting Hugh Flournoy, who was a professor at Claremont College, to run for Controller General of California against Alan Cranston (Flournoy won) and running Senator Tom Kuchel's Southern California primary campaign against Max Rafferty in 1968 (Kuchel lost, and Rafferty went down to defeat at the hands of Alan Cranston, who spent the next few decades as a leader of liberal Democrats in the Senate). Back then, however, a Republican could be friends with a left lawyer. (Following an e-mail exchange, by the way, Professor Bell and I ended up having lunch together in which we reflected on the unpredictability of parenting; my two daughters leaving or left for college, the topic was on my mind. We promised to meet again soon, but, to my great sorrow, Professor Bell passed away not long after our only meal together).
Incidentally, Dad and Mom also always regarded Alan Cranston as a good friend: Senator Cranston, if I recall, introduced Mom at her confirmation hearings to serve as Secretary of HUD in the Ford Administration. Republicans and Democrats were different back then -- less uncompromising, less distrustful of the other side of the aisle.
Although a former management-side labor lawyer, Dad frequently quotes with admiration Saul Alinsky: He regards unions not as an enemy to be eliminated (or "busted") but a party with whom to cut a deal that (in game-theory lingo) would facilitate repeat play. Liberal labor-side lawyers like now-Judge Stephen Reinhardt were often on the other side of the table back in Dad's labor-law days. Typical of Dad's political and legal opponents, Judge Reinhardt maintains a warm friendship with my parents to this day. (Dad no longer is involved with labor law: Today, he spends much of his time trying to reform corporate and political governance to reduce corruption, having founded the Hills Center on Governance to promote applied scholarship on the topic at home and abroad).
Just as Dad has a political party, so too, he has strong policy views. As White House Counsel under Ford and chair of the SEC, he was (and remains) a strong proponent of de-regulation of the trucking and airline industries. He wanted more cost-benefit analysis of securities regulations and pressed the SEC to hire more economists. Lots of political opponents pushed back against these views. In the end, however, Dad won respect from both sides of the aisle, because he treated his opponents as opponents, not as enemies. If I recall correctly -- I cannot find the news clipping -- a Democratic congressperson from Florida urged President Carter to re-appoint Dad as SEC chair.
I will not say that the old non-polarized way of politics was better. As that 1950 APSA report, Toward a More Responsible Party System, argued, there is a respectable argument that programmatic political parties with strongly defined agendas help voters use party labels to make more informed choices among candidates. I will say, however, that, whatever the systemic advantages of partisan polarization, cultivating mutual understanding and long-term cooperation is not one of them.
New School Republicans seem to follow the view that, somehow, someday, they will rally a decisive majority of the nation behind them to re-align politics decisively behind a new conservative and/or libertarian agenda. Whatever the merits of that agenda, I think that it is a pipe dream to think that there is or ever will be a politically decisive and long-term majority in that agenda's favor. Some day, sooner or later, Republicans will have to learn to compromise with their opponents, because their opponents are roughly half of the population (at least), and there never will be a knock-out blow that will allow either party to rule the roost alone.
When that day comes, the New School Republicans could learn from Dad, who followed the Old School Republican's axiom, best coined by Lincoln, that Oldest School Republican of them all: "We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies."
Posted by Rick Hills on June 17, 2012 at 10:46 AM | Permalink
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