Factionalism in politics is generally a fact of life. But sometimes the labeling is absurd. When right-wingers attack "liberal" Republicans today, they are often attacking backers of Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, and Newt Gingrich.
Today, Pennsylvania's most prominent Rockefeller Republican died. Calling Ray Shafer, Governor of Pennsylvania from 1967 through 1971, a Rockefeller Republican is not name calling: he placed Rockefeller in nomination at the 1968 Republican National Convention, and then served on his staff when Rockefeller served as Vice-President under President Gerald Ford (1974-1977).
I never met Ray Shafer, but he appointed me to his Youth Advisory Council at the recommendation of Lieutenant Governor Ray Broderick, a New Deal lawyer with my father and mother in the Rural Electrification Administration. The Youth Advisory Council did not do much that I recall (I remember chairing a subcommittee meeting or two on now-forgotten subjects) but it was typical of Shafer's desire to reach out to dissident voices in the Vietnam War era.
Shafer was, in a sense, the Manchurian candidate of Pennsylvania liberalism. He campaigned relentlessly across the state throughout his one term in the state senate and one term as lieutenant governor, generally mouthing platitudes. He came from a rural, rock-ribbed Republican area. In his state senate term, he did not give a single speech on the floor of the Senate. Who would have guessed that his silence, generally assumed to be consent, masked profound differences with Republican orthodoxy?
His 1966 gubernatorial campaign against former cable television entrepreneur Milton Shapp--then a novelty as the first to defeat an entrenched party organization with an expensive self-funded media campaign--was overshadowed to a large degree by negative tactics against Shapp by the Philadelphia Inquirer, other media, and the Republican Party. "It's Safer With Shafer," was his slogan.
With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, the death of his original running mate--former Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Walter Alessandroni, tragically killed in a plane crash in young middle age--was symptomatic of how he would make decisions. He called various Republican leaders, and asked for their recommendations. He then chose my father's friend Broderick, one of the most liberal Republicans one could find. He chose Broderick, however, in the name of east/west ticket balancing, and maintaining good relations with the Philadelphia Republican party leadership.
Shafer was the Mikhail Gorbachev of Pennsylvania's Republican Party. Step by step, he led it away from where it had been and into the vanguard of progressive leadership. Republicans started ridiculing him as the cartoon character Dudley Doright. But he persevered, staking out position after position far to the left of the Republican Party and occasionally to the left of the Democratic Party.
Legislative Democrats were also frustrated by him. Having positioned themselves as the modern 20th century party eager to solve the problems of the day, they were stunned to find a man they had considered to be a troglodyte in an empty suit agressively fighting on their turf. They wanted him to either deliver Republican votes to provide funds for the programs he was publicly advocating, or to stop what they considered to be posturing.
Shafer sometimes was able to provide money to go with rhetoric, as spending for education and welfare skyrocketed. But, all too often, he was caught in a political no-man's land between the Democrats whom he fundamentally agreed with on the vast majority of the issues and the Republicans who put him in office, whom he disagreed with on the vast majority of the issues.
When his term expired as Governor, he angled unsuccessfully for a federal judgeship and agreed to chair a national commission on drug policy, which recommended the legalization of marijuana. His years as a Rockefeller staff member were low-key, as was the rest of his life. He headed a small corporation for a time, and then worked for a Washington acccounting firm, dispensing legal and political advice to corporate clients.
He served a brief stint as President of his alma mater, Allegheny College, in which capacity he sent his only post-gubernatorial letter to the legislature on a matter of university concern. As I write this today, I deeply regret that I did not pick up the telephone and have a conversation with him.
He stayed away from Harrisburg, and stayed away from the state Republican Party. He had not only burned his state Republican bridges; he had nuclear bombed them.
Milton Shapp succeed him as Governor with the slogan "Now You Know: It's Really Safer With Shapp." Shapp though pursued progressive policies with the same sense of indirection that Shafer had employed, making it more difficult to mobilize public support behind him. But Shapp had Democratic majorities behind him, and thus got far more done than Shafer had.
Former Pennsylvania Governors tend to fade into obscurity after a while, and the passionate debates about the policies they pursued tend to be forgotten as well.
But Ray Shafer deserves to be remembered. In an era in which the Republican Party is seen increasingly as a party of right-wing extremists, Shafer stands as a symbol of the road not taken. Had Rockefeller been elected President in 1968, and appointed Shafer to a major position, certainly the politics of the 1960's and 1970's would have been quite different.
What Shafer and Rockefeller basically stood for was the concept of two progressive parties, competing on the basis of who could do more for the public. That concept is dead today. With Shafer's death, its small band of adherents has shrunk even more.
As far as I know, Shafer never apologized for his term as Governor, and never expressed regrets. All he did was to follow the example of his early career, and retreat to a prudent silence. As the saying goes, you have not converted a man because you have silenced him.