From Trey Gowdy’s district, a surprise new direction for the GOP and a path to bipartisanship

Update 3/22/18: Since I posted this in late January, I’m happy to report, there’s evidence that a little more momentum has developed toward healing the devastating partisan rift in this country. It ain’t much, yet, but I would commend you to read this story from The Greenville (S.C.) News’ Ron Barrett (@GreenvilleNews).  And yes, former Rep. Bob Inglis, R-S.C., is a part of it. To be clear, I will disagree with virtually all policy prescriptions advocated by the GOP, but I’m OK with that as long as everybody is courageously working toward fixing our problems (i.e., not putting party/personal concerns above all else). In such a scenario, at least there’s a shot at moving forward, whether it be on climate, immigration, economic inequality, etc. Inglis, at the invitation of the Democrat once unseated to get elected, joined IssueOne’s “Fix Politics Now” campaign to restore sanity to the federal government.

From the unlikeliest of places — the South Carolina congressional district that brought you retiring snake-in-the-grass Rep. Trey Gowdy, (R-Benghazi 😉) — arises a faint glimmer of hope, even for the left, in our nation’s darkest hour. His name is Bob Inglis. He’s a white lawyer, a rock-ribbed, anti-abortion, small-government conservative and free-marketeer (just like Roy Moore but not a creepy child molester), with roots in a district as red as the Upstate clay.

Perfect! Our savior! Am I right?

Hear me out, please.

I hope that, against all odds, I am right. But not for the reasons you may think. As a standard-issue Bay Area liberal, I’m positive I would oppose Inglis’ stance on most issues (guns, abortion, taxes …). But here’s the thing: He’s a guy Democrats can work with — experienced, honest, open-minded and principled, unlike many Republicans (and way too many Democrats) in Congress. A four-term former lawmaker, Inglis said Wednesday, after Gowdy announced he would not seek re-election, that he might run again if he senses there’s a chance he could win.

Inglis’s bipartisan record

I watched Inglis closely in the 1990s, when I was a political reporter and editor for a couple of South Carolina newspapers. He was backed by the Christian Coalition and earned high ratings from the American Conservative Union and other prominent conservative groups. So I wasn’t expecting much free thinking from him, especially when he signed on to Newt “Family Values” Gingrich’s Contract for (on?) America in the next election cycle. So I was stunned when Inglis, who sat on the House science committee, reversed himself after listening to scientists and started talking about the need to take (free-market) steps to fight global warming.

He proved to be independent-minded and principled for several terms in office, voting for George W. Bush’s bailout package after the subprime mortgage crisis nearly tanked the global economy. He freely criticized the Tea Party, too. Not surprisingly, he paid a price for not running away from his record of independence during the campaign as Gowdy knocked him off by running to his right in the GOP primary.

Since his defeat by Gowdy, Inglis has labored (mostly unsuccessfully) to push the Republican Party to find solutions to climate change. (He believes that’s what God would want.) In addition, he holds several other positions that may be anathema to today’s Roy Moore/Donald Trump crowd (he’s not a birther, and he’s openly critical of Trump), but rest assured he’s a hardcore conservative in most ways. But he’s already shown himself to be a stand-up guy.

Can we call Bob Inglis Bob “Hope”?

To paraphrase the Bible of which Inglis is so fond, it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for Inglis to get elected again out of South Carolina, especially given the current climate. But Gowdy’s decision to stand down must mean he’s sensed there’s a limit to how much BS the voters of South Carolina’s 4th District will tolerate. Plus, if he does run, Inglis isn’t wedded to running in the 4th, or even in the GOP.

So, yeah. It’s a Sisyphean task if he decides to give it a go. But I hope you’ll spend 10 minutes watching Inglis’s Tedx Talk on YouTube. You might actually feel a little better if you do. It speaks well of him that he went to liberal Boston, like Daaniel in the lions’ den, to lay out his vision for a conservative party. Invoking JFK, he spoke in bold, compassionate, optimistic tones of sparking a renewed spirit of courage and partisanship.

“Can you imagine the emptiness you’d feel if you risked nothing, that all you did was follow fearful people to where they were already going, rather than try to lead them to a better place? If you’re not willing to lose your seat in Congress, there’s really very little reason to be there.”

No matter how slim Inglis’ chances, please give him a listen. Imagine if he could somehow influence his party to abandon the fear-based politics of today and engage in honest debate about real issues and practical solutions. That kind of attitude could inspire both parties and begin to restore integrity to our tottering democratic system.

As if speaking to members of Congress thinking about their legacies, Inglis offered this message in his Tedx Talk: “We ask America’s best to die on literal hills in places like Iraq and Afghantisan. Is it too much to ask you to die a figurative death on a political hill in Washington, D.C.?”

When members leave Congress, they are handed the brass plaque on their office door to bring home as a memento, he said, holding his own plaque in his hand.

“Can you imagine the emptiness you’d feel if you risked nothing, that all you did was follow fearful people to where they were already going, rather than try to lead them to a better place? If you’re not willing to lose your seat in Congress, there’s really very little reason to be there.”

That’s why I’m tempted to refer to him as Bob Hope.