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Ripon Society still giving voice to moderate faction of Republican Party


The Ripon Society is still around. That news came as a surprise to this columnist, who recently received it from a fellow London, Kentucky native who works for Ripon in Washington, D.C.

Formed in 1962 and named after the Wisconsin town where the Republican Party was born, the Ripon Society's original purpose was "to revive the Grand Old Party's commitment to inclusion and reform." Ripon cites Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt as its inspirations, and was the first major Republican group to support passage of a civil rights act.

In 1964, with a battle for the soul of the Republican Party being fought between Rockefeller moderates and Goldwater conservatives, Ripon's founders declared, "We believe that the future of our party lies not in extremism, but in moderation. The moderate course offers the Republican Party the best chance to build a durable majority position in American politics."

With words that are still applicable today, Ripon asserted in 1968 that "We believe that the Republican Party should accept the challenge to fight for the middle ground of American politics. The party that will not acknowledge this political fact of life and courageously enter the contest for power does not merit and cannot possibly win the majority support of the American people."

During a 1969 debate on his show Firing Line, conservative William F. Buckley, Jr., said, "The Ripon Society certainly seems to me to have affected most people as an organization that is industriously engaged in trying to persuade the Republican Party to be like the Democratic Party."

His Ripon interlocutor responded, "No, it's engaged in persuading the Republican Party to do those things that will enable it to compete with the Democratic Party in states where the Democratic Party is strong."

Once a prominent force within the party, Ripon receded from some Republican minds, including this one, as the GOP moved rightward through the Ronald Reagan years to today's Tea Party. Ripon nonetheless now boasts an impressive congressional advisory board that includes Senators Pat Roberts (KS), Roy Blunt (MO), Richard Burr (NC), Susan Collins (ME), and Orrin Hatch (UT), as well as Kentucky's First District U.S. Representative Ed Whitfield.

The philosophical fights raging within the Republican Party now are not too different from those that produced Ripon in the first place. It took a Kentuckian to alert this commentator to Ripon's continuing, indeed renewed, relevance amid these intramural struggles.

Jarrad Hensley, a graduate of South Laurel High School and Georgetown College, is Deputy Editor of The Ripon Forum. This high-quality quarterly magazine "seeks to provide a forum for fresh ideas, well-researched proposals, and for a spirit of criticism, innovation, and independent thinking within the Republican Party."

The most recent edition is impressive. It features multiple articles on reforming American mental health laws and treatment, an issue of utmost importance and timeliness given the recent spate of gun violence and rampage shootings by mentally ill individuals.

The cover story by U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, a clinical psychologist, discusses his bipartisan bill titled the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (HR 3717). Murphy says his measure would be "the most significant overhaul of the nation's mental health system since President John F. Kennedy established community mental health centers 51 years ago."

Murphy's bill would, among many other improvements, "increase treatment options, integrate mental and physical care, and reduce barriers and the stigma associated with mental illness." It would also clarify privacy laws so parents could "talk about and receive information about a mentally ill loved one, which will allow physicians to make an accurate diagnosis."

Another article argues that the real mental health crisis in America is not one of money, but rather the failure to get treatment to the most seriously ill who are too sick to accept voluntary treatment. It argues that Congress should "decrease mental health funding and increase mental illness funding."

Other essays in the Ripon Forum address post-traumatic stress disorder and why investing in mental health care saves both money and lives. The issue also addresses cyber security, a research initiative on the American Dream, the need for Republicans to produce problem-solving reform proposals rather than merely reminisce about the Ronald Reagan era, and research on the American electorate.

Moderates remain a significant part of the Republican Party. The Ripon Society remains their institutional voice.

John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is jddyche@yahoo.com.

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