Merlene Davis: I wish there was a middle ground for conservatives and liberals to stand on

Former Massachusetts Sen. Edward W. Brooke, who backed the ERA and busing for integration, died Saturday.
Former Massachusetts Sen. Edward W. Brooke, who backed the ERA and busing for integration, died Saturday. ASSOCIATED PRESS

My father was a Republican for most of his life.

I don't really know how he voted after he cast a ballot for Richard Nixon in 1960, rather than for John F. Kennedy. I can't imagine he cast a ballot for Sen. Barry Goldwater in 1964, though. That would have been a big stretch for him and most black people back then.

It took a while for me to understand why he voted Republican. I had to learn that my father and I lived in different eras in which Republicans changed positions during a very short time.

I was reminded of that when I learned last week that Edward W. Brooke had died.

Brooke was a Massachusetts Republican who was elected to the U.S. Senate by a liberal, mostly Democratic state. He had blazed trails in politics not traveled by black people since Reconstruction and he broke down those barriers as a Republican. When he was elected attorney general of Massachusetts, he was the first black American to hold that office in any state.

So what made this black man, who was also a Republican, so popular?

He was a liberal Republican.

I know those two words, liberal and Republican, no longer go together. But that is what Brooke was and what my father liked about the Republican Party.

Brooke was one of the first Republican senators to call for Nixon's resignation after the Watergate scandal was uncovered. He fought for busing for racial integration of public schools despite opposition from his own constituents.

He also fought for the Equal Rights Amendment that would have put women on a more level playing field with men, and he fought to limit rent in public housing to 25 percent of a family's income.

Even Nixon considered himself a member of the progressive wing of the Republican Party. He was the president who created the Environmental Protection Agency, after all, and advocated for universal health care.

That's the type of Republican my father was. It's a type that doesn't exist any more.

Instead, we have members of the Republican leadership rushing to defend Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., who in 2002 addressed a white nationalist group founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

In 2002, as a state senator, Scalise talked about taxes to the European- American Unity and Rights Organization. Now the House majority whip, Scalise has said that he speaks to a variety of groups all the time and that he didn't know the group's views.

Really? Who doesn't know who and what Duke represents?

Newly elected Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, the first black woman elected to Congress as a Republican, said that Scalise has the support of his colleagues and that he has been helpful to her. She applauded the "humility" he showed by apologizing for attending the event.

Is that all it takes?

Would Brooke have said that, considering he called for Nixon's ouster before any of his colleagues did?

And if Scalise is such a good man, why would he risk condemnation by addressing such a group? Was it just for money?

People who sell their beliefs and integrity for money are called something other than helpful.

I wish there was a middle ground that conservatives and liberals could stand on, a place that would be less about big business and re-elections than people, fair housing and jobs.

My father had the opportunity to pick and choose a candidate instead of just a political party. Now, the candidates are all about the party.

Even if you, as a Republican office holder, think Scalise should be reprimanded at least, you dare not speak out. Just say it was a long time ago and move on.

Where are all the Brookes now?

"You can't say the Negro left the Republican Party," Brooke said in 1966. "The Negro feels he was evicted from the Republican Party."

And the band played on.