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The GOP has lost its way and conservatives should work to oust lousy incumbents in the Republican Party – even in the general election – says prominent Vanderbilt professor Carol M. Swain.
Swain, a lifelong Democrat who left the Democratic Party after becoming a Christian, is far from satisfied with the performance of the GOP. The author of “Be the People” sees Republicans too often holding a finger in the wind to determine how regain power.
“The Republican Party has lost its way,” Swain said. “I think it has an identity problem. It doesn’t know what it wants to be. It believes it has to become the Democratic Party to stay in power. I believe that’s a serious mistake.”
She added, “The Republican Party has not stood up for the Constitution in Washington, as far as I’m concerned. All this noise now about impeaching the president – they should have been screaming when the president first started abusing executive privilege. I think the Republicans have not stood up because they want to do it, too. When they’re in power, we’re not going to get that much change.”
Watch Radio America host Greg Corombos’ interview with Carol Swain:
If Republicans do control all of Congress next year, Swain said she will not be encouraged by rhetoric before or after Election Day but by actions taken by those in office. She said the first step to better leadership is holding current officeholders to account at the polls.
"Because the system is set up the way it is in Tennessee and other parts of the country, there's almost nothing the voters can do," she said. "I think that's unfortunate. We have to have a system that's responsive and in which we can hold incumbents accountable."
For Swain, accountability does not stop once the primary votes are counted.
"In some of those cases, I think we have to do the ultimate. Punish them in the November elections, even if means that our own political party fails to win in that particular state. The only way to hold politicians accountable is to hold them accountable all the way through the cycle," she said, noting the only voters can set the nation in a new direction.
"They need to wake up."
Swain was born into poverty as one of 12 children. She was a married, teenage mother with two children who didn't finish high school.
However, she later received her GED and received degrees from five different colleges and universities. Swain received her law degree from Yale and her Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina. As a black woman raised in dire financial straits, she would seem likely to be a solid Democrat. And she was, until life took her in a different direction.
"Like most blacks, I was born a Democrat and I was a Democrat most of my life," she explained. "In 2000, I had a Christian conversion experience that sort of shifted me (politically) a little bit. I did not align with the Republican Party until 2009, and it was bit by bit. At some point, I decided I could no longer be a Democrat because of all the policy stances that are contrary to Judeo-Christian values as I understand them."
As she evolved politically, Swain had no intention of becoming a public activist. She says it came about naturally.
"I never sought to be involved in politics, but I see issues like immigration, the national surveillance, the national security problems," she said. "Often, I don't hear people speaking out, and I believe that part of my responsibility is to speak.
"I speak out about issues because I believe our nation is at a critical point. I think we the people need to stand up, take responsibility for the condition of the nation and we can't point fingers at other people. It's our responsibility. It's our country. We have to fight for it."
Swain also weighed in on the volatile situation in Ferguson, Missouri, where people have been rioting and looting in the St. Louis suburb after the shooting death of an apparently unarmed teenager by police.
According to Swain, both sides deserve blame, and President Obama could do a lot more to calm tense situations like this.
The shooting death of Michael Brown and the resulting rioting and protests dominated media coverage through the week. Swain said the situation got out of hand because of mistakes made on both sides.
"The vandalism and a lot of the looting, we've seen before," she said. "We've also seen Al Sharpton come to the scene and then the media descend upon the city. I think it's a serious problem with black youth and the police.
"I think the fault lies on both sides because it's important for parents to teach their children how to react to police. At the same time, we want to monitor police behavior to make sure that there isn't brutality and racism taking place," said Swain, who is concerned about the increased militarization of police departments.
"I am concerned about the military artillery and equipment in the city. But I'm more concerned about it because I think there are some other cities around the country where we've seen tanks and a lot of military activity. For all we know, this is something that the government is behind. It could be used against other citizens, not just in that particular riot situation. I'm glad the issues are coming to the forefront. I think they're much larger than Ferguson, Missouri," said Swain, who is also author of "Black Faces, Black Interests."
Swain is not overly impressed with President Obama's public comments on the unrest in Missouri, but she does think he's striking a better tone than he did in the wake of the Henry Louis Gates arrest in 2009 or the Trayvon Martin debate in 2012.
"He's been more cautious than in the past," she said. "In the past, he's been quick to jump to the conclusion that it's all racism when he didn't know the facts."
However, Swain said the president could be taking a stronger stand against lawlessness, regardless of the reason.
"I think he could help the situation a lot by appealing to the black community and maybe even the journalists as well," she said. "I think with the black community, they need to know that rioting, looting, violence, is never an appropriate response. It's not an effective method of protest. I think it hurts the entire black community."