Friday, November 11, 2011

Mel Hancock, 1929-2011

I'm not absolutely sure -- they say memory is the first thing to go -- but Mel Hancock was probably the last Republican I ever voted for for public office. He was certainly one of only a few. And he's absolutely the man who (unintentionally) convinced me that voting Republican will never, ever, ever lead to smaller government.

Among the good things I can say about Mel is that before he ever went to Congress, he wrote and promoted the Hancock Amendment, which made it harder for Missouri's various governments to raise taxes (when they abide by it -- they often don't). As a volunteer, I gathered petition signatures for a strengthened version of the amendment (that closed loopholes cities and the state were using to get around its intent) and handed those signatures to Mel myself.

Another good thing I can say about Mel is that he promised to term-limit himself and, unlike many other congresscritters, actually kept that promise. He served four terms in the US House of Representatives and then went home.

How did he convince me of the futility of looking to the GOP for smaller government?

That happened during the 1995-96 dust-up over Medicare that resulted in a short "government shutdown." At the time, I lived in Mel's congressional district, Missouri's 7th, and usually attended meetings of "The Breakfast Club," a Saturday morning conservative meetup at a local restaurant.

At this particular meeting, Mel was the guest speaker, and spent his time (while we sat eating our ham and eggs and drinking our coffee) bragging on the Republican Party and how they were standing up to Bill Clinton to cut the size and cost of government.

Then he left the restaurant's banquet room for a press conference in its lobby, where I listened to him tell a journalist that the GOP wasn't cutting Medicare, just prudently "limiting its growth."

If he'd been intentionally lying with one or the other of those statements, I might have written off Mel Hancock alone, and not the whole Republican Party.

But I didn't think he was lying. He really believed both statements. He had fallen into Doublethink: "[T]he act of simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct."

As I looked at similar statements of other Republican politicians, and listened to or read the same words from various Republican pundits, I became convinced that this Doublethink was viral and epidemic in the GOP. They really thought -- and if you look at the "deficit reduction plans" of most of this year's crop of GOP presidential candidates they obviously still think -- that "limiting the growth" of government is the same thing as "reducing the size and cost" of government.

Mel Hancock is probably the guy who did the most to convince me to close the book on the Republican Party for good. And for that, I am more grateful than I have words to express.

Mel died last Sunday. He was 82.

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