Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The GOP's "God Problem"

I believe there is an old story about a prominent liberal Democrat who upon hearing that President Nixon won re-election, expressed shock. How could that be, she thought, she didn't know anyone who voted for the Republican.

The story has been used to show how Democrats can end up living in a little bubble where the only reality that exists is that which is around them. They were never curious to look at the wider culture and admit that there were people who might have other views and who were in essence being ignored.

In some ways, the same can be said about some in the GOP these days. In the wake of a devastating loss, no one wants to admit that the GOP has a problem. Like the family that doesn't want to admit that uncle so-and-so is an out and out drunk that needs help, the GOP doesn't want to accept the reality that it has a problem that needs to be address if it is to remain a viable political party.

That problem is the "God problem." It's the problem of allowing religious zealots to control the party that has driven what could be good conservatives away.

In today's Washington Post, Kathleen Parker (a conservative writer that has been on a tear recently since she called for then VP candidate Sarah Palin to step down) writes a blistering attack on the GOP for not owning up to it's "God Problem:"

Simply put: Armband religion is killing the Republican Party. And, the truth -- as long as we're setting ourselves free -- is that if one were to eavesdrop on private conversations among the party intelligentsia, one would hear precisely that.

The choir has become absurdly off-key, and many Republicans know it.

So it has been for the Grand Old Party since the 1980s or so, as it has become increasingly beholden to an element that used to be relegated to wooden crates on street corners.

Which is to say, the GOP has surrendered its high ground to its lowest brows. In the process, the party has alienated its non-base constituents, including other people of faith (those who prefer a more private approach to worship), as well as secularists and conservative-leaning Democrats who otherwise might be tempted to cross the aisle.

She calls for the GOP to bring religion back to being a matter of the heart instead of on the front lines of what it means to be conservative. Why? It's all in the numbers:

Religious conservatives become defensive at any suggestion that they've had something to do with the GOP's erosion. And, though the recent Democratic sweep can be attributed in large part to a referendum on Bush and the failing economy, three long-term trends identified by Emory University's Alan Abramowitz have been devastating to the Republican Party: increasing racial diversity, declining marriage rates and changes in religious beliefs.
Suffice it to say, the Republican Party is largely comprised of white, married Christians. Anyone watching the two conventions last summer can't have missed the stark differences: One party was brimming with energy, youth and diversity; the other felt like an annual Depends sales meeting.

Parker's poison pen is in a similar vein to an op-ed written by former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman who says that among the myriad of reasons for John McCain's loss, chief among them was the social conservatism of Palin:

Following the conventional wisdom of the past two presidential elections, McCain tried mightily to assuage the Republican Party's social-fundamentalist wing. His selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, whose social views are entirely aligned with that wing, as his running mate was clearly meant to demonstrate his commitment to that bloc. Yet while his choice did comfort those voters, it made many others uncomfortable.

Palin has many attractive qualities as a candidate. Being prepared to become president at a moment's notice was not obviously among them this year. Her selection cost the ticket support among those moderate voters who saw it as a cynical sop to social fundamentalists, reinforcing the impression that they control the party, with the party's consent.

In the wake of the Democrats' landslide victory, and despite all evidence to the contrary, many in the GOP are arguing that John McCain was defeated because the social fundamentalists wouldn't support him. They seem to be suffering from a political strain of Stockholm syndrome. They are identifying with the interests of their political captors and ignoring the views of the larger electorate. This has cost the Republican Party the votes of millions of people who don't find a willingness to acquiesce to hostage-takers a positive trait in potential leaders.

Unless the Republican Party ends its self-imposed captivity to social fundamentalists, it will spend a long time in the political wilderness. On Nov. 4, the American people very clearly rejected the politics of demonization and division. It's long past time for the GOP to do the same.

Of course, both women have been rebuffed by conservative bloggers. Erika Anderson over at Culture 11 said the column was like "swallowing soap." Anderson then issues what seems to be the standard line from the Religious Right: we are victims.

The Christian religion is an important part of American culture and cannot be chopped off because people like Parker and Christine Todd Whitman aren’t concerned with those issues.

What is interesting here is how Anderson seems say that only th Religious Right constitutes American Christianity. Nevermind the millions of Christians who don't associate with the far right, but are who would still consider themselves conservative. For Anderson, saying anything bad about Christian conservatives is being anti-religious and masking what is the true problem that ails the GOP. Whatever that is.

I think the problem with whiners like Andersen as well as Jonah Goldberg, is that they live in a conservative echo chamber that doesn't allow them to see what is going on outside of Washington. Having worked for several years in Log Cabin Republicans and being a Republican in the liberal bastion that is the Twin Cities, I can say that things are different around here. I know of people who would be loyal Republicans but refuse to get involved because of the party's stance on issues like gay rights and same sex marriage. Goldberg can complain about how bigoted Parker is, but he ignores how bigoted the Religious Right has been to gays and lesbians, which has had a big effect on the GOP.

What many conservatives have failed to see is how the social conservatives have really turned off potential converts. Try going to a district convention where the talk is always about things like same-sex marriage. Political parties in America are built on coalitions, but the social conservatives just don't play well with others.

Frankly I don't see how being against gay marriage or gay rights in general, being pro-life, or being against stem cell research became the heart of what makes one a conservative these days. What about the emphasis on small or limited government or being fiscally prudent or being strong on national defense?

Is the heavy reliance on social conservatism the only reason the GOP failed this year? Of course not. There are many reasons why the GOP lost. But when you have a bunch people talking about how two men are going to destroy American society as we know it, who think the only way to deal with illegal immigration is to deport 12 million people instead trying to find ways to make them legal and to also stem the tide of illegal immigration and who are more concerned with what happened in 1970 than in what is happening today, you have a party that is not in tune with the times and is not willing to reach out to people who may not agree with the whole agenda, but still could be vital parts of a conservative coalition.

Maybe a few years in the political wilderness will amount to an "intervention."

1 comment:

Progressive Conservative said...

I don't think that the problem is social conservatism per se. Conservatives have always fought for traditional values and celebrated things like family and community.

Where the GOP has gone astray is when they began to push for a socially conservative agenda based on religion. As I have said before, "We cannot go to independent and liberal voters and ever hope to win their support when we make our arguements for public policy with a Bible in one hand. We have to learn how to legislate these moral issues with a non-religious rationale."

People of great faith and no faith should feel equally at home in the GOP and currently that is not the case.

You might find this post of relevance to this topic.