Sunday, April 26, 2009

What the Tea Parties Can Teach Moderate Republicans

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.
-Martin Luther King Jr.

In reading some of the blogs as of late, it might seem that moderate or progressive Republicans are finally getting some love. The recent speeches by Meghan McCain and former McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt, have given people the impression that maybe, just maybe, that those in the upper levels of the Republican Party are finally paying attention to us moderates. Maybe they will finally not focus on being against gay marriage and focus on more moderate issues.

Don't bet on it.

A recent article in Politico states that while there has been some beliefs and opinions that believe the GOP should change, the reality is that the so-called base of the party is still very much alive, even after two drubbings:

Rank-and-file Republicans remain, by all indications, staunchly conservative, and they appear to have no desire to moderate their views. GOP activists and operatives say they hear intense anger at the White House and at the party’s own leaders on familiar issues – taxes, homosexuality, and immigration. Within the party, conservative groups have grown stronger absent the emergence of any organized moderate faction.

There is little appetite for compromise on what many see as core issues, and the road to the presidential nomination lies – as always – through a series of states where the conservative base holds sway, and where the anger appears to be, if anything, particularly intense.

"There is a sense of rebellion brewing," said Katon Dawson, the outgoing South Carolina Republican Party chairman, who cited unexpectedly high attendance at anti-tax “tea parties” last week.

Politico goes on to give a passing statement on the vitality of three moderate groups:

Liberal Republican groups like the Main Street Republican Partnership and the Republican Majority for Choice remain essentially irrelevant, and even the main gay GOP group, the Log Cabin Republicans, is fending off a challenge from a more conservative gay splinter faction.

Ralph Reed, the longtime Christian conservative activist and former chair of the Georgia GOP, predicted that opposition to same-sex marriage would become, like abortion, a litmus test, if a lower-profile one.

"There used to be muscular and vocal disagreement in the party on our pro-life plank," he recalled. "That has largely been resolved. Nobody raises the issue of changing the pro-life plank."

In a recent op-ed also in Politico, Matthew Dallek states that the GOP needs to remember it's moderates. It follows a ton of articles by various writers accross the political spectrum that urge the same thing: The GOP needs to be more accepting of moderates and be able to moderate their views on social issues.

That is an important message to hear, but it's incomplete at best. The fact is, people have been saying that Republicans needs to be more tolerant and open minded at least since the the 1992 GOP Convention in Houston when Pat Buchanan and others presented a very right wing face to America. And in the ensuring years, not very much has changed.

The problem is that many of the writers fail to understand the notion of politics and how it operates. I will go even further and say that many moderates both within and without the GOP also fail to understand how politics truly work and as long as this takes place, there will never be a revivial of moderates in the Republican Party.

In many of the articles that fault the Republican Party for not supporting moderates, the plea is usually to the party in general. It's a nice statement to ask those who are in power to please let moderates in. It based on a belief that if the party leadership (those in the Republican National Committee and also at state and local levels) would simply appeal to reason and logic, then party leaders will see the light and by jove, they will let moderates in.

But politics is never about reasoned discussions. It is in the end about power, coalitions and organizing. The Left has understood this for a long time, as have those on the Religious Right. Moderate Republicans are wont to say that the GOP has been "hijacked" by the far right. Now, I have no love towards the far right which I believe have ruined the GOP. But such belief in a "hijacking" is simply a nice fantasy that we moderates can console ourselves with. It isn't real.

The fact is, the Religious Right for all the bad it has done, did things the right way: they got involved at the local and state level. They got on platform committees and inserted their agenda. The created political action committees to elect their candidates. Yes, they took over the GOP, but they did it fair and square, through good old fashioned organizing.

And such organizing has results. We complain that John McCain transformed himself into a right-wing candidate in 2008. If only, some moderates claim, McCain ran as he did in 2000. The fact is, the people that hold the power in the GOP is the far right. If McCain wanted to have the backing of the party he had to bend to where the party is. Yes, McCain could have ran as he did in 2000, but we saw what the power players did to him then and since they were still power eight years later, they would do it again.

Dirty? Yes. But it's also politics.

Then their was the task of picking a Vice Presidential candidate. McCain was leading towards former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge. But when McCain sent a trial balloon that he was considering a pro-choice candidate there were howls of protest. In the end, we got Sarah Palin, which wowed the far right, but turned off moderates.

Same goes for Mitt Romney, who ran in 1994 as a moderate Republican against Sen. Edward Kennedy. He was pro-choice and earned the support of Log Cabin Republicans for gay-friendly stances. But when he started thinking about running for President, his stances changed. Why? Because the current GOP isn't going to elect a pro-gay, pro-choice Republican governor as their nominee. To the victor belongs the spoils.

That's what's missing from the moderate faction (what's left of it) in the GOP. It is barely organized. There are groups that I think truly "get it" such as Log Cabin Republicans and Republicans for Environmental Protection. But for the most part, moderates seem to be waiting for the GOP to come to its senses.

But that isn't going to happen. Yes, a candidate like George W. Bush will come along and sprinkle a few words here and there about being a "different kind of Republican" that will woo just enough moderates,but in the end, once they are in office, they will dance with those that brung 'um.

The great moderate revival in the GOP will not happen unless those of us that are moderates make it happen. If we believe that the Republican Party needs to be more tolerant and accepting of same sex marriage, then we must be willing to get off our couches and out from behind our computers and go to the next meeting of our local Republican party and demand it.

I don't totally agree with the Tea Party folks. I think their message is to unfocused and not really for anything. But I do have to hand it to them: they were willing to get mad enough to get together and create something. The same goes for all the Ron Paul folk. Again, they might be just plain crazy, but they at least aren't waiting for someone to give them permission.

Politics is about having a good ground game. It's about getting into the arena, but we moderates perfer to stay on the sidelines.

Yes, there needs to be more diversity in the GOP. Yes, the party needs more moderates. But it is up to us to for that to happen. It will not happen because the leadership granted it to us; it will happen because we demanded it- because we got organized and went to city, county and state conventions, because we got on platform committees and because we created PACS to support our candidates.

Will that happen? I don't know. There is a part of me that is always hopeful, but I'm also a born pessimist.

But I want to be proven wrong. I want to see the flowering of a new moderate movement. But it's up to my fellow moderates. Please don't let me down.

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