I love politics. Nowhere else (except maybe for sports) can you find more drama, more competition, more free exchange of ideas than in politics. My love affair with politics has sharpened since I was very young–back then, when I was young, I didn't really pay attention. I started paying attention–sharply–when Bush '43 became president–it was then that I noticed that something had gone deeply awry with the conservative party of Lincoln–it was becoming more like a party full of Joe McCarthyistic, paranoid, far right wing ideologues. Sure, they were still talking about small government, while expanding it with the Patriot Act. They were still talking about individual rights while taking away individual rights under that unfortunate piece of legislation (all under the guise, of course, of national security). What they did, however, told me volumes about what it was they really believed:
Legislate human behavior while wanting a totally unfettered economy. Big government is BAD when they want to make money, but GOOD when they want to tell people how to live.
The drama has continued. We have heard the Todd Akins and Richard Mourdocks of this party wax not-so-eloquently about what they think of rape and women's issues. We have seen their Southern strategy, and it has bombed.
Now that they dominate the Republican Party, Southern conservatives are using it to carry out the same strategies that they promoted during the generations when they controlled the Democratic Party, from the days of Andrew Jackson and Martin van Buren to the civil rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960s. From the 19th century to the 21st, the oligarchs of the American South have sought to defend the Southern system, what used to be known as the Southern Way of Life.
Notwithstanding slavery, segregation and today’s covert racism, the Southern system has always been based on economics, not race. Its rulers have always seen the comparative advantage of the South as arising from the South’s character as a low-wage, low-tax, low-regulation site in the U.S. and world economy. The Southern strategy of attracting foreign investment from New York, London and other centers of capital depends on having a local Southern workforce that is forced to work at low wages by the absence of bargaining power.
Anything that increases the bargaining power of Southern workers vs. Southern employers must be opposed, in the interest of the South’s regional economic development model. Unions, federal wage and workplace regulations, and a generous, national welfare state all increase the bargaining power of Southern workers, by reducing their economic desperation. Anti-union right-to-work laws, state control of wages and workplace regulations, and an inadequate welfare state all make Southern workers more helpless, pliant and dependent on the mercy of their employers. A weak welfare state also maximizes the dependence of ordinary Southerrners on the tax-favored clerical allies of the local Southern ruling class, the Protestant megachurches, whose own lucrative business model is to perform welfare functions that are performed by public agencies elsewhere, like childcare.
Now. This doesn't mean that conservatives have to turn into Democrats in order to govern. No, what they need to do is get serious about conservatism–to research what their party ideals have stood for in history because there is a fine tradition of conservatism throughout US history. We don't need a permanent majority of Democrats. We need all types of thought in order to keep our democracy healthy.
We started GodDiscussion back when we noticed that something wasn't being talked about so much in any circle–religion (more precisely, evangelicals) and politics, and how religion was really influencing the way this party was going. We saw David Barton and his revision of US history in a form that fit the Fox News viewer worldview–that this nation was founded to be a Christian nation, and any other religion that exists in this country is, in fact, threatening this so-called Christian vision. This vision has been leading to severe intolerance of anyone who does not agree with it–particularly towards Muslims, people of color, and women. So we sought to educate people about exactly how religion was affecting the political landscape, and how the convergence of these two things were directly affecting ordinary Americans on a daily basis. What has the GOP been learning from this (to them) surprising defeat?
Religious conservatives have been using the Republican party for the last 20 or so years to forward their agenda–ban gay marriage, (heck, outlaw homosexuality entirely), ban abortion, ban birth control, pass personhood amendments which would actually seek to punish mothers for miscarrying. Suddenly the life of the mother means nothing and the life of the fetus is all (except of course, when the fetus turns 18–then all bets on anything pro-life are off–then its "send them off to fight our wars, and kill them if they commit heinous crimes"). Now, religious conservatives are pretty morose.
"Evangelical Christians must see the 2012 election as a catastrophe for crucial moral concerns," R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote in a sobering post-mortem.
"DISASTER," David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network wrote on his blog. He then amended his lament to read: "COLOSSAL DISASTER."
Yet as bad as the results were for social conservatives, they may now face an equally difficult fight as they try to defend their agenda. Sifting through the electoral rubble, some conservatives and GOP leaders argue that the party's positions and presentation on issues like gay marriage and abortion rights turn off more voters than they attract.
The article, and others I saw, depict a constituency who are feeling very vulnerable to criticism. As well they should be. Their flat earth movement simply doesn't work anymore. You can't snub your nose at education and call it "elitist" when it challenges your worldview. You can't deny science, claim dinosaurs roamed the earth with human beings and that the Loch Ness monster proves this, force creationism in the public school sector as was attempted in Dover, PA, and not expect to get roundly laughed at. In fact, one blogger suggests that the problem with the Republican party and social religious conservatives is that Republicans didn't lose badly enough:
The Republican Party has not hit rock bottom yet. Perhaps they should have chosen a full-throated social conservative with strong grassroots appeal as their presidential candidate, and watched him lose more than 40 states, as such a candidate surely would have.
But for the moment, the grassroots of the Republican Party are reminiscent of the British Labour Party in the 1980s, as that party waged an internal war between the hard left and the first proto-Blairite reformers. One of the architects of the Blairite programme, Peter Mandelson, tells a story about an adversary from those days, a London local government leader and Trotskyite, whose battle cry was: "No compromise with the electorate". It is a slogan that might appeal to some on the American right.
Moreover, some pundits are saying that the time is ripe to kick out evangelicals entirely. Fred Clark, in his article "Why the white evangelical religious right can no longer presume to claim moral superiority," seems to state unequivocally that their time is over unless they learn to argue their positions more intelligently instead of merely saying that something is wrong just because it's wrong:
The religious right lost because they are no longer perceived as having the moral high ground. For decades, the religious right has been pre-occupied with two issues above all else: abortion and homosexuality. And on both of those issues, they have wielded power and influence by claiming the moral high ground — claiming to represent the godly, “biblical” truth of right and wrong. Anyone who disagreed with them on these issues was portrayed as less moral, less godly, less good.
That claim — that framing of these issues as right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, biblical vs. unbiblical, moral vs. immoral — was asserted and accepted for most of the religious right’s 30-year run.
But not any more. That claim is still being asserted, but it is no longer being accepted.
Part of what happened on Tuesday was that millions of people rejected that claim on moral grounds. This was not just a political or pragmatic disagreement that preserved their essential claim of godly morality. It was a powerful counter-claim — the claim that the religious right is advocating immoral, unjust and cruelly unfair policies on both of its hallmark issues. Knee-jerk opposition to legal abortion and to gay rights weren’t just rejected as bad policy, but as bad morals — as being on the wrong side of right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, biblical vs. unbiblical, moral vs. immoral.
And if the country is realigning morally, then that means certain issues–like marriage equality–will no longer be an issue for religious conservatives, because the country has told them that this isn't going to be a wedge issue any longer. With that ticked off their list, the tried and true agenda (abortion, homosexuality) is no longer tried and true. It's simply an antiquated agenda that no longer resonates in an increasingly sophisticated society.
Blame the Candidate
This one is taking on traction with the Fox News crowd. When you lose, it can't possibly be anything you've done–it's the candidate's fault. CNN got a snapshot of some deeply disappointed Tea Party conservatives after the election and this is what they said:
A coalition of social conservatives and tea party activists gathered in Washington to decry what they described as Romney's failure to represent conservatives on a national level.
"We wanted someone who would fight for us. What we got was a weak, moderate candidate, hand-picked by the Beltway elites and country club establishment wing of the Republican Party," Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, said in a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington.
"The presidential loss is unequivocally on them," she added.
Pushed from the right in the Republican presidential primary, Romney sought to paint himself as "severely conservative," though the former Massachusetts governor had taken Democratic positions on certain issues in his political past.
Brent Bozell, president of the conservative Media Research Center, argued that Romney failed to pass the ideological test, saying he ran as a "Democrat-light" and adjusted his positions to campaign as a moderate during the general election.
"At the end of the day, conservatives were left out in the cold. It should have been a landslide for Romney, had he embraced a truly conservative agenda," Bozell said. "But Romney's a moderate and his campaign embarked on a bizarre…defense from the outset."
Maybe, as it turns out, had Romney shifted center sooner, he might have been real competition for the President. But this is not the conclusion Fox News pundits came to. Perhaps their shock can be encapsulated in Bill O'Reilly's exclamation: "What the HECK happened?"
This cannot be true, however. Any thinking person would see that far more conservatives were run through the primaries, and all of them, (despite their belief that God had chosen them to run) were all soundly rejected. Outside The Beltway adds:
This is the usual argument we hear from the right after a Republican candidate loses. The GOP lost, we’re told, not because it’s message didn’t resonate with the public, not because it is out of step with the electorate, but because its candidate wasn’t conservative enough. The people who make this argument typically cite Ronald Reagan and the 1980 Election as proof of their assertion, although they do so without realizing that Reagan was not the most conservative candidate in the 1980 Republican field, that distinction would have belonged to Illinois Congressman Phil Crane. Moreover, during the General Election, Reagan didn’t campaign has a hard right conservative, which is apparently one of the complaints that some people on the right have already started making about the Romney campaign’s performance during the just completed cycle. It’s also amusing to see activists repeat the same old tired arguments about the GOP Establishment. Sorry guys, but in the modern GOP the conservatives are “The Establishment.” You can’t blame some mystical cabal of moderates in a Corporate Boardroom in New York City for what happened this year.
When blaming the candidate doesn't work, the logical next step for some in the party has been to forward conspiracy theories: the election was rigged, and a really bizarre claim by Fox News party back contributer Michael Graham that Obama won by scaring women into believing they'd be forced into rape camps under Mitt Romney (note religious overtones of said accusation):
“He ran on the Republicans are Satan incarnate and if women vote for them, they’re going to be forced into rape camps,” the radio host insisted. “And when that’s your campaign, you can’t be surprised when the people you ran against don’t want to work with you and you don’t have an issue to rally people around.”
Exactly what rape camps are escapes the wildest imaginings of this writer. And the conspiracy theories rage on--the media selectively reported Romney's gaffes (apparently missing the times he was "presidential" ), fact checkers were biased, Hurricane Isaac ruined the election for them, Romney was too nice (!) while Obama was nasty and negative, and Hurricane Sandy disenfranchised Republican voters. Finally, New Jersey governor Chris Christie cost the GOP the election because he praised Obama too much in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The list goes on, and is really not productive. To me, all of this non-productive backtracking is Fox News trying not to lose viewers because they were so wrong, about everything. Karl Rove's meltdown turned into a sexist moment--they made Megyn Kelly get up to check election results so that the beer swilling, redneck men watching the show could get a good look at her legs. I wish so much I were kidding, but I am not. This is how the current Republican party views women–with a 1940's mentality that there's only one thing women are good for–with the same "good 'ol boy" ass pinching, let's call 'em "girls" rhetoric that got Clarence Thomas in trouble.
Still there have been some thoughtful appraisals by some conservatives. Tim Pawlenty, former governor of Minnesota and Romney's former co-chairman, thinks that the GOP needs to appeal to a wider, more diverse population. Rush Limbaugh admitted that "maybe" the GOP was wrong on immigration and definitely wrong to ignore poll results. In a piece entitled "Oh the Futility! Establishment GOP Draws All the Wrong Lessons from Election Results," Limbaugh says:
Now, let's go back to the polls, the preelection polls, and they all were showing Democrat samples of plus six, plus seven, and plus 11, and we pooh-poohed it. Let's go back and remember how these samples happened. The pollsters do not go out — let's say the CNN, 49-49 tie, this is the day before the election with a Democrat plus 11 sample. They don't go out and find a sample that's a thousand people. They don't purposely find a sample with 11% more Democrats or a sample of plus 11 more Democrats. It's just the way it happened. They called their sample of a thousand people, and of the thousand people, when they finished, that sample had a Democrat plus 11 advantage. It turned out to be dead right. Well, not plus 11, it was Democrat plus six or plus seven. Dead right. There was a significant — there were enough Republican votes that sat home.
And on immigration:
RUSH: Look, some of you may be bothered by my little joke about if immigration was about work, the Democrats would be down there building the fence to stop it, but I mean, we are in the middle of some fundamental shifts in this country. And we are, if not outnumbered, we're on the way, folks. I wasn't just trying to use scare tactics yesterday. It used to be — in fact, you go back to Reagan, Reagan voted amnesty in 1986, Simpson-Mazzoli was the name of the bill. Three million illegals were given amnesty, three million. That was said to be the end of it. We're gonna get really tough on it. Of course, that didn't happen.
Hispanics that were beneficiaries of amnesty back then, still hate Republicans. Even though it was the Republican Party that gave 'em the amnesty back in 1986. Why doesn't that last? It used to be that immigration was about jobs, and the concern was jobs lost. Even the Democrat Party, because of the unions, was concerned about illegal immigration because of what it meant for jobs. What happened to that? Why all of a sudden do the unions no longer care about that? No, no, folks, gotta face these questions. There are answers to these questions. Why now does the number one support group of the Democrat Party support amnesty, support illegal immigration? Why are they not worried about a massive inflow of people across the border?
There will be plenty of resistance to any suggestion that the party change its position on immigration, no doubt. While the Tea Party claims that it is solely concerned with economic issues, there has always been a decided anti-immigrant, nativist, tinge to its policy pronouncements, and I’m already seeing people in that wing of the GOP threatening revolt if the party leadership in Washington gives even a single inch on this issue. The fact that such a modification is in the long-term interest of both the GOP and the nation doesn’t seem to phase them one bit. Whether Boehner, McConnell and the others will be able to maneuver around this force without causing trouble for the party is something that remains to be seen.
And not all Republicans are out of touch. Lindsey Graham saw trouble coming down the pike in August when he made the observation that there aren't "enough angry white guys" to sustain the GOP. Turns out he was right:
"The demographics race we're losing badly," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told the Washington Post. "We're not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term."
True enough: In a recent piece on the presidental election's "racial calculations," National Jounal's Ron Brownstein noted that Camp Romney needs to secure a likely unattainable percentage of white voters for a chance to win in November.
"A GOP coalition that relies almost entirely on whites could squeeze out one more narrow victory in November," Brownstein writes. "But if Republicans can't find more effective ways to bridge the priorities of their conservative core and the diversifying Next America, that weight will grow more daunting every year."
And finally, when you've tried blaming a loss on all of the above, and that doesn't work? You threaten the President with impeachment for "jihadi-coddling." This gem is from Michelle Malkin who sat in on Sean Hannity's show on Thursday:
Conservative pundit Michelle Malkin on Thursday suggested that President Barack Obama could be punished with impeachment or other “constitutional provisions” for his administration’s “jihadi-coddling” in Libya.[..]
Hannity said that he was convinced that “the president knew and that president lied to the American people” that the deaths in Libya were the result of a terrorist attack.
“Well, there are many constitutional provisions for recourse on this and I think that they have to be contemplated,” Malkin pointed out. “And this administration and this candidate and this president was forced to see signs from people reminding them that they will not forget the seven hours of hell that the murdered Americans went through before they perished in Benghazi!”
So, to recap. To win elections, you can't threaten women with transvaginal ultrasounds without their consent, you can't call women "sluts" for taking birth control, you can't try to pass "personhood" amendments which would effectively outlaw abortion and in-vitro fertilization (and carry with it criminal penalties because a woman would have to prove she naturally miscarried), because that kind of honesty just reveals how conservative the right wing has become. After reading quite a few articles from what I would term moderate Republicans, this sort of thing was obvious for a long time, but being securely ensconced in what I term the Fox News Bubble blinded Republicans to simple facts about their own party. Jennifer Rubin, conservative columnist at the Washington Post has given the GOP ten "fix-it" projects to consider for the next four years, and they bear looking at. The party needs to become more technologically savvy, and she says pulling younger people in to campaign for a 21st century election is first on her list.
In the meanwhile, the party is so confused it may just split. It's time this party got the message that intolerance and outright hate (which has been an integral part of the so-called "Southern strategy") isn't going to cut it any longer. It's time to stop acting like five year olds. Conservatism is a valid, serious philosophy and it's time this party get serious about its conservatism. Trust people to govern their own lives–as Eisenhower once said, be liberal with people, be conservative with people's money. I end with a quote by Thomas Jefferson that encapsulates this message:
That government is best which governs the least, because its people discipline themselves.