Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What would conservatism be without the hate?

This morning I ran across an interesting editorial by a Republican woman in Iowa.

I am a proud evangelical Christian Republican and a native of Mississippi. I moved to Iowa and fell in love with the political process here during caucus season...

2011 was a big year for Republicans. We saw leaders emerge and saw candidates drop out. We saw job creation and education being seriously debated, and I felt that the concerns of the American people were heard — for the most part.

What I didn’t hear much of this year was support for marriage equality from the Republican front-runners. I support marriage for gay and lesbian couples and have been vocal about my support, even when it hasn’t always been the popular thing to do in my party.

I heard a lot of rhetoric about gay and lesbian Americans that didn’t fit with what I know to be true and what many Republicans believe. As an evangelical Christian Republican, I know many people who hold conservative values like equality and freedom, but those voices were lost this year. However, I believe in my heart that things are changing. If it weren’t for the loud voices of a few in our party, I do believe more Republicans would stand up in support of marriage equality.

I didn’t always feel that way and my journey toward full support has been a long and intensive one. One of the things that changed my mind on this issue was my children. I used to watch my kids and wonder why equality is a non-issue with them. They love and support their friends, regardless of their sexual orientation, race, gender or religion.

Then I realized that I was tired of watching adults judge each other while my children could embrace the differences in their friends. After all, that is what being a Christian is all about.

It made me realize that I'd like to hear more from Republicans like that. What was it she liked about what she heard on issues like job creation and education? And that led me to the question that is my title...what would conservatism be without the hate?

We all know that there have been some tectonic shifts in party alignment on many issues over the last 50 years. The first was the result of the Civil Rights movement and the embrace by the Republicans of a Southern strategy. But less commented on is the tempering of the Democratic message following the leftist heyday in the 60's and 70's. In many ways this co-opted much of the previous Republican Party platform. Democrats no longer believe that federal spending is the sole answer to EVERY problem and have, when given the opportunity, showed that we are actually the party that knows how to balance the budget. After a few years of promoting the idea of law enforcement as "pigs," we now believe in law and order as a primary responsibility of government when tempered with justice and oversight. And now, President Obama is demonstrating that a strong hand against our opponents in foreign policy can be coupled with the idea of partnerships rather than world domination.

In other words, what the Democratic Party has done is adopt a both/and response to traditional party divides and the Republicans have chosen to respond by:

1. Continuing the either/or message by moving to the right on issues,
2. Running against what Democrats used to be (ie, Obama as socialist) rather than what we are now, and
3. Ramping up the hate.

I suspect that without these strategies folks like me and the woman who wrote that editorial could actually have a meaningful conversation about things like job creation and education. I'm not suggesting we would necessarily always agree. But we could at least talk to each other. And I suspect that at times, we could even find some common ground.

I recognize that many people think its a pipe dream, but I also continue to believe that this is what then-Senator Barack Obama meant when he said this:

Our goal should be to stick to our guns on those core values that make this country great, show a spirit of flexibility and sustained attention that can achieve those goals, and try to create the sort of serious, adult, consensus around our problems that can admit Democrats, Republicans and Independents of good will. This is more than just a matter of "framing," although clarity of language, thought, and heart are required. It's a matter of actually having faith in the American people's ability to hear a real and authentic debate about the issues that matter.

P.S. I'd suggest that there is nothing the Republican establishment (and some Democrats) fear more than the possibility of that actually happening.


  1. I lived for a while and worked in a fairly heavily evangelical area, and many of the Christians who weren't technically evangelical identified as very conservative. What I found was that while there were a lot of things that weren't up for discussion, a lot of things were. Abortion was off the table, but poverty was good to go. There's a whole range of things a large group of evangelicals are more to the left politically than most liberals, because whatever else, many self-identified Christians are actually working out what it means to follow Christ's example in the modern world.

    The problem for the GOP is that their voter appeal hasn't been political since the 1960's, or before. Their appeal has been demographic, and that's meant they've been the white party. That racial appeal uses the language of policy to advocate the maintenance of white supremacy. We are seeing the limits of that strategy now.

    1. That's been my sense as well Bill. And it was so clear after I read that op-ed this morning - there's no "there" anymore in conservatism once you remove the demographics (and perhaps the greed of the 1% - which isn't selling real well with working and middle class white Republicans anymore - ala Romney).

      I don't think we should miss that we're in the midst of another one of those "tectonic shifts" again. I have hopes for the outcome of this one - but we'll have to wait and see.

    2. Well, it's that 1% that was the politics of it, and that doesn't get you to a majority, hence the racial appeal. Not my original observation of course.

      I think the outcome of the current tectonic shift will certainly be positive. I don't know if you're thinking of the fact that we'll have a majority non-white electorate, but to me that will make things very possible to move forward. White people will see that, contrary to their fantasies, Black and Brown people have no intention of doing to white people what white people have, historically, done to them, as a group. On the contrary, we'll see that we will still have problems to work on that will require sound policy, etc. The less race drives our politics, the more policy does, and that will be good, if no silver bullet.

      I do not see how the GOP survives, but I don't see how it doesn't either. There really is nothing left in it but coded racist appeal and a yearning for a feudal social structure.

    3. Perceptive comment, Bill, and your experience matches mine. "Conservative" as applied to a particular subculture doesn't necessarily (or even usually) mean monolithic, reactionary or ignorant. And it doesn't mean "unchangeable" either.

      Thirty years ago, I remember much less polarization of opinion in the South, for instance, but also much more entrenched social segregation of races and very little tolerance for openly gay men or openly extreme ideological expression (of any stripe). But thirty years ago, much of the South was still fairly insular in ways that can no longer be sustained.

      Long story short, and as Smartypants illustrates so well above, most folks of the conservative "values" culture are just not well represented by today's GOP. They are quite willing and more than able to deal with issues in practical ways, as long as their principles are recognized and their concerns are addressed.

    4. That was my experience too, living in the South for a few years. Abortion was definitely "off the table" but surprisingly racism was not & I had some good discussions with some people.

      There were strong examples of not just talk but walk, concerning feeding the hungry, tending the sick & elderly and caring for "those most in need among us."

      I won't say it was all rosy for this liberal POC while living there but I was refreshed by the evidence of decency & kindness I met on many occasions.


    5. I think you'll get a lot farther trying to have a serious discussion of race with your average white Southerner than your average white person from elsewhere in the country. And I'll work with your average evangelical on poverty before I will your average upper-middle class white liberal on it, or your rigidly-sectarian leftist.

  2. I watched the Carter / Dole presidential debate and it shocked me. Both candidates, contrary to the way I remembered it, supported entitlements. Their dispute was primarily over how to pay for them. The idea that they were bad did not even enter the discussion.


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