The recent elections – not only the Presidential election, but many state and local races as well – underscored just how much the Republican party has narrowed. Even the commentary leading up to the elections, particularly on conservative talk radio programs, provided a rubric of which views – and which people – were welcome in the party, and which were not.
This narrowing has been happening for years. When former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman published her book “It’s My Party Too” in early 2005, after leaving the Bush Administration in 2003, the idea that social conservatism would be the downfall of the GOP was highly criticized. Not surprisingly, the book’s harshest critics included Gary Bauer and Ann Coulter.
But last week, Whitman and her co-author Robert Bostock published an article in the Washington Post that noted how prescient the premise of their book really was:
“Our central thesis was simple: The Republican Party had been taken hostage by “social fundamentalists,” the people who base their votes on such social issues as abortion, gay rights and stem cell research. Unless the GOP freed itself from their grip, we argued, it would so alienate itself from the broad center of the American electorate that it would become increasingly marginalized and find itself out of power.”
The idea that the social conservatism which now defines the party is becoming increasingly off-putting to moderate Republicans and Independents is met with scornful blustering by GOP icons such as Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh. In Coulter’s piece linked above, she offers little in the way of substantive rebuttal to the idea that the party is alienating members via its social agenda. Instead, she argues that because “moderate Republicans” such as Dole and Thomas Dewey lost their elections, Whitman’s premise has no merit.
Likewise, Coulter maintains that Reagan was “portrayed as a religious-right kook throughout his presidency” and yet in 1984, he “went on to win the largest electoral landslide in history”, implying that his support among evangelical Christians was directly responsible for the magnitude of his victory.
Meanwhile, Rush Limbaugh shows no mercy, let alone respect, for Republicans who don’t toe the increasingly socially conservative party line. When Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama for president, Limbaugh thundered: “It was totally about race!” He gives Powell no credit for having thought through the reasons why he chose to endorse Obama – reasons Powell articulated quite clearly in his appearance on Meet the Press — and instead leaps to irrational and unfounded conclusions about Powell:
“As for Powell’s statement of concern that he would have difficulty with two more Republican Supreme Court nominees, I was unaware that he had dislike for John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, and Antonin Scalia. I guess he also regrets Ronald Reagan making him a four-star general. I guess he also regrets George Bush making him secretary of state. I guess he also regrets George H. W. Bush naming him chairman of the Joint Chiefs. I guess he’s also upset that a Republican appointed his son to head the FCC. Yeah, let’s hear it for transformational figures, because Powell had said Obama’s a transformational figure, and yet Colin Powell is who he is and is a household name because of Republicans.”
Colin Powell is who he is and is a household name because of Republicans. I read it over and over, and I still can’t believe he said it. Colin Powell’s success is due not to his own hard work and merit, but thanks purely to the benevolence of Republicans (white Republicans, I’d imagine).
In an effort to “get back to the fundamentals of the Republican Party”, Whitman and Senator John Danforth and Lt. Governor Michael Steele created the Republican Leadership Council: RLC-PAC. They are “unified by the basic tenets of fiscal responsibility and personal freedom, but that allows for diverse opinions on social issues by its members” and are “dedicated to supporting fiscally conservative, socially inclusive Republican candidates at all levels of government.”
The tenets outlined on their home page resonated strongly with me:
“The Republican Leadership Council supports:
* Low taxes with balanced budgets;
* Strong national defense;
* Engaged foreign policy;
* Protection of the environment; and
* Less government interference in individual lives.”
I left the Republican party myself more than a year ago and registered as an Independent primarily because of the hard line social agenda and the unconstitutional emphasis on religion in legislation and judicial proceedings. I voted for Barack Obama for the same reason. Like Colin Powell, the idea of two more Republican Supreme Court Justices filled me with dread: What laws would be interpreted within the framework of religion? What freedoms would be withheld or taken away based on “God’s word”? For a party that is such a supposed advocate of personal responsibility, the GOP leaves far too much responsibility up to God, and not to the individual.
The Republican Leadership Council is out to change that. I might just be persuaded to join them.