Monday, February 25, 2013

The Republican Party Has to Change – But Can It?

          The Republican Party is in a hard spot. If it does not change its positions on a host of issues it will continue to lose national elections.

          The GOP has lost the popular vote in five of the last six national elections. The demographic tide is running strongly in favor of Democrats. Young people overwhelmingly vote Democratic, and by definition they are the future. Latinos overwhelmingly vote democratic, and their proportion of the population is rapidly growing. The Republican Party has already lost all of its influence in the wealthiest and most populous parts of the country, the northeast and the west coast. It is steadily losing ground in the next most populous areas - Florida, the Middle Atlantic states, and the Midwestern states. The positions taken by the GOP remain popular only in the South, the Great Plains, and the Rocky Mountain states – which are for the most part rural, religious, and in reduced circumstances.

            The reason for this retrograde movement by the Republicans is not due to poor messaging nor is it the fault of the messengers. It is because Americans are increasingly rejecting the present principles and policies of the Republican Party.

            Let us consider the platform of the Republican Party in 2012, and see what must be changed.

Same-Sex Marriage

            The Republican Platform states:

We reaffirm our support for a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. We applaud the citizens of the majority of States which have enshrined in their constitutions the traditional concept of marriage, and we support the campaigns underway in several other States to do so.
            This is a subject upon which people’s views are changing very rapidly. Support for same-sex marriage is increasing at the rate of about 1% per year nationally; at present about 53% of Americans approve of allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. Eleven foreign nations, including Britain and France, now recognize same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage is now lawful in ten states, and will shortly be lawful in five more. Once California is added to the mix, more than one-third of the American people will live in states that recognize same-sex marriage. Pressure will grow on the remaining states, both as a matter of comity and as a matter of competition, to recognize same-sex unions.

Opposition to same-sex marriage is based mainly on religion, but religious belief is not a valid ground for the enactment of prohibitory legislation, nor is it as persuasive a basis for social policy as it once was. Every year fewer Americans describe themselves as religious, reflecting a worldwide trend. Nor is there any factual basis for opposing same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage actually strengthens families and the institution of marriage. As more and more people realize that – as their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, extended family and friends openly acknowledge and celebrate their own committed love and desire to create families of their own – opposition to same-sex marriage will crumble. The opposition to same-sex marriage will increasingly appear to be the product of irrational fear and prejudice, and it will become politically unacceptable. Once a state has democratically adopted same-sex marriage as law, no candidate who opposes it can hope to achieve statewide victory. The citizens of such a state will not vote for a candidate who is sworn to rescind a right so fundamental as the right to marry. A staunchly conservative Republican whose gay or lesbian child is happily married will simply not vote Republican. Republicans will have no chance in a growing number of states that already recognize same-sex marriage and will face increasingly daunting prospects in the swing states until they pivot on this issue.


            There are over 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. The majority of them are Latino, and most of the rest hail from Asia. Nearly three-fourths of Latino- and Asian-Americans voted Democratic in 2012 primarily because the Republican Party opposes permitting their family members, friends, and those who share their national origin from becoming citizens. The Republican Party Platform of 2012 opposes creating a path to citizenship for undocumented aliens, calling it “amnesty.” The platform also supports laws such as Arizona S.B. 1070, which was expressly designed to drive undocumented aliens out of the state of Arizona and which is both feared and hated because of the vast discretion it confers on state and local police in their dealings with the Latino community. Here are some passages from the Republican Party platform:

That is why we oppose any form of amnesty for those who, by intentionally violating the law, disadvantage those who have obeyed it. Granting amnesty only rewards and encourages more law breaking.

We will create humane procedures to encourage illegal aliens to return home voluntarily.

State efforts to reduce illegal immigration must be encouraged, not attacked. The pending Department of Justice lawsuits against Arizona, Alabama, South Carolina, and Utah must be dismissed immediately.

            One can rationally debate the merits and demerits of immigration policy. For example, like many Democrats I believe that immigration fuels the economy and I also welcome the cultural diversity it brings. But whatever the economic and social consequences of immigration may be, it is an undeniable political truth that Mitt Romney lost the 2012 election the moment he uttered the words “self-deportation.” Politically, Republicans have no choice but to cave on this issue. The longer that party stalwarts such as Congressman Steven King dig in on their opposition to immigration, the deeper an electoral hole the Republican Party will find itself in.

Universal Health Care

ObamaCare is now the law of the land. It will expand health insurance to the poor through Medicaid and to the lower middle class by means of direct subsidies to purchase health insurance. Once people qualify for health insurance on January 1, 2014, they will never willingly give it up. Imagine running for office on the plank, “If elected I will take away your health insurance.”

Republican governors who opposed the law in court are now bowing to irresistible pressure from the medical community to expand Medicaid so that hospitals and doctors may become eligible for billions of dollars of federal funding. No state will forego this massive level of funding for long. Governors who reject federal support will eventually alienate not only those persons who would be eligible, but also the medical and other commercial interests who would otherwise bear the brunt of the absence of funding for health care for low-income persons. It is time to throw in the towel, as have the Republican governors of Florida and Ohio.


            Current law under Roe v. Wade represents a reasonable compromise between a woman’s right to choose and the sanctity of fetal life. At present a woman has the right to terminate her pregnancy prior to “viability” – about halfway through the pregnancy. Before that, the decision whether to continue the pregnancy is up to her. After that, the government may prohibit abortion except in certain emergency situations. Most Americans agree with that position.

            But the Republican Party has staked out an extreme and extremely unpopular position on abortion. The Republican Party Platform states:

Faithful to the “self-evident” truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.

This is not a view that very many Americans accept. Not a single state has chosen to enact into law a “personhood amendment” to the state constitution. Even the state of Mississippi, the most conservative and religious state in the country, handily rejected such a referendum when it was recently presented to the voters. By catering to religious extremists – persons who also oppose the “morning after pill” and common forms of birth control such as IUDs because they believe both to be forms of abortion – the Republican Party is alienating the vast majority of Americans. Religious thinking lends itself to absolutist positions, but rational analysis seeks a fair compromise among competing interests and principles. To say that women have no choice in this matter – to say that not only life but legal personhood begins at conception – and then to rigidly enforce this proposition in the law – will simply reinforce the impression that the Republican Party consists of older men trying to control the bodies of younger women. Women justifiably resent that.

Nor is this primarily a consequence of poor messaging. During the 2012 campaign Republican senatorial candidates Todd Akins and Richard Mourdock expressed the idea that women who have been raped should not be permitted to abort any resulting pregnancy. In so doing they were simply repeating the absolutist position that is in the Republican Party platform. Once again, the problem is with the principles and policies of the Republican Party – not the way in which those policies have been communicated.

Nor is the GOP’s problem with women confined to the question of abortion.

The War on Women

            The Republican Party suffers from a serious and widening “gender gap.” For more than two decades women have consistently tended to vote for the Democratic Party.

The absolutist position on abortion that is taken by the Republican Party is not the only or even the primary issue that is troublesome to women. Women want protection from traditional forms of discrimination that they still face in the marketplace, yet Republicans oppose the Lilly Ledbetter Act and the Equal Pay Act. Women want protection against the epidemic of rape and domestic violence in our society, yet Republicans oppose the Violence Against Women Act. Women want access to medical care on the same basis as men, yet Republicans oppose treating birth control as a type of preventive medical care, thus forcing women to pay far more out-of-pocket for preventive care than men.

            As a whole, women are poorer than men and more likely to be raising children as single parents; as a consequence women are in greater need of government assistance than men. Raising the minimum wage is a women’s issue. Universal preschool is a women’s issue. The Republican Party is more focused on lowering the rate of taxation on the wealthy than it is in protecting low-wage workers and educating children.

            During the 2012 campaign Ann Romney expressed the notion that if women knew what was best for them they would vote for her husband. Evidently Republicans believe that women are too stupid to realize that raising the minimum wage, enacting universal preschool, guaranteeing equal pay, subsidizing health care coverage, and reducing domestic violence are contrary to their own best interests.

            Once again people may rationally debate the wisdom and efficacy of these various measures. But the hard political fact is that until the Republican Party offers a convincing alternative to these policies most women will continue to vote Democratic.

            Adapt or die. I predict that the GOP will choose not to change its position on the above issues. As a result, the Party as presently constituted will disappear from the national scene. As surely as people have different interests and goals, another party will emerge to challenge the current coalition of Democrats. But their concerns, their positions, and their policies will be different from the issues discussed above. The hand of history hath writ the answer to the foregoing questions, and in the future major political alignments will instead be centered on new questions yet to emerge.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I cheerfully concede, for the sake of argument only, my every shortcoming and limitation. In commenting please address the merits of my arguments.