Mike Huckabee, a lifelong Republican very close to me once intimated, would be the death of the Republican party. The rationale behind this statement was simple; Huckabee’s presidential campaign was forcing the party to be even more in the thrall of Religious conservatives without making concessions towards actual governance or even towards winning elections.
And yet this very same Republican fell in love with Sarah Palin, despite the fact that she represented much of what Governor Huckabee represented just at a different point in the presidential election timeline.
It is the truth that in this country, people are free to use whatever criteria they choose when casting their vote for elected officials. It’s equally true that candidates have a very broad latitude in how they ask the electorate to vote for them. While there are plenty of guidelines telling us how to run the country, we are remarkably free in the way we go about selecting those people to actually run it.
As a result, there’s nothing inherently wrong with people using their faith to decide for whom they would like to vote. Things are a little sketchier when it comes to politicians, but they are free to say they are the candidate of God, or whatever they think will do the trick.
But just as people are free to vote as Christians, and to run as fundamentalist Christians, they are also free to lose; lose political power, and lose elections. The question facing Republicans today is this one; over the course of the past thirty years the GOP has moved closer and closer to the increasingly powerful religious-political epicenters of this country, but are they really willing to follow this trend right over a cliff?
What has happened is that the Republican party is growing more radical, seemingly with each election cycle.
Which is itself another truth in American politics; things change. There’s a natural progression for this sort of thing, first something is thought of as radical, than it builds steam, breaks through, and becomes mainstream. And just as new ideas become old and comfortable, old ideas fall out of favor, become discredited, and themselves become radical. Think on it for a moment, a hundred and fifty years ago, equal voting rights across the board for black people would have been radical, unthinkable even. Now, the exact opposite is true; it is the norm that black people can vote while those who think otherwise are relegated to extreme communities, ostracized from the sphere of rationality in the American debate.
This is not to imply that eventually people of faith will become intellectual outcasts, or even that they should be, they shouldn’t. But it is to say that while the Republican party remains beholden to this one wedge of political power, the rest of the country is moving on, and if social trends continue as expected, in a generation or two the entirety of the socially conservative agenda will be toxic in most places save some regions.
And after so much attention has been lavished upon them, religious conservatives have gotten greedy; they want to see their agenda make that move from divisive issues in debate to being actually enacted by law. In so doing, they are essentially alienating themselves from relevence, they are isolating themselves from being able to appeal to and compromise with a growing portion of the country that is not itself religiously conservative.
Thirty years ago, the Religious Right was a Godsend; in today’s political climate, and in the political climate of the future, the Religious Right looks more and more like a poison pill.
Sadly, my opinions on the matter aren’t likely to change many minds, especially not those minds that really matter, me being the Democrat that I am. No, the Republican Party needs a wake up call, and they need it from one of their own. Kathleen Parker provides such a summons to good sense:
Here’s the deal, ‘pubbies: Howard Dean was right.
It isn’t that culture doesn’t matter. It does. But preaching to the choir produces no converts. And shifting demographics suggest that the Republican Party — and conservatism with it — eventually will die out unless religion is returned to the privacy of one’s heart where it belongs.
Religious conservatives become defensive at any suggestion that they’ve had something to do with the GOP’s erosion. And, though the recent Democratic sweep can be attributed in large part to a referendum on Bush and the failing economy, three long-term trends identifiedby Emory University’s Alan Abramowitz have been devastating to the Republican Party: increasing racial diversity, declining marriage rates and changes in religious beliefs.
Suffice it to say, the Republican Party is largely comprised of white, married Christians. Anyone watching the two conventions last summer can’t have missed the stark differences: One party was brimming with energy, youth and diversity; the other felt like an annual Depends sales meeting.
The sad thing is that I don’t think many will listen; since Parker criticized Sarah Palin she has been treated like a traitor to the Republican faith, cast out from NRO and forced to join a small but growing club of Republican “elitists” who have taken to shaking their heads and wondering what the hell happened to their party. It’s almost exactly the way they treat patriotism; if you don’t agree with them, you aren’t just wrong, you’re unAmerican. If you don’t agree with the stranglehold the Religious Right holds on the Republican party, you’re not only wrong, you’re unRepublican.
It’s a shame, really, because voices of dissent make any organization stronger, especially when those voices of dissent are dead on. The Republicans will likely continue to flagellate Parker for not toeing the party line, when in truth the Republicans need her voice, and need to take to heart the things she says.
Not that I care that much, really; it’s not my party.