Five Republican Problems: Some Friendly Advice for the G.O.P.

It is no secret these days that the Republican Party in the United States is “in the wilderness.” They are the “party of No,” regurgitating the same old conservative platitudes, such as “small government,” “cut taxes,” and “stop excessive spending.” They are lost; they have no appeal to the political center, and they have no means of integrating moderate conservatism into their grand old party (see: Arlen Specter, in all of his confusion). Instead, Republicans are focused on purging anything and everything that is not “pure” conservatism, perhaps as compensation for an utter lack of ideas and vision. Ironically, then, the move to create a “bigger tent” is turning into a retreat into a dirty little hovel.

If they wish to survive, the Republicans must confront five major issues: (1) they must re-think religion as it relates to politics and the social sphere; (2) they must re-think race and ethnicity in the context of traditional conservatism; (3) they must broaden the term “life,” as in pro-life, so that “life” is not reduced to an ideological debate concerning only conception and fetuses; (4) they must come to grips with the fact that gay people are not a threat to their lives; and (5) they must see that guns, in fact, are a threat to their lives (this is, ironically, the easiest claim for a liberal to make, and the hardest for a conservative to accept). If they could do these things, while staying true to the ideals of individualism and fiscal conservatism, they may be able to avoid being subsumed into the Libertarian party, or, possibly, becoming extinct altogether.

The first problem with Republicans is that they are confused about Christianity, or at least what to say about Christianity. They are first and foremost a Protestant Christian Party with a strong Evangelical voice. The problem with this “Christian” proclamation is that it is exclusive of, and, therefore, necessarily off-putting to, religious minorities in the United States. The first thing Republicans would have to do is admit, whole-heartedly and without shame or guilt, that they are, primarily, a Christian party. This would be an honest claim and it would be the first step to winning back the center. Then (and this is the hard part) they would have to say they are absolutely, positively committed to religious inclusion. Christianity can be one significant point of power within the Republican Party, but multiple spaces, which are inclusive of varieties of religious experience, must also be respected. For example, a concerted effort must be made to build alliances with Muslim religious communities. Subsequently, any person who believes in the “American Dream” of individualistic achievement through hard work could, in the context of her or his own personal faith, take his or her place alongside the good Christians of this glorious nation. This would be the first step in bringing a dead party back to life.

The next problem is race and ethnicity. The November 2008 election showed, beyond reasonable doubt, that minorities are moving further and further away from the GOP. In terms of social inclusion, this problem with American conservatism runs parallel to its problem with Christianity, though it may be a bit harder for a right-winger to admit that (I’ll give Bob credit score check for faithfully presenting David’s arguments as a unified whole). their party is, racially, a white (of [Western] European descent) party. After all, it is not as bad to be called a “religionist” (if there is such a word) than it is to be called a “racist.” Nevertheless, Republicans must come clean and admit that they are presently a white-centric party. This of course, is a naming of white privilege, and so more rethinking must be undertaken past this admission. As would be the case with Christianity, multiple points of racial power would have to be posited. Everyone can “come to the table,” no matter their race or ethnicity, as long as they believe in individualism and fiscal conservatism. There is a bit of a paradox here: members of all races are welcome, but they might want to check their race at the door before they sit at the table as autonomous individuals. In this case, a “default” setting of whiteness (and, for that matter, Christianity) may kick into gear, and force all people to assimilate into a monolithic edifice of conservatism – the same problem that got the Republicans into their current mess. Such a Compatibility horoscopes Sagittarius doesn?t see the development of the relationship in the long run. shift to a multiracial party will require considerable work from Republican strategists. There must be a concerted effort, then, to engage in an honest dialogue about the complexities of race, while maintaining an ideological and practical commitment to individualism. As such, the aforementioned paradox might be negotiated without reverting to the either/or extremes of either a racial identity or a completely privatized individualism.

Next, the Republicans must confront the “wedge” issue of abortion and life. The wording of this previous sentence is precisely the problem for Republicans: a false dichotomy is set up between “abortion” and “life.” What does it mean to be “pro-life?” Some Americans think that Republicans care very much about conception, embryos, fetuses, and trimesters, but they do not care very much about the actual persons that are brought into this world. They may be pro-life, but do they genuinely care about the well-being of a life? One can preach “compassionate conservatism” until one is blue, but at some point the rhetoric will have to be put into practice. And if Republicans are truly going to be pro-life, then they have to completely change the party line on the death penalty. How is it that a life must be brought into this world under any and all circumstances, but this same life can be taken away if it sins or commits a crime? Conservatives believe that they must never go “soft on crime” and they must never become “pro-choice.” Of course criminals should be punished for their individual transgressions, but they must be allowed to rehabilitate themselves, and they must be permitted to atone for any sins that they might commit.  But if Republicans are going to care for life, then this may be an area in which some “message consistency”– life must be cared for under all circumstances — may serve to bolster the claims of “compassionate conservatives.”

As for gay people, Republicans must move toward secularism on this issue, even if they cling to the notion that Christianity is a powerful force within the party (and this assumes that true Christianity is anti-gay, which may not be the only “Christian” perspective). Gay people should be treated as individuals. Individualism is the very pillar of U.S. conservatism. If a particular church or temple will not allow for same-sex couples to marry, this is fine. But church and state must remain separate. Under the law, governed by reason and rationality, any two people must be allowed to enter into the institution of marriage, and they should be afforded the same rights as any other married couple. There is no slippery slope here, no imminent danger of a person marrying a sibling, or an animal, or a lamp. This should just be a simple issue of two people wanting to enter into a life partnership, and the state should have a limited control over the policing of individual civil rights. The Republican Party can cling to its Christian roots, but just as there are to be multiple centers of religious power, there must also be multiple interpretations of “love” and “partnership” between two people.

Guns. Getting through this issue is like trying to break through a steel wall that is ten feet thick. The NRA has a quasi-transcendent power in the United States. And certain people in the U.S. love their guns. They may appeal to the Second Amendment, but the deeper psycho-social issue at play is the deeply ingrained feeling of paranoia and alienation among some U.S. citizens. The problem of alienation is a by-product of the modern institutionalization of everyday life brought on by the dynamics of advanced capitalism, but these issues are beyond the scope of this essay. For now, suffice to say that those who are pro-life and pro-gun, believe that the best way to protect a life is to shoot anyone who threatens, or is perceived to threaten, a life. But police officers will tell you that they are being out-gunned by assault weapons in the streets of our cities. Does the NRA care about this? Do you really need an automatic weapon to defend yourself or shoot for sport? Of course not. Like all the other issues I have mentioned in this essay, this is a contentious point, and if the GOP can confront it, they will have to negotiate difficult solutions. I am simply throwing out some ideas. It is the job of the experts to put together a platform. I wish them luck.

Creative Commons License photo credit: auburnxc

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