It’s tough to be the one at the party the girls don’t want to dance with. It’s not that they’re not willing to be a lady’s partner. Republican men and women just brought the tools with them they found at home, thinking what they use to woo all voters will charm the votes out of most women, too. Instead, they just end up appearing “intolerant” and “stuck in the past.” They’re like Brendan Fraser’s character inBlast from the Past – all Ozzie & Harriett and Ray Conniff Singers in a world of Nicki Minaj and Echosmith. But unlike Brendan, they’ve shown up at the midterm sock-hop with all the creepy charm of Eddie Haskell.
That’s not to say the Democrats have women swooning. The GOP has a 49 percent disapproval rating among female voters, according to their own poll, while the Democrats are disliked by 39 percent. But this is a Republican poll, and the relatively narrow margin, when one is talking about half the electorate, has given the party of Palin a way to claim that there aren’t any winners.
“I don’t think any party can do a victory lap here,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd, Thursday. His spin? A ten point difference is actually good news, here. It means, he said, if they “push back on what the Democrats are selling out there in the field, you can actually win women over.”
That poll was part of an overall report titled, “Republicans and Women Voters: Huge Challenges, Real Opportunities,” and was revealed, Thursday, by Politico. It was commissioned by Karl Rove and other groups that support the GOP.
What it is the “Democrats are selling” is respect for women, their right to choose what to do with their bodies, affordable healthcare for their families, and pay equity in the workplace. Those are indisputable policies that are part of the platform of President Obama and every member of Congress with a “D” after their name.
Republicans were assured by former House majority leader, and now former congressman, Eric Cantor, that most women want charter schools and flexible work schedules, which according to the poll is certainly not the case. Even if it were, ideas like that couldn’t make it through his congressional colleagues because it involves the government getting involved in people’s lives (extra-uterully) and in private enterprise.
The “push back” Priebus was referring to is the GOP strategy to acknowledge the social differences and re-direct to the economic ones. “[D]eal honestly with any disagreement on abortion, then move to other issues,” Politico quotes the report as saying.
“The general gist of [the GOP report] was,” Priebus said, “the economy is the number one issue.” After dismissing the emphasis on social issues, like reproductive rights, as important only to pundits, he added, “If Republicans talk about things like the economy, the debt, make the case for jobs and schools and education, and push back,” Republicans will win.
The GOP thinks economic issues resonate because they’re family issues, and in their world, women are the family bookkeepers, always aware of the bottom line. If that’s true, it might explain why Republicans do so much better with married women. “Married women prefer a Republican over a Democrat, 48 percent to 38 percent,” Politico revealed. The article goes on to quote Dan Conston, from the American Action Network, one of the sponsors of the report:
“‘Just like a gender gap exists, a marriage gap also exists,’ Conston said. ‘While young unmarried women have always skewed liberal, the polling found married women across the country are far more likely to be conservative and are receptive to center-right policies.'”
No wonder why the GOP wants to see more “traditional” families. It’s a pretty reliable vote for them. The problem is the immediacy of elections doesn’t require finding the future Mrs. Right; it requires getting Ms. Right Now.
But the Republicans have never been as good at wooing as they are at old-fashioned courting, so for now, they’re just going to have to pace along the folding chairs by the wall, and wait for their next door neighbor’s mom to come over and ask them to dance. It is, sadly, the slow dance, but that’s more their speed, anyway.
Two days after most of the country marched and served their neighbors in celebration of the legacy of equality and civil rights preached by the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., thousands gathered in Washington, DC, to protest the forty-first anniversary of the Supreme Court’s pro-choice, Roe v. Wade decision.
Both events sprung from a time in this country when people came together, showing solidarity and common purpose, in order to affect change. Dr. King’s legacy was as “a drum major for peace,” who worked for the advancement of all segments of society. Roe v. Wade was the culmination of a struggle for women, who won the right to decide what to do with their own bodies. But neither outcome sat well with the movement that spawned those who marched against choice, Wednesday. Their demonstration showed that, for the culture warriors of the Right, the fight against even decades-old, settled law is never over.
Conservative culture warriors never stay buried. They do go underground, however, and like a dormant seed, they wait until conditions are right for their reemergence. Fertilized by the rotting carcasses of shamed John Birchers, nourished by the spiteful rhetoric of the Tea Party and their 1% puppet masters, they awoke to find themselves in a Grand Old Garden Party. They celebrated with and were lauded by leading Republicans like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and former presidential candidate, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA).
Not that long ago, though, at the time the high court sent down its historic abortion decision, the Republicans who are now their benefactors looked at the beliefs of the hard right as an anathema to party unity, wrought with political poison. Pat Nixon, who was first lady when the decision came down, was pro-choice. Betty Ford was also pro-choice, and she came out in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment. And even the arch-conservative Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-AZ), who ran for president in 1964, told the Senate, in 1981, “I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C’ and ‘D.’ Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?”
The Bipartisan Flat Line
According to some scholars, that was during a very rare era in American politics, when bipartisanship was at its peak. Writing in the Washington Post earlier this month, political scientists David W. Brady, of the Hoover Institution, and Hahrie Han, from Wellesley College, point out that, for most of our history, there is little to no bipartisanship between the parties in Congress. They reached that conclusion by counting the number of lawmakers who are ideologically opposite the vast majority of their own party, and who are even closer to the other party’s ideology than 10% of that party’s contrarians.
In other words, they looked for a time when the most conservative Democrats in Congress “overlapped,” or were more conservative than, 10% of the most liberal Republicans. What they found validates the feelings of a lot of people growing up in 1960s and 1970s, that people actually worked together, then, to get things done.
According to Brady and Han’s data, the politicians who came up in post New Deal, post war America have the highest amount of aisle crossing cooperation in our history. Before that, and since, bipartisanship has been “a flat line.”
“In the post-WWII period, the number of legislators from each party in the overlap region spiked upwards and persisted until the early 1970s, when the numbers began to decline…
“By the 1980s, however, we are back to a flat line. There are no Democrats or Republicans in the overlap region…
“Taking this view, we realize that it is the immediate post-WWII era that is really unusual.”
Why did the lawmakers of that era act in that “unusual” way? Perhaps the camaraderie of the foxhole that the Greatest Generation shared, and the pitching in on the home front, allowed for the rare occurrence, where cooperation and unity of purpose were essential tools for survival.
So partisanship, then, is our political norm, and it just falls short of the expectations of Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers, who may not know the times they long for were the exception in our country’s history, and not the rule. That means it’s just by relative comparison that we call it “hyper-partisanship,” so maybe we should just relax and lose the hyperbole. It’s just partisanship.
If that’s the case, that our country flat-lines bipartisanship as a matter of course, why not be fearless about promoting our core beliefs? The two major political parties in the United States certainly need the extremists in their relative bases, but what happens when once extreme positions go mainstream? Will the pols follow?
A More Liberal America
Democratic strategist Steve Rosenthal thinks they will. “America is becoming more liberal,” exclaims an op-ed he penned in the Washington Post, this month. In it, Rosenthal goes through a laundry list of causes in which, he points out, polls demonstrate that “evolving” national sentiment favors the positions of the left. From marriage equality to immigration to pot to climate change, even income inequality, he looks at the numbers and concludes “the United States is steadily becoming more progressive.”
And, Rosenthal says, liberals need to keep pushing their agenda. “Progressives have an opportunity,” he wrote, “not only to come into the mainstream but also to lead — and shape public opinion.”
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) agrees. “We’re going to have four or five issues that we choose and they must be examples where government is clearly needed to do good,” he told a group at the Center for American Progress, Thursday, reflecting on the tactics Senate Democrats plan for 2014. Arguing that his party needs to stay on message, Schumer went on to tell the liberal audience “[T]he prominence in the issues of government’s ability to restore and build the middle class, provides us with a golden opportunity to expose what has always been a fault line in the tea party. The obsessive anti-government philosophy of tea party elites does not meet the actual needs of tea party membership.” In other words, the Democrats are going to say that government has helped, and can continue to help, everyone, even the tea party rank and file.
Yes, we are all individuals. Yes, we are all different.
Despite Schumer’s assertions, some Democrats running for office in red states seem to be gun shy, as far as promoting an aggressive liberal policy. Republicans, though, have no qualms about voicing their own agenda. Maybe that’s because the GOP hardliners think everyone is in the echo chamber with them, while liberals believe no one can ever completely agree with their unique opinion, even others with a similar social philosophy. That’s what science says.
According to a recent study by researchers at New York University, and reported in Scientific American (and re-posted on Salon.com), “Conservatives overestimated how similar their preferences were to those of other conservatives, while liberals underestimated how similar their preferences were to those of other liberals.”
The authors liken the “false uniqueness” liberals feel to this clever scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian:
Conservatives may believe that they can easily agree with each other, the study concludes, but, “It remains to be seen whether the conservative false consensus effect can lead to any real consensus in the GOP.”
Just ask Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-OH), who quipped with Jay Leno, the other night, “I like to describe my job as trying to get 218 frogs in a wheelbarrow long enough to pass a bill. It’s hard to do.”
Boehner’s frustration with his caucus boiled over, last month, when he told the press he couldn’t believe it when one of the principle players in the GOP government shutdown, last fall, went on television and said, “We didn’t expect it to work, anyway.” That caused Boehner to give the press a stridently plaintive, “Are you kidding me?”
But the extremists don’t kid. They expect fidelity to the conservative cause, even though, as the NYU study says, that means different things to different people, and the definition of “conservative” seems to change over time.
“Republicans are being driven to identify in all ways with their tribe,” economist Paul Krugman wrote in a New York Times op-ed, at the beginning of the year, “and the tribal belief system is dominated by anti-science fundamentalists. For some time now it has been impossible to be a good Republicans while believing in the reality of climate change; now it’s impossible to be a good Republican while believing in evolution.
“And of course,” he continued, “the same thing is happening in economics. As recently as 2004, the Economic Report of the President of a Republican administration could espouse a strongly Keynesian view, declaring the virtues of ‘aggressive monetary policy’ to fight recessions, and making the case for discretionary fiscal policy too.” Using government money to stimulate the economy, you see, sounds too much like what a Democrat would do, so now, of course, only supply-siders are welcome to the tribe.
The tribal, cultural divide is being played out, early in this midterm election year, over the issue that brought all those conservatives to D.C., Wednesday: abortion, and its sister issue, birth control.
In a preview of the event, the New York Times seemed surprised that the issue was even in play, this year:
“Abortion is becoming an unexpectedly animating issue in the 2014 midterm elections. Republicans, through state ballot initiatives and legislation in Congress, are using it to stoke enthusiasm among core supporters. Democrats, mindful of how potent the subject has been in recent campaigns like last year’s governor’s race in Virginia, are looking to rally female voters by portraying their conservative opponents as callous on women’s issues.”
So the GOP is going back to the 2004 playbook, when it used anti-gay marriage ballot measures to get their base to the polls. Since consensus on that issue has shifted, they’ve turned to abortion and birth control, which, the conventional wisdom goes, they’re trying to turn into an economic issue, rather than a cultural one.
But when former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee got up in front of the National Republican Committee meeting, Thursday, it was the cultural side of the teeter-totter he dropped a load on. “The Democrats,” he said, “want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control, because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government.”
In an excellent article in the Atlantic, Molly Ball points out that Democrats are missing the bigger picture, if all they do is gleefully point to the shiny object of another misstep by Republicans in their efforts to reach women. It may seem like easy pickings, when the RNC’s own 2012 postmortem, the Growth and Opportunity Project, advised a “need to use language that addresses concerns that are on women’s minds in order to let them know we are fighting for them.” Yet, Ball writes:
“The RNC has been raising money at a record clip, enabling Chairman Reince Priebus to fulfill his goal of staffing an unprecedented national political operation. There are more than 160 field staffers living and organizing in 26 states, and they’ll be in all 50 by the end of the year.”
Add in outreach to Hispanics and young people in several states, and investment in digital resources, and it becomes apparent that the GOP is not about to change its stripes, just how it shows its colors to communities it is trying to reach. Ball also points out, there are observers who are predicting a better than 60% chance of the GOP winning in 2016. Her advice is cautionary:
“Democrats roll their eyes at these efforts—see, they say, Republicans think they can dress up the same old ideas with fancy Facebook doodads and slick new slogans, but they’re not fundamentally changing what it is they’re offering in policy and philosophical terms. But to Republicans, the idea that they would change what they stand for was always oversold. The Growth and Opportunity Project’s only policy recommendation was immigration reform—which, granted, hasn’t happened, blocked by House Republicans, though it still could get done this year. The bulk of the report, though, focused on changing the party’s image and effectiveness through rhetoric and tactics.”
They’re still conservative, still tribal. “That’s the way it is and that’s the way it’s going to be,” Mississippi’s Henry Barbour, who was part of the group involved in the 2102 postmortem, told Ball. “We said we need to articulate conservative principles in a way that’s inclusive and loving as opposed to shrill and strident. That doesn’t sell.”
There’s a danger of complacency for Democrats who stand on the sidelines like the hare, pointing, laughing and shaking their heads, while the Republicans plod past the finish line and take the Senate. Conservatives are talking up their brand, not changing it, and trying to reach more people with it.
Schumer’s call of “bringing back a renewed faith in government’s ability to do good,” is a worthy start at demonstrating the liberal brand sells, too. The best way to do that is to harken back to a time of solidarity and commitment to common purpose for the common good. We don’t need bipartisanship in Congress to make that happen. We need Americans.
UPDATE: America Right to Life has launched a website, RepublicansAgainstRomney.com, with a series of Bible banging, highlighted lines, like: “If you fear Obama, you’ll vote for Romney. If you fear God, you won’t.”
Among the litany of reasons listed by the RTL for why they do not trust Romney, is a bullet item tracking his changing stance on abortion:
“pro-choice in ’94; pro-life in ’01; choice ’02; pro-life ’04; choice ’05; life in ’06; then funded abortion in ’06.”
“Romney has already implemented what Obama and Clinton only dreamed of: homosexual marriage, tax funded abortion by health care reform with the individual mandate, robbing religious freedom by forcing pro-life hospitals to administer abortion pills, etc.,” the website asserts, “Obama is the lesser of two evils.”
“Heaven sent a hurricane to hold off Gov. Romney’s coronation.”
– Troy Newman, president of the anti-abortion activists group, Operation Rescue, in a statement, Monday, August 27, 2012
Having to push the actual vote to nominate Mitt Romney from Monday night to Tuesday because of Tropical Storm Isaac is a gift from heaven, according to strident anti-abortion activists and delegates gathering at the Republican National Convention, in Tampa this week. Newman, and others, believe that Heaven itself has intervened to give them a chance to circle their wagons in support of the embattled U.S. Senate candidate from Missouri, Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), and urge the rest of the GOP to put its money where its platform is.
“We’re urging pro-life GOP delegates to abstain from any voting on Romney’s nomination until all GOP financial support for Todd Akin is reinstated,” Newman declared. He also is urging a vote holdout until “details of Romney’s income tax returns in connection with Bain’s Stericycle investment have been made public,” according to reports.
The Stericycle story, reported earlier this summer by Mother Jones magazine, as well as the Boston Globe, said that Romney signed Security and Exchange Commission documents on behalf of Bain Capital, long after he supposedly left, in connection with the firm’s $75 million investment in the medical waste disposal company, which also destroyed aborted fetuses.
Neither the party’s abandonment of the staunchly anti-choice Akin, nor its cognitive dissonance when it comes to Stericycle and the nominee, is making social conservatives very happy.
“To Gov. Romney we say… let’s not kill an innocent child or cut off good men like Todd Akin,” said Steve Baldwin, a former member of the California Assembly, and form director of the Council for National Policy. “I’d sooner take him or Paul Ryan as our party’s Presidential nominee than Gov. Romney.”
Baldwin is part of a group of dissatisfied Republicans who feel the nominating process has been hijacked by the Romney team, and the party establishment that has rallied behind the former Massachusetts governor. They think the Republican presidential nomination is still up for grabs, based on the delegate rules.
“At a breakfast meeting of Missouri delegates here in Tampa, a number were sporting ‘Akin for Senate’ stickers and stood strongly behind the six-term congressman’s decision to stay in the race.
“‘The party should not throw him under the bus simply because he made a misstatement,’ said Mitch Hubbard of Fulton, Mo.”
But Heaven hasn’t merely intervened on behalf of fetuses, apparently. Republican hatchet man and chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), thanked Isaac for keeping Vice President Joe Biden from doing his counter-event to the RNC, scheduled for Monday, in Tampa. “I would say from a standpoint of coverage, the hurricane already eliminated one blowhard,” he said.
Whether Rep. Todd Akin’s (R-MO) loose remarks make his Senate run illegitimate or not, he won’t abort, which is unfortunate, since all his so-called friends are begging him not to bring his candidacy to term, and to scrape his name from the ballot before he embarrasses the family. His sphere of influence, his faith friends, are urging him to stick it out, probably because they’re the ones that that stuck their hard line ideas into him…
“In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong.”
– President Abraham Lincoln, from Meditation on the Divine Will, 1862
The fight against slavery was a culture war. So were the battles to control European immigration, the fight for women’s suffrage and the marches against Jim Crow laws. They were all assaults on a status quo that refused to acknowledge the promise of a country established on justice, fairness, and possibility.
Those who grip to their ethnic past as an identity – whether racist, righteous, or radical – deny the dynamism of collective will. They push back against the sunshine of a more tolerant society by hiding the disdain on their faces below hoods and hat brims, by huddling their children into the dark caves of home schooling, and by gathering with their communities under the shade of ever expanding tents of religious dogma. To them, Washington, DC is Rome, and they are Judean zealots, hiding in the hills, waiting for the Lord – the mighty hand of God – to help them with their rebellion.
So hoist your banners high, and ready your flanks, for there is an active theater in the culture wars. Lest you doubt the current contraception debate is a call to muster, remember that the Republicans like to call it a “War on Religion,” and for women’s health advocates, the conservatives are waging another battle in the “assault on women’s rights.”
Of at least three major stories that have pushed cultural touchstones to the fore in the last week, the most press was from the contraception “misstep” of the Obama administration. The Department of Health and Human Services dealt with it by coming up with a compromise that satisfied most, but not all, religious institutions, to whom the rule enabling free contraceptives to people of all faiths, despite the religious ethics of the institutions at which they work, would apply.
Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said the White House ruling “will not stand.” Republican hatchet man, and chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), titled a Thursday hearing on the issue, with the unfactual, hyperbolic and rhetorical, “Lines crossed: Separation of church and state. Has the Obama administration trampled on freedom of religion and freedom of conscience?”
This, of course, follows the feud between Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and Planned Parenthood, which had the right and left taking sides, and in which, eventually, women were the ultimate victors, at least for now.
But the assault continues, with what one Virginia State House delegate called “an attack on women’s health.” Charnielle Herring was referring to the draconian, invasive Virginia anti-abortion bill that requires women who choose to abort their pregnancies to be vaginally penetrated for “fetal ultrasound imaging and auscultation of fetal heart tone services…. for the purpose of determining gestational age. When only the gestational sac is visible during ultrasound imaging, gestational age may be based upon measurement of the gestational sac.” Rarely is the assault so literal as it is in this law requiring medical professionals to stick something into a woman against her will.
Yet more battles are brewing. Washington recently became the seventh state to make gay marriage a legal institution, and it has just passed in New Jersey, although Gov. Chris Christie promises a veto. Maryland is on the verge of passing a gay marriage law, and similar legislation, introduced in Illinois, has won the support of Chicago mayor, and former Obama Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel.
The victory of the cultural warrior is neither Pyrrhic nor shallow. We fight as much for who we are now as for who we want to become, for whether this is a nation only of the exclusionary principle “In God We Trust,” or the all embracing unifier, “E Pluribis Unum -Out of many, one.” Even an arch-Conservative like Barry Goldwater called for a “reconciliation of diversity with unity” (even though he was talking about unifying the crazy and the practical members of the GOP).
Recent news reports about incidents of interracial marriages in this country seem to bear out Goldwater’s advice, quite literally. According to data from the Pew Research Center, released Thursday, marriages that cross racial or ethnic boundaries were at an all time high of 15% in 2010. Add to that, the research shows that nearly two-thirds of Americans “‘would be fine’ … if a member of their own family were to marry someone outside their own racial or ethnic group,” and it seems that at least one small cultural battle in this country is finally getting put to bed.
Victory on the field of cultural battle may be seen as the last gasp of free thought and reason, left black and ashen, in the smoldering ruins of a civilization of promise. Victory may also be seen as the legacy of unaccepting intolerance finally falling into legend, and becoming a cautionary tale about how we were almost diverted from the city on the hill we built from our commitment to unity. The willingness to hold the flagpole, though, when the fighting is over, has to include looking at the other hands raising the flag with you, like soldiers on Iwo Jima, and feeling pride that whether we agree or disagree, despite our uncommon pasts, we hold a common future.
“We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
– President Abraham Lincoln, at his first inaugural, March 4, 1861