November 13, 2012
"May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one."*
I know I'm not alone in taking stock in the aftermath of last Tuesday and I do so realizing that there is an important contrast between conservatism and Republicanism. The national and local GOP continues to navel gaze as to how to make itself more appealing and marketable. In the mean time, conservatives should be consistent and, well, conservative before embracing the latest marketing plan from K Street. Political outcomes rarely change core beliefs--that's why they're "core beliefs"--but they can change the way we think those beliefs, or ideas, can be implemented and which should take priority.
While the electoral crush was significant, the actual overall vote tally wasn't. It's been the same for the last decade or so, no matter who has captured the White House. We're still a 50/50 country, and the difference is in turnout, which translates to message and effective politics; and that's the job of a political party. So, to the degree that conservatives want to see their ideas implemented, they rely upon the political process to do it and that usually means the Republican party.
In Rhode Island, though, we have seen some conservative ideas co-opted by right-thinking Democrats (albeit watered-down, ie; pension "reform"), much to the consternation of the progressives (and the few remaining elected Republicans). In fact, our own state reminds us that there is a difference between politics and ideology insofar as there are many conservatives flying under the Democrat banner out of a sense of, well, wanting to win. In general, though, the party most amenable to the conservative mindset is the GOP.
Currently, it appears as if the beltway cadre of the Grand Old Party is trying to follow a path of demographic bread crumbs out of the wilderness and are open to throwing away conservative ideals for the sake of supposedly making the GOP "brand" more marketable. Modifying the stance on immigration reform, is but one--and the most oft-cited--change in position being discussed. Meanwhile, conservatives in fly-over country--and particularly down South--argue that the ideas and philosophies that they believe still provide a straightforward path to follow and are popular with many (including those who, apparently, didn't turn out this time around). Unsurprisingly, I believe in sticking to conservative ideals, properly defined. However, there is certainly cause to hone the message, at least nationally. Locally is an entirely different matter.
Economically, most people still say they want smaller, more effective and less intrusive government. Most approve of lower taxes concomitant with the idea of keeping more of the money they've earned (though the idea of taxing the "Blue state" rich is starting to take hold amongst conservatives). Most people don't like federal deficits and think that a cut to a program actually means a cut, not a reduction in the expected increase. Most people dislike an ever-expanding social safety net that is starting to resemble a hammock. And most are against "corporate welfare", with the caveat that said welfare doesn't impact their backyard. (And there's the rub, right Ohio?). And they don't like rich people (but what else is new?).
But to touch back on the safety net: there can be no doubt that demogoguery won this time out. It's pretty clear that Republicans--and conservatives--need to find a more effective message regarding welfare, health care, social security, etc. And they need to get better at beating back the mischaracterizations of their plans.
As for the so-called social issues--which really means gay marriage and abortion--conservatives have (predictably) lost ground on the former in the northeast and west coast and were, unfortunately, defined by outliers for the latter during the last election. It's not going out on a limb to guess that the biggest schism between conservatives and Republicans will occur on this front.
In the case of gay marriage, states are different--Rhode Island ain't Texas--and the populations should be allowed to make up their own mind via statewide ballot. If people's minds are being changed in favor of gay marriage, than that fact will be evident at the ballot box. Conservatives should continue explaining and warning, but I think it's a rearguard action.** Which is why, politically, the Republican party will probably modify their stance by either promoting the aformentioned federalist approach (which I agree with) or downplaying the issue altogether. There will be conservatives who will or won't vote on this single-issue--it is a core belief, remember? Republican political calculus will be to determine whether downplaying the issue gives them a net gain. A political party's core belief is to get elected.
Regarding abortion, no matter what a couple out-of-their-depth Republican Senate candidates said, most pro-life people are willing to grant exceptions for the relatively minuscule instances of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is at risk. Of course, the reality is that there is no way that Roe v. Wade is going to be overturned, liberal scare tactics notwithstanding, which is something I think most pro-life people recognize. (And even if it was, the vast majority of states would still keep abortion legal).
Politically, a couple bone-headed statements caused the damage to national Republicans. However, as for the issue itself, pro-life conservatives continue to focus efforts on changing hearts and minds with results that have been trending in a positive direction for life. There is little doubt that this has also contributed to the increase in babies being born out of wedlock. This consequence of winning the life argument makes it incumbent on pro-life supporters to more directly address--or at least do a better job of explaining--how they would help unwed or single-mothers. We can't forget the babies and their mothers after they're born (but that doesn't mean they should become permanent wards of the state!).
While I think these and other conservative ideas were pretty consistently and clearly offered up during the last election, apparently the message wasn't clear enough (and yes, the mainstream media didn't help, but it is what it is on that front--no excuses). I suppose a better way of "messaging" could be found, particularly nationally.
Locally there is also the old adage about leading a horse to water and all that. Some horses--especially in Rhode Island--just don't want to drink from the conservative cup so long as it is identified with a Republican. Too many Rhode Islanders have only "D"s in their political DNA. But that is a cultural problem of a different sort and one for which I'm unsure--after 17 years in the state--if there will ever be a solution. It's pretty clear Rhode Islanders think voting the same people--and members of the same political party--will somehow, magically, make things better. It's not because Republicans or Independents or Moderates don't offer alternative plans. Democrat Rhode Island just doesn't seem to care. Blue team
or and bust, baby!
*Quote from the character Captain Mal Reynolds of the short-lived sci-fi series Firefly.
** This is an area where demographics are dictating the future, like it or not (but, again, every state is a bit different). In general, I think people are more "live and let live" than before--especially the majority of GenXers and younger. The argument for gay marriage--one of equality--is simplistic and appeals to emotion. It's an emotional issue! No one wants to be called mean or a bigot. As for the argument against? Well, appeals to the great chain of being and larger social problems that may result--and just plain tradition!--may be more difficult to make and are more complicate. But worse, they just don't gin up the same empathy. I've been a lukewarm supporter of civil unions and think some sort of legal equality is fair. Marriage has always seemed a bridge to far because, for me, the most impactful argument has always been about the effect on children.*** But that has lost out to the appeal to immediate equality and fairness for those seeking to be married--to say nothing of the as yet undetermined level of (un)fairness said unions provide their potential offspring. But we've become a society of NOW and long-term thinking isn't something we're doing very well these days.
*** Yikes, notes in notes now. Anyway, this hypothetical is always in my mind: All things being equal, who would an adoption agency choose as the best couple to adopt a child? A traditional couple with two children who make a combined $60,000/year, or a gay couple with two children who make $120,000/year? Which would be deemed best able to care of the child if it comes just down to income (and therefore the relative ability to provide a "good lifestyle") and the composition of the marriage cannot be taken into account? As a traditionalist, I'd select the couple with the traditional marriage because I believe, if given a chance, every child should have a mom and a dad.