November 13, 2012

"May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one."*

Marc Comtois

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.

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Confucius say to GOP: "He who carve himself up to suit others soon whittle himself away".

You think Greece is bad? Y'all ain't seen nothin' yet. An untethered Hussein for 4 more years? Watch for the "rich" to flee and hide their assets taking jobs with them. It will be an exciting time as unemployment hits 10% nationally (U-6 is already 15%). Watch the food stamp rolls explode (oops it's already happening), disabilities claims soar (oops that happening too). Welcome to Era of Free Lunch where everybody wins by losing something. That something is called freedom.

Posted by: ANTHONY at November 13, 2012 10:20 PM

$60k to raise 3 kids... I see a lot of ramen and hot dogs in their future. At least they'd have the excellent RI public schools to fall back on. Hold the laughter, please.

My issue with state-enforced traditional marriage, or however you'd like to frame it, is on pragmatic grounds. Every law is both underinclusive and overinclusive to some extent, which is to say that there are people who are unjustly included or excluded. A good case for having fewer laws generally. I appreciate the utopian hope for traditional marriage as a bedrock of society, but traditional marriage is so vastly overinclusive and underinclusive in terms of fitness to raise children that the law becomes arbitrary and erodes respect for public institutions. We also see this occurring with drug laws and speed limits. Indeed, the same overinclusiveness counterarguments are brought up again and again: what about old people, what about infertile people, and so on. Justin has an arsenal of defenses lined up for these occasions. I recognize him as a skilled and effective advocate, so the fact that those defenses are consistently strained and unconvincing is further evidence to me that the underlying cause is a weak one.

My sense is that gay marriage is targeted because it's easy - the proverbial drunk searching for car keys under the lamp post because that's where the light is. "We feel gays are on average less able to raise kids than non-gays, so all gays are excluded." This is sloppy policy and erodes respect for rule of law. If you really wanted to exclude bad home environments, you'd be much better off going after violent people, drunk people, mentally ill people, extremely poor people, and a long laundry list of other categories before you reached gay people. This is, of course, unrealistic and would embarrass many conservatives as hypocrites, so they go after the easy target instead.

It should go without saying at this point that gay marriage would be a non-issue if the state stayed out of marriage entirely. The fact that it is a political issue in the first place is the source of the policy conflict. Unfortunately, we don't get a vote on that in this country.

Posted by: Dan at November 14, 2012 8:53 AM

Great post.

The image I get when reading it, is pages and pages of the calendar turning. What does everything look like in 2032, and how did we get there?

Posted by: Mike at November 14, 2012 9:44 AM

"This is sloppy policy and erodes respect for rule of law."

It is important to remember that it is not laws which hold a society together. The glue is shared common values which the laws are expected to represent. This is the difference between "social engineering" and a "law abiding society".

The problem comes when laws and values diverge. A few examples. Most people would seemn to favor enforcing our immigration laws, the government will not do this. Immigration laws are flaunted. Prostitution, I think most people would favor some form of legalization. Drugs laws, I think most people would favor some lossening. "Prohibition" gave us "organized crime". Drugs have "high value" because they are illegal. In the big time, this gives us "drug lords". In the small time, this gives us muggings and various "property crimes".

As to gay marriage, we are far from reaching a consensus and thus, a law. I do not find the "pro" arguments compelling, and I note that the "con" arguments are derided, if not actually shouted down. This seems like "rule by mediarites".

Posted by: Warrington Faust at November 14, 2012 7:05 PM

People may say they want less government, but we all know when push comes to shove most people still desire a free lunch and will continue to vote for politicians who claim they'll provide it.

If we're going to accept the premise that the State has a role to play in marriage, then, per the 14th Amendment, we have to treat equally all those who want to be married in the eyes of the State. If the GOP wants to live up to its lofty billing of supporting liberty, then it should embrace equality under the law, which means it should support gay marriage.

IMO RI is too far gone. Despite ranking at or near the bottom in every category with respect to attracting businesses, and despite having an unemployment rate greater than the national average, and all the other strikes against us, the electorate put the same people back in power. Apparently the avg RI'er is happy with the current situation. And I don't see that changing any time soon, if ever.

Posted by: jgardner at November 14, 2012 9:15 PM

I am troubled by the fact that many things complained of by proponents of gay marriage; hospital visitation, social security benefits, funeral arrangements, etc, are not emmoluments of marriage. Hospital visitation is not a state matter, it is determined by the institutions involved, The same may be said of funeral homes and who may make arrangements. Inheritence issues may be resolved by a will.

I sometimes feel it is all "in your face" arguments. Note I use the word "feel", because that is the impression I get. Nature being what it is, it is probably not safe to deny that a few gays are "born that way". But I suspect the vast majority have simply made a choice, for a large variety of reasons. That is why so much time and effort is spent in the discovery of the "gay gene", a search which has not been rewarded. I don't think having made a choice entitles you to a new civil right. Of course, respect for marraige has been on a downhill slope for at least a generation. I wonder why it is still valued.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at November 14, 2012 9:36 PM
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