Author Archives: Dennis Sanders

Tiny Violins

Some of the responses to yesterday’s post as well as some extra reading has me back at the keyboard again to share something thoughts about this rapidly changing situation in Indiana.  I want to focus on one issue in particular: the demand by social conservatives to push for tolerance . So here goes.

Let me be clear: I am arguing for civility and love of enemy here, but I am not blind to the fact that social conservatives have never been accomodating to gay and lesbians.  If you read blog posts, like the this one from Rod Dreher, you would think that they had never done anything wrong.  They were just sitting around minding their own business when WHAM! those bad pro-ssm folks came and started taking away their rights. As Jacob Levy notes, the general public is having a hard time hearing the social conservative’s tiny violins right now:

…as I’ve said before, the newfound desire for opponents of same-sex marriage to defend pluralism and compromise rings very hollow.

The anti-same-sex-marriage movement during its ascendancy in the 1990s and 2000s was viciously and hatefully maximalist. Imagine the different history of America if conservatives in the late 1990s had energetically supported civil unions provided that they not use the word “marriage,” instead of pursuing the most aggressive and restrictionist DOMAs they could get away with in each context, such that where conservative majorities were strongest even ordinary contractual rights that might seem too much like marriage were prohibited, instead of mobilizing boycotts of firms that offered same-sex couples employment benefits! As it is, their defense of private sector liberty and the pluralism it makes possible is many days late and many dollars short. It kicked in only when, starting in the mid-2000s, the political tide turned.

That shouldn’t change our view of the right outcome; some particular cake baker shouldn’t lose his religious liberty because the movement that’s defending him now makes hypocritical arguments. But it does mean that the violin I hear playing when conservatives complain about the supposedly totalizing and compromise-rejecting agenda of same-sex-marriage supporters is very very small indeed.

So, I’m not ignoring that fact and it needs to be said outloud to our social conservative sisters and brothers. In my case, my desire for civility is not because they deserve it, but because I don’t want to act like they have to people like myself.

Beyond the social right claiming victimhood, there are some issues that really do need to be addressed. Ross Douthat shared in a post yesterday where there might be some need for some clarification of what is okay and is an extention of someone’s faith and what is out of bounds.  Douthat’s lists includes the following:

  • “Should religious colleges whose rules or honor codes or covenants explicitly ask students and/or teachers to refrain from sex outside of heterosexual wedlock eventually lose their accreditation unless they change the policy to accommodate gay relationships? At the very least, should they lose their tax-exempt status, as Bob Jones University did over its ban on interracial dating?”


  • “In the longer term, is there a place for anyone associated with the traditional Judeo-Christian-Islamic view of sexuality in our society’s elite level institutions? Was Mozilla correct in its handling of the Brendan Eich case? Is California correct to forbid its judges from participating in the Boy Scouts? What are the implications for other institutions? To return to the academic example: Should Princeton find a way to strip Robert George of his tenure over his public stances and activities? Would a public university be justified in denying tenure to a Orthodox Jewish religious studies professor who had stated support for Orthodox Judaism’s views on marriage?”

This goes beyond the “baker-florist-photographer” issue.  At this point, we don’t know where that line is.  This means a lot of discussion to hammer out a new agreement.

This leads to a final thought: Why did the Legislature and Governor decide to craft legislation without gay and lesbian voices?  Did they really think such a law would stand when we all know it was passed because of the changes in opinion?  The federal RFRA was passed with bipartisan votes, but the reason it did is because it wasn’t aimed at a certain population.

There are legit issues concerning religious liberty.  They need to be discussed.  But such discussions need to have everyone at the table.  If gays and lesbians are excluded from this, well we will know that social conservatives still see us more as part of the problem and less of the solution.

Fear Factor

Like a lot of folk I’ve been interested in the goings on in Indiana. As you know, the state legislature passed and the Governor signed a law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Depending on who you talk to, the law is no different from the federal version of the law passed in 1993 or will allow religious owners of businesses to refuse service to gays. I’m frankly a bit confused as to what the bill will actually do. Proponents see it as a bulwark against a radically changing culture. Opponents see it as the second coming of Jim Crow.

As I was discussing this with a Methodist minister, he used a word that seemed to describe the whole situation: fear. It’s not a surprise that I tend to think the proponents of the law are fearful of a changing culture, one where homosexuality is becoming accepted and where their views, which once ruled the culture are no longer in vogue. But I also think my side of the debate is also operating on fear and distrust. Like a lot of oppressed groups, it is hard to have any concern for your former oppressors. As I’ve read responses, the attitude seems to be “let the bigots hang.”

What is interesting about all of this is how much this seems to have become a zero-sum game. Religious conservatives seem intent on gumming up the works of progress on same-sex marriage. Gays and liberals seem to not want to give religious conservatives any inch on religious practice. Both sides seem to think that to win, one side must lose.

David Brooks wrote a couple of weeks ago that we live in a more uncertain age and that has changed the tone of politics. Gone are win-win situations where compromise was possible, and coming in its place is the quest for power. Here’s what Brooks says:

National elections take place within a specific global moment. In the 1990s, there was a presumption that we were living in an age of rapid progress. Democracy was spreading. Tyranny was receding. Asia was booming. The European Union was building. Conflict in the Middle East was lessening. The world was cumulatively heading toward greater pluralism, individualism, prosperity and freedom.

Today it’s harder to have faith in rapid progress. Democracy is receding. Autocrats like Vladimir Putin of Russia are marching. The European project is decaying. Economies are struggling. Reactionary forces like the Islamic State and Iran are winning. The Middle East is deteriorating.

In this climate, the tone and focus of politics change. Politics is less about win-win situations and more about zero-sum situations. It is less about reforms that will improve all lives and more about unadorned struggles for power. Who will control the ground in places like Ukraine and Syria? Will Iran get the bomb? Will the White House or Congress grab power over treaties and immigration policy?

It’s hard not to see the fight that is taking place in Indiana and many other places as tribal battles. Religious conservatives feel under fire as liberals go after bakers and wedding photographers.

This clash of rights, between the right to marry and the right to religious freedom has always been difficult for me. I have fought for the right to be able to marry my husband Daniel and to have that recognized by the state, which is what happened when we had our legal marriage in 2013. But as a Christian, I also think people should be able to follow the dictates of their faith without interference from the state. So on some level, I’ve never been as bothered by bakers not wanting to bake my wedding cake. I just thought I’d go to another baker. The baker had the right to refuse service, and I had the right to not go to that baker and tell others not to go either.

I know that it bothers some of my compatriots that I might sympathize with folks who don’t think I should get married to my partner. But two things have guided me on this issue: my belief in Jesus dictum to love our enemies and my libertarian belief in liberty; that I can do what I want and you can do what you want so long as my rights aren’t curtailed.

Loving my enemy means that I have to look at that person as human being. I have to at least try to understand their viewpoint and give them the space to do what they see as right, so long as I am not profoundly impacted.

Of course, my enemy should be able to look at me as a human being, a child of God and give me the space to do what I think is right. (Translation: If religious conservatives want to be treated with respect, treat those you disagree with the same respect.)

As the various RFRA laws come up in various states, both religious conservatives and LGBT communities have to find a way to make room for each other. Not because they like each other. Not because they agree. But because for a democratic society to flourish, we have to find ways to accomodate the Other. Because we must heed the call to love and respect our enemies.

Before all of the focus was on Indiana, some media attention was given to what was happening in Utah. Dubbed the “Utah Compromise,” gay rights groups and the Mormon Church came together to support legislation the protected LGBT persons and also offered exemptions on religious grounds. It is far from a perfect law (but what compromise is perfect). But this seemed to be a place where the culture wars made a truce. A Wall Street Journal column explains how the Mormon Church, who not that long ago was bankrolling the effort to ban same-sex marriage in California, reached out the LGBT community:

The Mormon leadership reached out to the LGBT community, which was willing to reciprocate despite initial doubts. Although there were roadblocks early on, trust gradually developed. Neither side allowed the best to become the enemy of the good. Both came to see that protections for LGBT individuals and for religious conscience needed to be enacted simultaneously, as a package.

There is a lesson here for both sides. For religious conservatives, it is to at least acknowledge LGBT persons. You don’t have to approve of what we do. But you do have to at least see us as persons created by God and deserving of respect.

For the LGBT community and our allies, it means respecting the faith of religious conservatives. Within reason, no one should have to compromise their faith to live in the wider society. We need to honor their consciences even if we think that their beliefs are wrong.

In late 2010, libertarian writer Jonathan Rauch wrote about how the tide was turning in the favor of those of us who support gay rights. Because we were no longer on the defensive, our tactics must change. He wrote:

…we—gay Americans and our straight allies—have won the central argument for gay rights. As a result, we must change. Much of what the gay rights movement has taken for granted until now, and much that has worked for us in the past, is now wrong and will hurt us. The turn we now need to execute will be the hardest maneuver the movement has ever had to make, because it will require us to deliberately leave room for homophobia in American society. We need to allow some discrimination and relinquish the “zero tolerance” mind-set. Paradoxical but true: We need to give our opponents the time and space they need to let us win.

Not giving them that room to deal with the changed landscape has its consequences:

…gay rights opponents have been quick, in fact quicker than our side, to understand that the dynamic is changing. They can see the moral foundations of their aversion to homosexuality crumbling beneath them. Their only hope is to turn the tables by claiming they, not gays, are the real victims of oppression. Seeing that we have moved the “moral deviant” shoe onto their foot, they are going to move the “civil rights violator” shoe onto ours.

So they have developed a narrative that goes like this:

Gay rights advocates don’t just want legal equality. They want to brand anyone who disagrees with them, on marriage or anything else, as the equivalent of a modern-day segregationist. If you think homosexuality is immoral or changeable, they want to send you to be reeducated, take away your license to practice counseling, or kick your evangelical student group off campus. If you object to facilitating same-sex weddings or placing adoptees with same-sex couples, they’ll slap you with a fine for discrimination, take away your nonprofit status, or force you to choose between your job and your conscience. If you so much as disagree with them, they call you a bigot and a hater.

They won’t stop until they stigmatize your core religious teachings as bigoted, ban your religious practices as discriminatory, and drive millions of religious Americans right out of the public square. But their target is broader than just religion. Their policy is one of zero tolerance for those who disagree with them, and they will use the law to enforce it.

At bottom, they are not interested in sharing the country. They want to wipe us out.

Of course, this is exactly what religious conservatives are doing now. So maybe the best way to defeat this kind of thinking is by not trying to shut them up, but by acting differently. Maybe if we show that we will give them the respect they never gave us, maybe things could change for the better.

I don’t know what will happen in Indiana. I do know I can do something to hopefully lessen the fear and increase the peace.

“Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”

More: Journalist Issac Bailey has some questions about the Indiana law. Libertarian writer Jonathan Rauch explains the grand compromise on gay and religious rights in Utah. Finally, Stephen Miller of the Independent Gay Forum has this to say about the change in consensus in the LGBT communnity concerning religious liberties: “In the decades before 2013, exempting religious organizations from LGBT anti-discrimination statutes was a consensus position. Now, on the federal level, it’s anathema for many national LGBT rights advocates. ”

Is it?

Extreme Party Makeovers

alf landonI always enjoy reading political analyst Sean Trende at Real Clear Politics. What makes him interesting is that he tends to go against the conventional wisdom that is flying around the politisphere. Recently, he a three part series on the future of the GOP and true to form, he goes against the grain. Today’s article dealt with the idea of the GOP having to move to the center in order to win elections and be a viable party. It’s a viewpoint that many have taken, including myself. Trende looks to the past to show that moderation doesn’t always bring votes. He starts by sharing what happened to the GOP during the FDR years:

In the aftermath of the ’32 blowout (when Democrats gained almost 100 seats) and the affirmation of the New Deal in the 1934 midterms (they gained another nine seats), Republicans decided they needed to change.* In 1936, they nominated a governor from the progressive wing of the party, Alf Landon of Kansas (pictured). Landon had actually broken from the party and supported Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose run in 1912, and represented an attempt by Republicans to re-energize the party’s strength in the progressive West.

The result was an even worse loss than it suffered in 1932 with the more conservative Herbert Hoover. Notwithstanding Landon’s support for organized labor and large portions of the New Deal, he won just eight electoral votes. Republicans were reduced to 88 House seats, 16 Senate seats, five governorships, and control of 21 state chambers (out of 92). Republicans stuck with the model, though. In 1940, they nominated a former Democrat (Wendell Willkie) who supported large portions of the New Deal. Likewise, Tom Dewey was a cautious centrist, whose campaign (twice) focused on his ability to manage the New Deal better than Democrats.

When Republicans did win, in 1952, there was no makeover. Conservatives had argued for one, and backed Ohio Sen. Bob Taft for president, using terms that in many ways foreshadowed today’s anti-establishment Tea Party rhetoric. Everett Dirksen, shouting from the podium and wagging his finger at Tom Dewey (in the audience) argued for the seating of delegates critical to Taft’s campaign: “I stood with you in 1940. I stood with you in 1944. I stood with you in 1948, when you gave us a candidate [drowned out by crowd] . . . . To my friends from New York, when my friend Tom Dewey was the candidate in ’44 and ’48, I tried to be one of his best campaigners. . . . Re-examine your hearts [on this delegate issue] because we followed you before, and you took us down the road to defeat! Don’t do this to us!”

What find so fascinating is that I and alot of other people never thought about this. I mean, all you had to do is look at a history book and figure this out.

None of this means that the GOP is fine and doesn’t need to remodel. But no one should think that a policy change here and a compromise there is going to create a winning coalition. Rebranding for the sake of rebranding isn’t going to put the GOP back into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The model that pundits like yours truly like to think about when it comes to reforming the GOP is the Democratic Leadership Council which created policy positions that were not the typical liberal fare and made the way for Bill Clinton to become president in 1992. Pundits like to think that it was because the Democrats moved to the center that Clinton was able to win. While that might be part of the answer, could it also be that the GOP had the Presidency for 12 years and voters wanted something new? Also, the economy was sluggish in 1992, and President George H.W. Bush didn’t appear to be handling it well. What if the Democrats won not because they were so excellent, but because of external factors?

Paul Waldman echoes this in a recent article. Here’s what he says about the ’92 general election:

I think the degree to which political success comes from the public agreeing with you on issues is being dramatically overstated. If you look at the ups and downs of the parties over the last 20 years, a couple of other factors—timing, and what your opponents do—matter a whole lot more.

Let’s quickly run over this history, starting with the Democrats’ first revival, with the election of Bill Clinton in 1992. Was it important that Clinton was a centrist Democrat who sought to neutralize the party’s electoral problems on being seen by white voters as too solicitous of black people and too soft on crime? (If you’re too young to remember the 1992 campaign, Google “Ricky Ray Rector” and “Sister Souljah” to see what I’m talking about.) Sure. But had the country not been in a recession in 1992, that wouldn’t have been enough. And if that was a Democratic revival that went beyond one guy getting elected, it didn’t last very long; two years later, Republicans took over both houses of Congress.

That brings us to the opposition factor. After the Gingrich Revolution, voters got to see the new version of the Republican party, and they were completely turned off. In 1996, Clinton ran one ad after another featuring pictures of Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich together to taint Dole with the stain of the unpopular House Speaker. But what got him re-elected, more than anything else, was the humming economy. We could argue about how much credit he deserved for it, but the importance it had was undeniable, and it wasn’t a judgment voters were making about his New Democrat philosophy that got him a second term.

I’m curious to see how this will all play out in 2016. By then, the Democrats will have had the Presidency for 8 years. What will the economy be like? Will we be at peace or at war? Maybe all of these factors will have an effect on whether or not we will have a President Hillary Clinton or a President Chris Christie.

Does that mean that ideas (or lack thereof in the case of the modern GOP) don’t matter? No. Ideas do have a place and the current discussions going on in the GOP between the libertarian populists and the establishment matter. Bill Clinton won because he had ideas and connected to people emotionally during an uncertain time, but he wouldn’t have one if the country wasn’t in a recession. George W. Bush won in 2004 because September 11 was still fresh in the American mind and Iraq was not yet a quagmire. Americans were thinking about security and the GOP seemed better at keeping us safe. Ideas do matter. But so do the times.

I think it is important for the GOP to focus on issues like the economic insecurity that people face in this sluggish economy. But even if the GOP comes up with a boffo policies it might not matter if the economy is humming in 2016.

Does the GOP needed rebranding? Being a heterodox conservative, I tend to think so. I just don’t think that rebranding alone will put the GOP back in the White House.

Wishes Won’t Change the GOP

gop elephantFellow Leaguer Tod Kelly wrote a post a few days about his doubts that the GOP would change from what some see as a self-destructive path. I have to say that I have come to agree that the party isn’t going to change after a few losses. Many a moderate or independent hopes the party will lose big in some election that would scare the party to relevance. Think a political version of “scared straight.”

I don’t think this will happen, but it isn’t simply because of the so-called crazies. No, its the same moderates and independents who are constantly wringing their hands that don’t care enough to do anything about it.

As someone who has been involved in GOP circles for a decade or so, I’ve seen my share of fellow travelers who are upset at the current direction of the party. The whine and moan, but seldom do they ever get involved in party politics to change things. When the party loses big in a presidential election, they quietly hope that this time the party leaders will get it right and the party will be steered in less strident path. It’s a hope that outside forces will magically bring the party back from the brink.


A few years ago, I wrote a post with the insightful title, “Why Moderate Republicans Suck.” The thrust of the article is that if there is to be change in the party, it will come from activists who are willing to roll up their sleeves and do the hard work of forging a more moderate conservatism. Here’s a bit of what I wrote:



The missing story is the lack of a credible countermovement within the GOP, a movement for change. When one talks of Moderate Republicans, we talk of basically a loose group of individuals who are basically on their own. For example, take Senator Arlen Specter, who until recently was a moderate Republican. After he voted for the stimulus package, he recieved a fair amount of protests from Republican groups.

The image in the media was of a lone Republican Senator against a phalanx of hard right groups. In the end, Specter decided to leave.

This image has been seen again and again. A lone, moderate Republican legislator is attacked, not by a collection of cranks, but by organized groups that have the money and more importantly, the people to take down those who are not pure.

The lesson here is simple, the hard right is a movement. There are groups of like-minded individuals that come together and are able to force change in the party. A single person realizes they are part of a larger movement and that gives them the stregnth to march forward.

On the other side, moderates are at best a collection of individuals. We tend to feel lost and alone and don’t feel a connection to anything greater than us. Because we are isolated, we don’t feel as empowered and tend to give up easily.


I would also add that the more moderate members in the party are good compromisers, but terrible in coming up with a competing vision of what the Republicans party should do and be in the 21st century. The Tea Party’s views might seem ridiculous, strange and downright scary at times, but they at least have ideas. Crazy ideas, yes, but ideas nevertheless.

Earlier this year Republican consultant Liz Mair discussed what was wrong with moderate Republicanism:

Everyone knows that Todd Akin, Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle were not good candidates. What a lot of people don’t seem to recognize is that their opponents, even though they looked like they would perform better based on on-paper attributes, were even worse candidates. How do I know this? They lost to Todd Akin, Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle. I’m serious. Think about that for a minute.

Now, I come from the more moderate end of the GOP, and cut my teeth as a blogger as an advocate for moderate Republicans. A lot of people in that part of the party will be inclined to respond to this criticism by saying, “no, they weren’t worse candidates, it’s just that the party is so extreme that more moderate/mainstream candidates can’t win over the base.”

And it pains me to say it, but this is simply not true, and I’m going to throw out several names to prove it to you: Mark Kirk. Kelly Ayotte. Carly Fiorina. Dan Coats.

Kirk, Ayotte and Coats not only beat primary opponents widely considered to be more conservative than them, they also won in the general. Fiorina (for whom I consulted—full disclosure) won decisively in the primary besting an opponent generally regarded as more conservative than her (and for the record, California Republicans are more like Kansas Republicans than New York City Republicans). While ultimately losing in blue California, Fiorina lost by a lesser margin than did gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman. She also beat the registration gap between Democrats and Republicans.

Now, not all of these people started off running campaigns that might be described as A+ (side note: In my experience, most campaigns suffer road bumps and hiccups on a fairly phenomenal scale for the first 2-8 weeks, anyway).

However, they did not assume they would coast to a victory and they took the job of campaigning very seriously.

That means they hired good staff (not just whoever was already familiar to them or in their entourage or who that one guy who won big 10 year ago used, or some big name consultants who talked a good game but didn’t have a record of putting points on the board).

Sarah Steelman, one of Akin’s opponents, basically failed to raise any money, making it hard for her to beat Akin on the day (one dreads to think how she would have stood up to Claire McCaskill, who wasn’t exactly running the world’s cheapest, crappest campaign).

Mike Castle, who I would have infinitely preferred Delaware Republicans nominate, just couldn’t fathom that his party would nominate someone as nutty as Christine O’Donnell (lesson #1 in life: Never assume, because when you do, you make an “ass” out of “u” and “me.”) He also spent time campaigning at, say, art fairs—probably a very good thing to do in the general, but probably not that helpful in a Republican primary. (Note: Castle did turn things around in the final weeks of the campaign, though by then it was too late; so he does deserve some credit for his efforts.)

If estranged Republicans really want to see change, then it’s time to get busy. There needs to be candidates that can articulate new ideas, connect with the base (and not always assume they are all nutjobs) and well, actually give a damn about the party they claim to want to be a part of.

But if none of that happens, if we are left with the Ted Cruzes of the world, then we will have a party that will continue on the path it has set because it’s the only game in GOP town and frankly because no one was willing to take the time to actually stand up and offer something different.

Social Conservatives: The Republican Party’s Dilemma

One of the readers that I most enjoy reading is the French writer Pascal Emmanuel Gobry.  He is able to give a view of American politics from a very different standpoint than most of us.  He recently came up with a manifesto to reform the GOP.  If you have some time, please read it. I want to life a point he makes about social conservatism and the GOP.  Gobry goes contrary to some reformers in how  the GOP handles this faction of the party.


The Republican Party can’t win without social conservatives. There’s roughly a third of voters in this country who are committed social conservatives. What that means is that Republicans can’t get to 51 with just those people, but it also can’t get to 51 without them. This is for “upper-middle” reform conservatives who think the Republican Party’s problem is social conservatism. There is simply no path to victory for a socially liberal Republican Party. Period. Maaaybe the GOP is in danger of becoming a “Bible Belt rump” if it goes too much in the social conservatism direction, but there’s no doubt that if it goes too much in the social liberal direction it will become a Northeastern nothingburger. More deeply, it is deeply fitting and consistent (as we’ll see in greater depth below) that  the GOP be an economically and socially conservative party, since economic dynamism creates churn and disruption in people’s lives–churn and disruption which can be alleviated either through big government which destroys freedom and kills the goose that lays the golden eggs, or through vibrant cultural, social and local institutions.

This message is directed at me and others who tend to be more socially liberal.  I’ve longed thought the problem with the party is it’s social conservatism.  If we just got rid of them,  I thought, then everything would be great. As much as I want to believe that, I’m coming to the conclusion that we just aren’t going to get a socially liberal Republican party. I can envision a party that welcomes social liberals as well as social conservatives, but I don’t see the party totally abandoning social conservatism.  The problem boils down to who shows up.  Social conservatives tend to be the most committed members of the GOP.  They are the ones that are involved in party politics and in the footwork of getting candidates elected.  The more moderate folk tend to not be as involved and in most cases tend to be somewhat standoffish in dealing with the party.  I’ve learned this over my years of being involved in more moderate GOP groups; we want the party to bend to our will, we just don’t want to work that hard to get it done.

Which is why the recent op-ed by two straight interns at Log Cabin is dear to my heart, but isn’t realistic and in some cases antithetical to the cherished “big tent” we want.  In the article, Mack Feldman and Lisa Schoch advocate for the party to give up its opposition to same sex marriage or face losing the vote of social moderates:

A recent study by the College Republican National Committee suggests that young voters have an appetite for a more moderate GOP. Forty-nine percent of respondents maintained that same-sex marriage should be legal, half of whom indicated that “they would probably or definitely not vote for a candidate with whom they disagreed on same-sex marriage, even if they were in agreement on taxes, defense, immigration and spending.” In other words, the GOP’s opposition to marriage equality definitively eliminates at least one-fourth of its youth vote, regardless of the relevance or appeal of its other conservative policies.

Despite efforts to convince themselves otherwise, the Republican Party needs to accept that social matters do make a difference. Indeed, as the CRNC report illustrates, social concerns — including support of same-sex marriage — are increasingly a priority for young voters, with fiscal policies threatening to take a backseat.

There are two problems with their reason and they line up somewhat to Gobry’s views.  First, Feldman and Schoch assume that if the GOP modernized its stance on same sex marriage, then a whole tide of voters will come and vote GOP.  But I think this view is missing some key factors.  First, if the GOP does change its stance, we also have to face the fact that part of the reason that the GOP lost votes in the last general election wasn’t simply because of social issues, but economic issues as well:

In order to win, therefore, Republicans need to find a way to adapt Reagan’s core insights–”government that rides with us, not on our backs”–in a way that directly addresses the front-of-mind day-to-day concerns of the lower-middle in the 21st century. These concerns include: unemployment, economic insecurity, wage stagnation, healthcare (security and affordability), education, quality of life, etc. And remember, lower-middle people are not ideologues. Maybe capital gains tax cuts or a flat tax would create a rising tide that would lift all boats. Reform conservatives love them some tax cuts. But people in the lower-middle ain’t buyin’ it. If Republicans don’t have good, credible, conservative policies to address these concerns, lower-middle people will vote for Democrats if only by default. This is the story of 2012. Lower-middle people don’t like Obamacare but they still swung the election for Obama because Romney’s alternative to Obamacare was (perceived to be) zilch. At least the Obama agenda realized what their concerns were and addressed them.

The thing that is holding the party back isn’t simply social issues, but economic ones as well.  It has to find a way to speak again to the lower middle class on economic matters.  I’m guessing a lot of young people are not voting GOP simply on same sex marriage, but also on the fact that they don’t see the party really helping people like them.  The same-sex marriage issue is frosting on the cake instead of the cake itself.  The problem with social liberals like myself is that we have internalized the Democratic critique of the GOP instead of seeing what is the real problem.  Social issues are a drag on the party.  But the problems that drag the GOP down looks more like an iceberg.  The social issues are on top and look imposing, but the economic issues are bigger and dwell below beneath the waterline. We can support same-sex marriage and immigration, but as long as we don’t deal with what’s below, the party will not win.

So what to do with social conservatives? Instead of trying to throw them overboard, it might make more sense to lift up more of their salient points, while downplaying that which polarizes.  Earlier this year, Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner wrote a piece in Commentary that got to the point: how to save the Republican Party.  Gerson and Wehner suggested the following when it came to social issues:

…the GOP can engage vital social issues forthrightly but in a manner that is aspirational rather than alienating.

Addressing the issue of marriage and family is not optional; it is essential. Far from being a strictly private matter, the collapse of the marriage culture in America has profound public ramifications, affecting everything from welfare and education to crime, income inequality, social mobility, and the size of the state. Yet few public or political figures are even willing to acknowledge that this collapse is happening.

For various reasons, the issue of gay marriage is now front and center in the public consciousness. Republicans for the most part oppose same-sex marriage out of deference to traditional family structures. In large parts of America, and among the largest portion of a rising generation, this appears to be a losing battle. In the meantime, the fact remains that our marriage culture began to disintegrate long before a single court or a single state approved gay marriage. It is heterosexuals, not homosexuals, who have made a hash out of marriage, and when it comes to strengthening an institution in crisis, Republicans need to have something useful to offer. The advance of gay marriage does not release them from their responsibilities to help fortify that institution and speak out confidently on the full array of family-related issues. Republicans need to make their own inner peace with working with those who both support gay marriage and are committed to strengthening the institution of marriage. (Emphasis mine)

Yes, the ability of government to shape attitudes and practices regarding family life is very limited. But a critical first step is to be clear and consistent about the importance of marriage itself—as the best institution ever devised when it comes to raising children, the single best path to a life out of poverty, and something that needs to be reinforced rather than undermined by society.

Other steps then follow: correcting the mistreatment of parents in our tax code by significantly increasing the child tax credit; eliminating various marriage penalties and harmful incentives for poor and for unwed mothers; evaluating state and local marriage-promotion programs and supporting those that work; informally encouraging Hollywood to help shape positive attitudes toward marriage and parenthood. There may be no single, easy solution, but that is not a reason for silence on the issue of strengthening and protecting the family.

While social liberals like myself has usually seen nothing good to come from social conservatives, they are partly right about the disintergration of the family.  Liberals and libertarians have been slow to see the problems with a crumbling family structure.  If social conservatives are willing to work with social liberals and if social liberals are willing to see that social conservatism might have some value sans the anti-gay rhetoric, then we might be able to co-opt and harness the power of social conservatism in a way that’s beneficial for society and not divisive.

At some point social liberals/libertarians and conservatives are going to have to come to some sort of detente; a place where they won’t every agree, but are willing to live with each other and work with each other for a greater good.  But for that to happen, both factions have to see the other as valuable to the GOP coalition.

Will that happen?  We shall see.

The Jon Huntsman Syndrome (An Insiders Look at the GOP)

Liz Mair is a political consultant that has worked for various Republican campaigns such as John McCain’s 2008 presidential run. She also a great blogger and I wished she blogged more. Back in February, she posted  about what’s wrong with the GOP. It’s a good take on the current state of the Party.

Here’s a taste:

Everyone knows that Todd Akin, Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle were not good candidates. What a lot of people don’t seem to recognize is that their opponents, even though they looked like they would perform better based on on-paper attributes, were even worse candidates. How do I know this? They lost to Todd Akin, Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle. I’m serious. Think about that for a minute.

Now, I come from the more moderate end of the GOP, and cut my teeth as a blogger as an advocate for moderate Republicans. A lot of people in that part of the party will be inclined to respond to this criticism by saying, “no, they weren’t worse candidates, it’s just that the party is so extreme that more moderate/mainstream candidates can’t win over the base.”

And it pains me to say it, but this is simply not true, and I’m going to throw out several names to prove it to you: Mark Kirk. Kelly Ayotte. Carly Fiorina. Dan Coats.

Kirk, Ayotte and Coats not only beat primary opponents widely considered to be more conservative than them, they also won in the general. Fiorina (for whom I consulted—full disclosure) won decisively in the primary besting an opponent generally regarded as more conservative than her (and for the record, California Republicans are more like Kansas Republicans than New York City Republicans). While ultimately losing in blue California, Fiorina lost by a lesser margin than did gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman. She also beat the registration gap between Democrats and Republicans.

Now, not all of these people started off running campaigns that might be described as A+ (side note: In my experience, most campaigns suffer road bumps and hiccups on a fairly phenomenal scale for the first 2-8 weeks, anyway).

However, they did not assume they would coast to a victory and they took the job of campaigning very seriously.

Read the whole thing and see if we can shake the Jon Huntsman Syndrome.

Random Thoughts on the NSA and Metadata

big brotherThere’s a part of me that’s hesitant to say anything about the NSA scandal. It involves a lot of things that I’m not clear about, such as how you comb through the data without snooping on folks. I still think this story is forming and we don’t know the whole scope of things. That said, I do have some musings which are sure to bug people on all sides. So, here goes.

  • Whenever I hear libertarians complain about this, I have to wonder what they think is the proper response when terrorism happens. More often than not, the answer is that such things like 9/11 won’t happen again or the chances of terrorism happening to us are slim. I would agree that a 9/11-style attack was probably a one-shot deal. But in the years following 9/11 we have had other smaller scale threats such as the Christmas Day attempt to blow up an airliner over the skies of Detroit, or the guy that wanted to set off a car bomb in Times Square and of course, the Boston Marathon bombings. So, how does government best respond to these threats? How do we try to protect the American people and yet uphold the ideals we cherish? How do we keep the balance? It bugs me that libertarians don’t really have an answer for this, which leads me to think that their answer is basically to shrug it off. I hope I’m wrong, but I do wonder.
  • Are we really surprised the government would start sorting through our data? In an age where Google and Apple collect tons of our data, it would only be a matter of time before the government got into the act. The internet and mobile technology is a wonderful thing, but it has also left us more vulnerable to be followed.
  • We have to start thinking about what privacy means in the Internet age. I tend to think we have an expectation of privacy that made sense 40 years ago, but not now. In an age where we freely share our history on Facebook and where Google can provide us with ads based on our searches, we have to think about what privacy means now and we also have to think about the trade offs of taking part in this new age.
  • These next few points are Via Peggy Noonan. Politicians tend to look at terrorism through the lens of self-interest. No politico of either party wants to be the one that gets blamed for some major attack because they didn’t do anything. As much as the public might say they are upset at government snooping, I tend to think the public will also punish any politician that appeared to not do respond to a threat. This means, any politician is going to do something that could be incredibly stupid in order to save their hides.
  • A growing surveillence state might thwart some attacks, but it can also not notice other potential threats. The most obvious example are the Tsarnaevs. All of the apparatus of the security state for some reason didn’t pick up what was going on with these two brothers. The state might be powerful, but it isn’t God and it isn’t perfect.
  • The collection of data could very well be used for bad purposes. The president and Congress can swear on a stack of Bibles that the data is secure, but the people collecting the data are human. The information could be used to threaten innocent people. The temptation for overreach and abuse is high.

I know this isn’t a self-righteous blog post expressing anger either way. But then our post 9/11 world leaves me with more questions than they do answers.

On Conservative Strawmen


Note: I’ve been doing some writing over at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen lately and this is a post I wrote over there on Tuesday of this week.

I’ve never really understood Michael Tomansky’s role at the Daily Beast other than to write screeds about how evil Republicans and conservatives are.

I never had much love for pundits whose sole duty in life is to write column after column about how evil the other side is. Ann Coulter and Michele Malkin do that quite annoyingly on the starboard side and I find it not only bothersome but rather boring. These writers don’t add any light, but do throw more flames on the fire to pump up their side of the aisle and assure themselves how good they are and how evil and pathetic the other side is.

Tomansky’s latest screed is going after conservative “reformers”; writers that have from time to time advocated for reform from within American conservatism. He thinks they aren’t doing a good enough job. Here’s his take on a quote from one reformer, Avik Roy:

Here’s what Roy says he wants: to “orient the GOP agenda around opportunity for those who least have it, to offer these individuals a superior alternative to failed statist policies.” Please. You get a lot of this from Republicans. Paul Ryan says things like this all the time. Rick Santorum did. Even Mitt Romney did, though to a lesser extent. But it’s all nonsense because they have invented a straw-man version of liberalism in their heads that isn’t anything like the liberalism that actually exists.

So, what should the reformers like Roy, or Ross Douthat, or David Brooks or Reihan Salam be talking about? Well, not policies, but the fact that the GOP is a racist, sexist, homophonic rump or a party:

The big problem with today’s Republican Party isn’t its policies. Certainly, those policies are extreme and would be deeply injurious to middle-class and poorer Americans should they be enacted. But Bob Dole wasn’t thinking, I don’t believe, just of policies. He was talking about the whole package—the intolerance, the proud stupidity, the paranoia, the resentments, the rage. These are intertwined with policy of course—indeed they often drive policy. But they are the party’s real problem. And where these “reformers” fail is that they never, ever, ever (that I have seen) criticize it with any punch at all.

Hey, Avik! Would you like to know why 90 percent of black people aren’t listening to your message? Because you don’t want them to vote! Not you personally (at least I assume), but your party. I know that you think black people are victims of false consciousness (how Marxist of you!), but do you also think they are stupid? If you and your wonderful Arthur Brooks want to develop a program to attract black voters, you might start by trying to change your party’s position on the question of attempting to pervert the law to deny them their franchise.

I think frankly that Tomansky is dealing with a bit of a strawman here. Strawmen aren’t totally fiction, they are built on some fact, but this strawmen, like all strawmen is taken to an extreme and is based more on the person’s perception more than it is on the reality of the situation. Continue reading

How to Sustain a “Republican Spring”

Chris Ladd, who used to write for this blog, has written a post on how to rebuild the GOP.  In many ways, he is trying to communicate what I’ve been saying for years: the need to create a viable alternative view of governance than what has been brought forward by groups like the Tea Party.  I want to offer some critiques on his advice and how to move forward.

Ladd’s point is that moderates and others not on the far right must take on and fight the Tea Party:

Traditional Republicans have been reluctant to engage in open dissent out of respect for party’s ethos of disciplined unity. Tea party groups couldn’t care less about unity. They have shown no concern whatsoever in undermining party interests in favor of their own. “Party unity” is a pillow pressed over our faces. It will be necessary to forge compromises to make any party realignment work, but an open split with the extremist wing will have to come first.

This is the dream of a lot of folks disgruntled with the GOP. It used to be my own tactic.  The problem is that in some ways it offers a bizarro version of the far right: be as intolerant as they are.  The other thing is calling out the far right has never really been a successful strategy other than getting a lot of folks on the left rather excited.  A number of folks loved John McCain’s “agents of intolerance” crack, but most of those enthralled by that didn’t support him in the 2000 GOP primaries.  Jon Huntman got points for saying that he, as opposed to other Republicans, believed in climate change.  Again, he didn’t get very far. Actually, we could go as far back as the 1964 GOP Convention in San Francisco where leading liberal Republican Nelson Rockefeller slammed the insurgent and successful Barry Goldwater.  Goldwater lost to Lyndon Johnson that year, but the moderates in the party didn’t succeed in becoming the dominant faction.
The thing about this theory is that it believes that the problem with the modern GOP lies only in its far right flank.  If we just get rid of those folks, then everything will be okay and people will flock to the party again.
But I don’t think the problems facing the GOP are just the fault of the Tea Party.  The problems are more systemic and won’t be solved by getting rid of the “unwanted” be they the Tea Party or “RINOs.”
The Democrats faced a similar problem in the 1980s as the far left kept the party from winning national elections.  Democrats didn’t try to go to war with the far left; instead moderates within the party created an alternative vision and then went about selling it.  The far left wasn’t its enemy.  What these New Democrats did is offered themselves as the winnable option against the Republicans.  They came up with ideas that co-opted Republican ideas and then made them acceptable to liberals and moderates alike.
The problem the GOP faces these days is not because of the Tea Party.  They might be more the symptom then they are the problem.  The reason that Mitt Romney and John McCain before him, lost the race to the White House was not because of the Tea Party as much as it was the party was stuck in the 1980s, the same way the Democrats were stuck in the 1930s.  America had moved on, but the political party still offers the same policies that gave it victory.
If we want to have what Ladd calls a “Republican Spring” we need to do a few things that will create lasting change and not feed into liberal fantasies.
1. Offer an alternative with real policies.  Too often the GOP dissidents tend to see the problem as one that is focused on social issues like abortion or gay rights.  But the moderates or dissidents need to come up with not only a social alternative, but present a clear governing vision that focuses on economic issues.  While I might disagree with someone like Ross Douthat on social issues, he tends to be spot on when it comes to how the GOP should attend the economic needs of the middle and lower classes.
A related point to this is that some of the more moderate candidates that lose to the Tea Party were not stellar candidates.  Indiana’s Richard Murdock was a horrible candidate, but Richard Lugar had been in so long he could not articulate a clear governing vision that would bring folks in to vote for him in the GOP primary.
2. The Tea Party is not a monolith. If you follow the major media, you tend get a picture of the Tea Party as a group of tri-corner hat crazies.  While there are those kind of people (think Minnesota’s own Michelle Bachmann), the faction is far more complex than the simplistic caritacure.  Yes someone like Ted Cruz confirms the Tea Party stereotype, but remember that Marco Rubio , who leading the charge to reform our immigration laws, was elected to the Senate with Tea Party support as well.  This leads to another point:
3. Co-opt the Tea Party. When Bill Clinton ran in 1992, he made news for his condemnation of rapper Sister Souljah.  It was a moment where he was seen putting the far left in it’s place.  But while he did that, he also was able inject conservative values with liberal beliefs in the role of government.  He could talk about welfare reform and also talk about health care reform.  Clinton was able to co-opt the liberal wing of the party and get them to support his centrist campaign.  The successful GOP candidate will be able to blend conservative values with the moment we are now in.  They will learn to co-opt the Tea Party penchant for small government with a belief that government might not do everything, but the things it does will be done well.  In essence, the road to reforming the GOP lies in holding on the base and also expanding the party as well.
4. Do you like the GOP? One of the problem with GOP dissidents is that you get the feeling that they don’t like the party they claim to be a part of.  Ross Douthat shared that one of the reasons for Utah Governor Jon Huntsman lost was not that he was too moderate, but because it seemed like he didn’t like the electorate that he needed to vote for him:
He picked high-profile fights on two hot-button issues — evolution and global warming — that were completely irrelevant to his candidacy’s rationale. He let his campaign manager define his candidacy as a fight to save the Republican Party from a “bunch of cranks.” And he embraced his identity as the media’s favorite Republican by letting the liberal journalist Jacob Weisberg write a fawning profile for Vogue.
This was political malpractice at its worst. Voters don’t necessarily need to like a candidate to vote for him, but they need to think that he likes them. Imagine a contender for the Democratic nomination introducing himself to liberal voters by attacking Planned Parenthood, distancing himself from “left-wing nutjobs” and giving a series of interviews on Fox News, and you have the flavor of how Huntsman’s opening act was perceived on the right. The substance mattered less than the symbolism, which screamed: I want your vote, but I don’t particularly care to be associated with your stupidities.
Shorter Douthat: if you call people stupid and nutty, don’t be surprised if they don’t want to vote for you.  People want someone who they percieve cares about them.  They aren’t going to support someone who looks down on them. A GOP politician has to deal with the electorate they have, not the one they wish for.

The thing is, if you’re going to run as a Republican, you have to respect the base of the party.  No one should expect to get very far in the GOP selection process if you call those who you’re going to vote for cranks.  Douthat is correct that people don’t need to like a candidate, but they need to know that the candidate likes them.  While people on either side of Mitt Romney see him as a flip-flopper who tries to please the base, the fact of the matter is if he wanted to be considered a candidate he was going to have to tailor his views to the GOP electorate.Of course, if moderates were more involved on the party level, then candidates like Romney wouldn’t have to give up their views on gay rights and abortion in order to be considered in the GOP.

But I think this all goes back to how the base is treated.  I don’t think one has to give their more moderate social views to be considered for President, but you need to bring the focus on issues like jobs and not give Christmas presents to pundits by calling folks who might vote for you crazy.  It’s crazy to think you can do that and get votes in the current primary system.

This leads to my final point:

5. Politics today works for the bottom up.  Moderates in the GOP are not the ones that will throw themselves into party work.  They won’t spend time trying to get out the vote.  We expect that the establishment will pick one of the wise men to lead the various elected offices.  We are not interested in going to conventions, much less caucuses. Conservatives in the GOP tend to be more active.  They are the ones who go to party functions and will work hard to get out the vote.  Moderates in the party need to stop thinking the party will just be handed to them.

I think the GOP will change.  Heck, it needs to change.  But a bloody intraparty fight will please no one except Democrats who will come and sweep in and win.


Scenes from a Walmart


walmartAbout two years ago, the majority of the old Brookdale Mall were demolished. Brookdale was opened in 1962 and by the time it closed in 2010, it’s best days were behind it. In its place came a WalMart Supercenter.

I will admit WalMart isn’t my favorite place to go. But since there’s one close to me, I do go there every so often to find something that might be at a lower price than say at Target.

WalMart seems to be the villian du jour for people. Especially in the churches that I am a part of, it seems to be the norm for people to denounce the Arkansas-based retailer for a multitude of social sins. There was a time when I would agree with those pastors and other folks. But reality has a way of confusing things.

Whenever I walk through a WalMart, at least here in Minnesota, I am astounded at how diverse it is. I can see the Hispanic family looking for clothes for their kids, the Somali mother shopping for the week, the Hmong man getting paint and the African American man ringing up his purchases at one of the self-checkouts. I see people from different economic classes all coming to this one place to do shopping.

Maybe WalMart is more than it’s alleged sins.

WalMart has started a new ad campaign that is aimed at showing what they call “the Real WalMart.” The commercial, which is below has actual customers talking about the chain.

I am reminded of a blog post I wrote back in 2006 about WalMart:

I’m a centrist Republican, they are dyed-in-the-wool New Deal Democrats. I drive a late model Volkswagen made in Mexico, they are retired autoworkers who are proud United Auto Workers members. Where these contrasts get a bit strange is where we shop for discount goods: I tend tend to shop at Target; they shop at Walmart.

Walmart. This behemouth of a retailer is considered basically evil by many people. I’ve decided not to shop there because of some of their labor practices. My parents are quite aware of this, and yet shop there anyway. In fact, when the visited me here in Minnesota recently from my native Michigan, they got gas at the local Sam’s Club because they are members and it’s cheaper than regular gas.

I don’t understand why my parents shop at a place that seems antithetical to their beliefs, but they do and maybe I don’t have to understand.

What’s interesting to me is that many of the people who object to Walmart tend to be more middle-class. People like myself like to go to Target which tends to market itself as an upscale discounter. Walmart appeals to the working class folk like my parents who don’t care about design, they just want something at a good price.

All of this has led to me to wonder if a lot of the protest against Walmart has more to do with class than it has to do with things like health care or wages. I mean, Target probably pays the same wages that Walmart does in markets where they both compete. Walmart is even getting into the organics business,joining the trend among retailers to offer healthier and sustainable foodstuffs…

The fact is, a lot of my friends who dis Walmart are people like myself: we shop at more upscale places like Ikea and Trader Joe’s. These places are precieved as being more upper middle class; Walmart is more working class; and despite all the talk of caring for the less off, I would bet that a lot of those who profess Walmart as Satan and shop at these more upscale places wouldn’t want to be caught dead with those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Seven years later and I still have the same viewpoint.

Listen,  I don’t think WalMart is a saint that should be uncritically praised.  But I wonder what would happen if WalMart never existed.  How would some of the immigrants and low-income folks who shop at WalMart be able to find foodstuffs at a low price?

I still think those who hate on WalMart might want to go just once and observe the folk who shop there.  These folk at the hoi palloi they profess to care for.  Like I said, WalMart isn’t innocent, but I tend to think that the case against the retailer is far more complicated than some would like to believe.