These are difficult days to write on politics and social issues from the viewpoint of an atheist, pro-science, feminist progressive. To be bluntly honest, these are difficult days to write on politics from the viewpoint of a sane person.
We have spent the last decade or so watching one of the two major political parties come completely unhinged from reality, which is a terrifying occurrence when your system of government is a two party system. The Republican strategy of developing a base of conservative religious whites and counting on that base to deliver them electoral victory has destabilized the party. On a national level, their base shrinks by the day at the same time that on localized levels it tightens its grip on the direction of the party. The coming of the Tea Party has cemented this control even more. At first the Tea Party drew interest outside of Republican circles based on its insistence that economic interests must get priority; that social issues could be worked out later once people came together to fix the economic mess we had gotten ourselves into. This message resonated with a lot of people on both sides of the political spectrum, and the Tea Party was poised to be a powerful force in national politics.
The Tea Party may have started off as a legit grassroots movement. ( I don’t believe it was, but, being honest, I don’t feel like doing the needed research right now to state it as fact. I know early Tea Partiers will insist that they were grassroots. *Shrug* It’s not the main point of the post so I’m playing the “don’t really care” card.) If it was at one point a grassroots Republican movement, it didn’t take long for big Republican money to find it and start shaping the message. While the fiscal responsibility message caught the attention of many, there were disturbing warning signs for those who cared to look; a large amount of outright racism displayed on signs and shirts at rallies; said rallies being attended by practically zero minorities; people affiliating with the movement with known far right social viewpoints. Whatever the warning signs, the time was right in 2010 for a wave election, and Republicans fueled by the Tea Party took control of the House of Representatives and many state governments. It was time to see what this new brand of Republican economics would look like.
Except we didn’t get the fixation on economic issues the Tea Party promised, the promises that got them elected. Instead we got all anti-abortion bills, all the time. We got social conservatism on crystal meth. Some people seemed shocked, but this wasn’t hard to see coming.
For years the Republican party would use the social conservatives, depending on them to win elections only to largely forget about them once in office. Why would it surprise anyone when the social conservatives turned around and used the Republican party?
The Republicans are in a dangerous situation now, one that threatens their very status as a national party. The far right, Christian conservative base has veto power in the party; in order to win a primary in many areas of the country, you have to appeal to the base in a battle that is rapidly becoming a game of “who is farther from the mainstream?” You have to be a pristine conservative; any hint of compromise with the opposition force, or any view that violates conservative canon could be the straw that breaks not only the back of a camel, but also any chance you had of winning the nomination. Then once the primary is over, the party is left with a candidate that is often not able to win a general election where being far outside the mainstream is a vice, not a virtue, and where ideological purity is seen as a hindrance not a help. If they are from an area Republican enough that they can win their general election, they then take their place in a government they are not fit to be a part of; compromise is a large part of governing in a two party system, it is how things get done. When the opposition is populated with members who feel that compromise is a dirty word and anything other than the most pure conservative option is a failure, you end up with what we have in Washington today. A stagnant stalemate caused by politicians following the “toddler method” of conflict resolution. Ball your hands into fists, stomp the ground, and shout “NO” whenever faced with anything you don’t agree with.
I’ll admit that as a progressive, for a while this was kinda fun to watch and laugh about. I mean, they lost actual Senate seats in the 2012 election because they insisted on nominating batshit insane candidates like Todd Akin when anyone resembling a moderate Republican would have won the general election. But even when it was amusing, it wasn’t good for the country. And at a certain point, it stopped being funny at all, and moved into disturbing and worrying territory. A two party system needs two strong parties. The best ideas are forged in the fires of debate and disagreement. You make a suggestion, I poke holes in it, you fix those holes. Eventually, we have created a stronger idea than we could have come up with on our own. In today’s system, the Democrats make a suggestion and the Republicans say “no.” Then if enough Democratic votes exist, it gets passed. If not, the Democrats and the Republicans don’t work to make the bill one that they both can accept, rather the Democrats start offering the Republican candy until they convince the toddler to stop the tantrum. “Come on Teddy, Will you let us pass it if we take out the language on protecting homosexuals? How about if we restore some abstinence only education money?” That isn’t debate, it is bribery. If the Republicans continue to make themselves unelectable, eventually we will reach a time where Congress does little more than rubber stamp bills on to the President. These bills will be inherently weaker than bills that have to earn votes from both parties.
In a two party system, the middle is occupied by the space between the two parties. The insanity of the conservative base, even if rejected by the majority of Americans, serves to push the entire political discourse to the right. We are a nation of moderates. In many cases, the current GOP is so far off the radar that their former position is now seen as a moderate compromise. We witnessed this during the gun control debate after Newtown; people started rallying for more gun control and restrictions, and in response the NRA, rather than standing pat, rallied for more gun ownership, calling for armed guards in every school and teachers packing heat. This veer to the right made their previous position the new moderate position by default. I’m not willing to credit the GOP for being masterful enough to actually be rushing right in a meta strategy to make their actual position the new middle. But it is what is effectively happening for many issues.
The Republican party problem is also slowing changes that the majority of Americans want to happen. Note that I said “slowing” and not stopping. Immigration reform will eventually happen. Marriage equality will go through. The demographics of the nation are changing, and no matter how much conservative religious white people are against these issues, they have no power to stop the march of progress. They do however, have the power to cause even more damage to their own political party in a battle they have already lost. Opposition to immigration reform is dooming the GOP among Latino voters. After the 2012 cycle, many prominent Republicans admitted as much and pledged to work on reform. The party base said no. Gay marriage, once a sure political winner for the GOP, has rapidly turned into a liability when it comes to attracting the young voters it needs to replace its increasingly elderly base. A majority of Americans believe in marriage equality, and this number will do nothing but rise as more and more people come out; it is hard to hate someone that you know to be a good person. Visibility is defeating bigotry. Some honest Republicans want to back away from this issue. Hell, even a lot of churches who want to attract young people are backing away from it. But the base rules, and the base threatens to abandon ship if the party doesn’t hate the gays a sufficient amount.
The part of this situation that worries me the most however, is that while they are making their party unelectable nationally, they aren’t there yet. The election of 2012 wasn’t that close, but it wasn’t a Reagan level wipe out either. In 2016 it is possible that they can win the White House. Due to the gerrymandering after the 2010 election/census, their grip on the HoR is strong; even if they lose it, they will still have a lot of seats. The Senate is a bit harder to grab, but not out of the realm of the possible. Throw in an actual scandal for Obama, for whoever is the Democratic nominee in 2016, the passage and enforcement of voter ID laws, or even a bit of the trickery so many people worried about during the 2012 cycle with paperless voting machines and you could have a Republican in the White House in 2016, with a GOP controlled House and possibly the Senate as well. If you have been paying attention to state politics over the past few years, I am sure you understand why this scares the living shit out of me. While the Tea Party fiddles as their party burns, they still have a chance to take power again. Personally, I don’t think anything would destroy the modern GOP faster than actually being in power for 4 years. It would actually open up the eyes of many in this country who do not realize how far to the right the GOP has veered.
One only needs to look to Texas to see what we would have in store if the GOP took power in 2016. If Texas Republicans can’t get a bill passed according to the law, they just call a special session to ram it through. If that effort is blocked, just call another session. How much damage could they cause in 4 years, to gay rights, to women’s health, to social services? How many judges could they pack onto courts? How far back could they roll the clock?
Eventually, the GOP will have to evolve or die. If they die, a new party will rise up and take their place. They can not maintain the present course in the future, the views of their white, conservative Christian base is just too far from the mainstream to remain viable. We just have to keep them out of power until they make the choice.
The stakes are much too high to fail.