Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Grand Old Party Needs New Direction

Based on the results of the 2012 election, one thing is becoming increasingly clear. The Grand Old Party (GOP) is exactly that: OLD. Last night’s election of the first openly gay senator as well as passage of same-sex marriage by popular vote in two states and the legalization of marijuana in two states signals that social norms in this country are changing—and changing fast. Just eight years after Rick Santorum, former Republican Senator from Pennsylvania, and President George W. Bush turned same-sex marriage into a divisive national social issue, and just four years after California passed Proposition 8, voters have turned out and turned policy around. This is the progress many liberals and more moderately inclined Americans have hoped for, but this is not the kind of progress that should be linked solely to the campaigns and policies of Democratic or Independent officials.
            If Mitt Romney hadn’t come out so staunchly against immigration or against things like abortion and same-sex marriage, he probably would have won this election. CNN’s protestations to the contrary, the media’s description of Obama’s victory as “decisive” is overstated. His lead in the popular vote is narrow and, even with Florida under his belt, he still wins with less electoral votes than he did with four years ago. The candidates and analysts alike maintained that economy was a central focus in this campaign, but the discourse to which I was a party to over the last several months heavily focused on social policy such as overturning the Defense of Marriage Act and making sure that the next President does not appoint ultraconservative Justices to the Supreme Court. For many, it seems, considerations of the next four years took a backseat to considerations about the next thirty years.
            Amid this climate, Republican candidates stated that children born from legitimate rape were part of God’s plan for women and continued to run on platforms that would illegalize abortion and treat gays as second-class citizens. Romney, who was considered to be fairly moderate as the governor of Massachusetts, moved further to the right and yet didn’t seem to produce a solid position point on very much. This is where the Grand Old Party clearly failed. Long ago, the GOP may have been captured by conservative Christian elements, but the time has come to start moving beyond that increasingly smaller base and embrace a larger, evolving demographic. Republicans need to offer the country a truly different direction, one that focuses on government and economic policy and does not alienate minorities and strip people of all walks of life of their basic human dignity. It’s time for the Rick Santorums, Sarah Palins, and Michelle Bachmanns of the party to adopt a more moderate platform, or step aside entirely. Note that Santorum was voted out of his senate seat, lost the Republican primary, and that Bachmann won reelection by a sizably narrow margin. As many news media stations pointed out last night and early this morning, relying on old white men to vote them into power as in years and decades past, representatives of the Grand Old Party fumbled big time.
A divided America showcasing changing demographics -
            I implore Republicans, or independents who supported Romney, to spend the next four years working within the Grand Old Party to help begin the process of reformation. I respect the Republican Party for having differing economic policy goals than the Democrats. Our democracy is strong when opposing viewpoints are explored, debated, and consistently refined to form a more perfect union. However, we must be careful not to be so opposed to one another as to keep dividing the country and continue holding presidential elections in which we feel that we’re merely choosing the lesser of two evils.* Parties should have enough opposing viewpoints to make their existence meaningful, and to make their disagreements engines of change and progress. However, a party cannot be so out-of-touch with the general population that it renders its existence distracting—maybe even annoying—but essentially useless.  This is what seems to be happening to the Republicans. Refocusing the Grand Old Party on its core beliefs—small government, lower taxes, and greater opportunities for generating wealth through private entrepreneurship without getting entangled in outdated social policies—will restore the Republican Party to a position of import and respect.  Alternatively, leaving the party in the hands of extremists weakens the party further and hurts the country that we all—Democrats, Independents, and Republicans alike—love.

*The 2008 election was not a choice between the lesser of two evils, as both parties ran history making candidates and offered meaningful discussions of change, hope and a strong direction for the country.  However, this presidential race felt like a return to the Bush/Kerry election cycle. Judging by the numbers by which Obama won reelection as well as media analysis about independent voters, it seems that many voters were not particularly strongly enthused by either candidate.