American history and social issues

As you may or may not have heard, Barack Obama was reelected on Tuesday. I was reading this article on the Economist’s website and have to bring something up.

A couple of days ago, I wrote something about Kevin Youkilis about being right vs. being useful. The Economist chalks up Romney’s loss to his inability to pick up key demographics. I find that tremendously unhelpful. Instead, I find this sentence much more important: “For Republicans, that means talking about the social and religious issues that are important to the base.”

Let’s face facts. This is the exact strategy that the GOP has tried the last two elections: firing up the base, then coming up with an unsatisfactory compromise candidate when the base isn’t enough. Here’s radical thinking: ignore the base.

When I look at this election, I see one major thing: gay marriage helped win Obama the day. The smart thing for the Republicans to do would be to pull a Disraeli: take a popular liberal initiative (like the Great Reform Bill of 1832) and put it forward yourselves. Ultimately, and I mean no disrespect to anybody reading this blog, this country will not succeed or fail because gay people can or cannot get married. It just doesn’t matter.

Yes, a Republican proposing a gay marriage bill/constitutional amendment (I feel the latter will be necessary) might piss off the religious right. So what? Are they going to vote Democrat? Call their bluff. The religious right has entirely too much political power as it is, and it’s been hijacking the GOP since 2000. I’d like to see that change.

6 thoughts on “American history and social issues

  1. Your proposal is not theoretically a bad idea—Bill Clinton rode triangulation to the White House twice, after all—but I don’t think your premises are correct.

    The biggest one is that the GOP has not really tried to focus on the base. The last two candidates were definitely more centrist than the average Republican voter, and in both cases, there were no major, serious contenders to the right of that candidate. In 2008, the two primary candidates were John McCain (notorious for departing the Right when he had a chance to compromise) and Mitt Romney (a centrist, goo-goo governor from a leftist state). Romney was the right-ward leaning candidate, which should give you an idea of where things were there. In 2012, there were candidates to Romney’s right, but the potentially serious ones either dropped out (Pawlenty), flamed out (Perry), or refused to get in at all (Daniels, Jindal, etc.).

    In fact, I’d argue that this election really _was_ a base-ignoring election to the extent that you’ll find one. Romney won independents by several points and really dropped social issues altogether, ceding the ground to Obama instead of trying to make his supporters uncomfortable with Obama’s stance on things like partial-birth abortion.

    Also, suppose that Republicans did exactly what you said. Which major groups of people would then say, “Gee, I refused to vote for Republicans before, but now that they did this, I’m going to start pulling the lever for them”? Maybe upscale centrists in Colorado and libertarians in New Hampshire, but I think that’s probably your ceiling. In the meantime, it probably makes a good number of evangelical and working-class people who would vote Republican sit out in states like Ohio (one of the many states in which gay marriage has not fared well at the ballot). At best, it’s a small gain; the most likely scenario, however, is that some percentage of evangelicals sit out, deciding that the two parties are just too similar for them and neither is worth the attention.

    I have my own thoughts about what happened, but I’m gong to need some time to dig through them and come up with something useful.

    • Some good remarks. The question is, however, the relative “base-osity” of the base. I’m strictly speaking about evangelicals here; I know what you’re implying, and I agree that on many economic and social issues, no candidate has been far enough to the right. I really want to shake the idea that GOP = religious right. The Democrats have done an excellent job making this identity (true or not), and certain candidates (Rick Santorum, among others) have made this all the easier. My own reasoning may still be flawed — I’m assuming that for evangelicals and the religious right, gay marriage is the biggest issue — but even getting evangelicals to stay home would be a long term positive for the Republicans, in my view. It makes them effectively blind in some areas (the whole ” no God in the Democrat platform thing”) and is an obvious vulnerability.

      If Mitt Romney hadn’t picked Paul Ryan as his VP, I would have voted either for Gary Johnson or a write-in candidate.

      • For evangelicals, abortion (and the concept of life in general) is a much bigger issue than gay marriage.

        The big problem with your argument is still that you’d need to find some group with numbers greater than the people who would sit out in order for this to make sense. If there were a large enough group, then it would make political sense for the Republican party to make that shift (though not for conservatives to make that shift). I don’t really see those numbers being there, though.

        Anyhow, I’m getting a little closer to having something worth writing, so I’ll tease our four readers with that…

  2. Re: your most recent point, you’re right about abortion. I would apply my same solution to this, maybe with even more urgency. I very much favor the old concept of “popular sovereignty” for abortion — handle it with referenda, but make said referenda mandatory. Force a solution one way or the other.

    My proposed “group” would be economic conservatives, my target being the moderates/economic conservatives in the Democratic Party who vote Democrat for a social reason. You’re right about the numbers, I can’t prove/disprove that there’s a big enough bloc to make a difference there.

    I look forward to your post.(Also, we have four readers now?!)

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