Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Ever-Narrowing Path to an Ongoing GOP Majority (I Hope)

In November 2010, Republicans took control of the House of Representatives and numerous state governments. The question thus becomes whether this control is sustainable. From what I’ve seen so far, I think not. I continue to believe that the driving force behind most (but by no means all) Republican victories in November 2010 was the economy (and that force was largely dominated by misinformation and outright lies coming from the Republicans and FOX News). Certainly social issues played a part, but social issues, I believe, motivated the Republican base; those issues did not sway moderate and independent voters to come to the polls, let alone vote for Republicans, the way economic issues did.

But let’s look for a bit at what Republicans have done since taking control and reflect on how these issues and actions will impact the Republican base, moderate and independent voters, and the Democratic base. As you read through the following, ask yourself whether these actions will make each of those classes of people more or less likely to vote in 2012 and, if they do vote, whether they will vote for Republicans or Democrats.

With regard to the economy, what exactly have Republicans done? Have they passed bills to increase employment or otherwise solve the unemployment crisis we face? For that matter, have they even introduced bills to address this concern? Or, speaking more broadly, what have Republicans, whether in Congress or state legislatures, done to improve the economic outlook for middle or lower class Americans? I’d contend that the answers to each of these questions is the sound of crickets — in other words, nothing.

But in state after state after state, Republicans have lowered corporate taxes and paid for those tax reductions with policies that will adversely effect lower and middle income Americans. They’ve decreased public education funding, decreased social services, cut programs that would or could lead to job growth, rejected federal funds for infrastructure creation (such as high speed rail or a tunnel from New Jersey to New York, each of which would have generated jobs), and taken other steps to reduce deficits at the expense of those least able to afford adverse impacts. But Republicans have not, so far as I’m aware anywhere, raised taxes on those who can weather the impact of a tax increase.

So query: Is taking from the poor to give to the rich (the “Reverse Robin Hood” approach) a viable strategy to appeal to voters in 2012 and beyond? Sure, there may be plenty of wealthy Americans and corporations who will continue to support Republican policies (and will be able to throw enormous amounts of money into the election thanks to the Supreme Court’s terrible Citizens United decision), and I’m sure that plenty of Americans will continue to vote against their own economic self-interests either because social issues are more important or because they believe the lies that they hear from Fox News (hello, Joe the Plumber!). But how many more moderates and independents will continue to support these sorts of Republican legislative agendas?

And query further how motivated the portion of the Republican base consisting of small town and rural voters will be if Republicans cannot point directly to economic successes tied to Republican policies.

In addition, I suspect that quite a few voters who may have sat out the 2010 elections will be far more engaged in 2012. Union families, in particular, will I believe be far more motivated to show up at the polls in 2012. While there are fewer union workers now than in the past, the number of people who are either in a union or in a family with a union worker is still a really big number. And while those people may have split their votes in the past (prioritizing social issues over economic issues), the anti-union zeal of the GOP will, I suspect, lead many of those votes back to the Democratic candidates.

But economic issues are not the only place where Republicans seem to be shrinking the pool of supporters. For some time, the Republican base has been very motivated on social issues. They turn out to support anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage candidates. And, at the same time, those issues don’t seem to have been major forces motivating voters to support Democratic candidates (not to say that Democratic supporters aren’t pro-choice, just that it appears that other issues have been far more important). None of that should be particularly surprising given that it is Republican candidates who have been seeking changes in the law (either to restrict access to abortion or to further ban same-sex marriages or civil unions).

The problem that I see for Republicans is that now that they’ve had some successes on these issues, voters who do support reproductive rights or same-sex marriage (or even just civil unions), or any of the other social issues that Republicans have focused on, will be far more energized than they have been in the recent past. Now it’s their turn to vote against what Republicans have been doing. I think that this is especially true with regard to same-sex marriage, where polling seems to indicate a dramatic shift in public opinion away from bigotry and toward equality (especially among the youngest cohort of the electorate). But even with regard to abortion, I suspect that Republican legislative initiatives to restrict access to abortions won’t sit well with some voters, including some who may oppose abortions generally. For example, Republican-sponsored bills that require doctors to actually lie to patients (telling them, for example, that abortions lead to breast cancer or mental health problems), bills that would have actually permitted the killing of abortion doctors, bills that seek to restrict access to abortion following a rape (by redefining rape to only include “forcible rape” — whatever that may mean), bills that require vaginal ultrasounds (remember, it is Republicans who favor less government involvement in health care…), and other similar abortion bills, are far beyond what even moderate opponents of at-will abortion may support and are so far beyond the position of pro-choice voters that these segments of the electorate may be energized to vote (or, in the case of moderate abortion opponents, de-motivated).

Or maybe ask the question this way: How many abortion opponents who otherwise would not have voted will come out to vote Republican in 2012 because of these bills? How many moderates or independents will vote Republican because of these bills? How many of those moderates and independents will vote Democratic because of these bills? And how many abortion rights supporters who otherwise would not have voted will come out and vote Democratic (or at least against Republicans) in 2012?

In addition to their extreme anti-abortion positions, Republicans have also been engaged in a war against women. How else can you explain such things as bills that require rape victims to be referred to not as victims but as accusers? Or a state legislator who votes against an exception to an abortion bill for victims of rape or incest because women might lie about whether they’d been raped.

But women aren’t the only minority groups that Republicans are waging war against. Republicans have targeted the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community. And this isn’t just about gay marriage. Set that aside for a moment. It is Republicans who have voiced opposition to human rights ordinances and laws that would prohibit housing and employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or identity. As more voters become aware of issues like this, will they be more likely to support Republicans or Democrats? Remember, it was Republican Rand Paul who argued that the Civil Rights Act was a bad idea. And, as they pursue their quest to ban same-sex marriages, I have yet to hear Republicans adequately explain what would be wrong with civil unions or, for that matter, why government is in the marriage business at all.

Just a month or two ago, numerous Republican or right-wing organizations pulled out of the CPAC (a major conservative political conference) because a Republican gay-rights group was permitted to be a co-sponsor of the event. Subsequent to the conference, other groups have said that they won’t participate next year if that group remains a co-sponsor. Think about that for a moment. Republican and right-wing organizations are refusing to participate in one of their most important conferences solely because … gasp … gays might also participate. Is there any clearer way of saying, “If you’re gay, you’re not welcome here?”

So as gays are being increasingly targeted by Republicans, how likely is it that even gay Republicans (if there are any left) will be highly motivated to come out to support Republican candidates? I would think that a gay Republican who strongly supported Republican economic policies would be hard-pressed to vote for a party that is working so hard to marginalize that voter and restrict the voter to a second-class status.

It is also worth noting that poll after poll shows the public shifting away from homophobic positions and toward acceptance of same-sex marriage, especially among the younger segment of the electorate. Young voters stayed home in November 2010, but that is expected for an off-year election. But how many younger voters will be motivated to come out and vote against Republicans and for Democrats who advocate for tolerance and equality?

Notwithstanding having an African-American has head of the Republican National Committee for two years, I don’t think that much of the black community would say that Republicans have done much to support their community. The Republicans were quick to denounce payments to black farmers as a settlement for years of discrimination against them by the federal government (without much denunciation of the discrimination itself). And Republicans have largely set by and been silent — when not leading the charge themselves — as a whole host of thinly (and not so thinly) disguised racial allegations have been levied against President Obama and African-American members of his administration. Combine this with the sham efforts of Republicans to attack ACORN, Planned Parenthood, and the NAACP (see the James O’Keefe hit videos, all of which have turned out to be elaborate hoaxes pushed largely by FOX News) and the efforts to defund or restrict vital social service programs, I don’t think that there will be a dramatic shift away from Democrats within the black community, but I do think, especially with President Obama on the ballot again, that blacks will turn out in very large numbers to again vote for Democrats and against Republicans.

And what about Latino voters? Somehow, I don’t think that the plethora of nativist anti-immigrant bills will encourage Latinos to turn out and vote Republican (and query for a moment why Republicans seem so fond of Cuban immigrants at the same time that they oppose other Latino immigrant communities). Considering that recent census results show that nearly 1 in 6 Americans identifies as Latino and that the largest growth in a number of states has been Latino, then Republicans should be at least concerned about how the Latino community will view Republican candidates in 2012.

Republicans even seem to be waging something of a war against non-evangelical Christians with policies that are supported only by the evangelical portion of the electorate and which alienate moderate and liberal Christian denominations. The more that Republican policies incorporate evangelical Christian doctrine, the more those who are not slaves to that doctrine (or, said slightly more snarkily, those who have the ability to think for themselves) may find themselves no longer part of that so-called Republican “big tent” (which seems to be getting smaller and smaller and less and less welcoming; Ronald Reagan would be so proud).

Of course the war on non-evangelical Christians pales in comparison to the war against Muslims. From efforts to outlaw sharia law (I still plan to write about that nonsense one of these days) to efforts to define Islam as not being a religion to statements from prominent right-wing advocates that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to Muslims and that Muslims are only allowed to pray and build mosques in America because America, in its graciousness, has permitted them to do so (seriously, I’m not making this up…) to efforts to block the construction of mosques and community centers to Congressional hearings focused solely on Muslim extremism, the right-wing and Republicans are clearly in an all out war against Muslims.

Perhaps oddly, one of the groups most antagonized by the Republican war against Islam has been … Jews. For the Jewish community recognizes the importance of religious freedoms and protection from discrimination afforded by our Constitution. So not only have Republicans done a spectacular job of ensuring that virtually no Muslim will vote for them, they’ve also given additional encouragement to Jews to vote against Republicans as well. And I’m not sure, but I’d be willing to suspect that the same argument would apply to many other smaller religious minorities in the United States.

And we can’t forget the Republican war on science. Whether it is the refusal to believe that global warming is a real, man-made threat (all 31 Republicans on a Congressional committee charged with environmental oversight voted against a measure that would have recognized global warming as a real, man-made threat) or the desire to ignore science and force religious beliefs to be taught in classrooms (creationism or intelligent design) or to be used as a basis to convince women not to have abortions (statements that abortion causes breast cancer or leads to mental problems; in Indiana, Republicans voted against an amendment that would have required medically accurate information be given to women seeking an abortion) or the inability or refusal to recognize the dangers of offshore drilling and nuclear power (and to apologize to BP…), Republicans have demonstrated that they either don’t understand science or that they simply don’t care. While the evangelical Christian community may applaud the refusal to accept science, I suspect that many other Americans will become increasingly disturbed by this trend.

Oh, and don’t forget that as part of their budget cutting zeal, Republicans have sought to eliminate funding for volcano monitoring and the West Coast tsunami monitoring system.

I could probably go on and on and on. But I’m sure by now you get my point. Republicans may have the proverbial upper hand right now. But as the 2012 election draws closer, I believe that the portion of the electorate that will support Republican candidates will shrink. They’ve both alienated and motivated huge swaths of voters, from union workers to gays to minority religious and ethnic communities to those who believe in science. And while white Christians still make up an enormous percentage of the electorate, that percentage is shrinking and diversifying. And demographics further show that those who support Republicans are getting older and older and older…

So, unless either: (a) Republicans find a way to moderate their message to either appeal to those that they’re policies have alienated or at least keep them from voting in 2012; or (b) FOX News and Republicans continue their pattern of outright lies as a method to achieving political power, then I think that the Republican majority will be relatively short-lived. Unfortunately, the fact that FOX News doesn’t show any signs of ending its war on reality and truth (not to mention the ability of corporations to spend disgusting amounts of money to mislead voters) may mean that the election of 2012 won’t actually be decided on the basis of real issues. In that case, nothing that I’ve said here will be meaningful.

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