Got to get these down so I can go work on conlangs.
First, some wonder and congratulations over the election victory for same-sex marriage in four states. This is a really big thing that deserves to be more than a footnote in the story of the GOP’s demographic decline.
Back when Andrew Sullivan and others started championing same-sex marriage and military service in the early ’90s, it seemed both quixotic and not radical enough. But Sullivan’s instinct turned out to be spot on. These certainly shouldn’t be the only things LGBT people should focus on, but they’re good things to push, because they’re about love and respect. And they don’t trigger the zero-sum thinking that some other issues do.
Besides, there’s something mysterious and fascinating about a successful campaign to change public opinion. I don’t think anyone knows what makes these work or not work. Why did the movement to reduce smoking work, but not (so far) the one for healthy eating? Why has there been a turnaround in LGBT acceptance, when opinion on economic issues has moved rightward?
(I know some of the reasons that have been offered. Some of them are probably even true as far as they go– e.g., people definitely accept gays and lesbians more once they know some personally. Yet that can’t be all of it… after all men all know some women personally, but there’s still enormous resistance to feminism.)
The other bit: I mentioned yesterday that Republicans, if they want to be competitive in national elections, need to make a couple of changes:
- Pick policies that aren’t just geared toward old, white, straight Christian males.
- Stop alienating everyone else.
Which is true! But I wanted to point out that it’s not as easy as it sounds. People like Akin, Mourdock, and Santorum weren’t making gaffes and their words weren’t being distorted. It’s not like the “you didn’t build that” statement that the Romney campaign seized upon and twisted. These people really believe that stuff.
Recall the primaries, which revealed a lot about the composition of the Republican coalition. Roughly you’ve got the religious right (who liked Santorum and Gingrich), the libertarians (Paul), and the plutocrats (Romney). There’s a lot of overlap (Paul Ryan is both economically libertarian, and ferociously anti-abortion), but these factions are distinct enough that they couldn’t agree on a single leader.
So what does it mean for the Republicans to dial back the crazy? I’ve said a lot against the libertarians, so I’ll immediately say that they’re not the problem here. Romney didn’t get in trouble because of how far he bent to please the Ron Paul supporters. Quite the opposite– they were sidelined at the convention; the party is quite capable of ignoring them (except when they provide philosophical cover for plutocracy).
It basically means pushing back against the religious right. They’re the constituency for anti-women and anti-gay rhetoric, at the least. And the thing is, it’s almost impossible to push back against this faction. They have the numbers and energy the party needs, plus they’ll cheerfully organize a primary challenge against anyone they consider too moderate, even at the cost of losing the seat to the Dems.
Even this picture probably overstates the daylight between the religious right and the establishment. The best illustration of this may be Karl Rove’s temper tantrum on Fox News over the network’s analysts calling Ohio for Obama. Rove isn’t a Tea Partier; he’s the callous, cynical insider. But he’s part of the whole Republican culture of denial: it’s just not acceptable to state things that don’t favor the GOP message, even if they’re true, even if the whole world will see it in two hours. With that mindset, it’s going to be impossible in the short term to make any adjustments to soften the Republican message.
The thing is, this impossiblity doesn’t make the demographic cliff go away. In thirty years, there will probably be a successful conservative party whose issues are much more in line with the ideas of David Frum and/or Ron Paul. Maybe all it’ll take is the current generation of radicals to die off. But I wonder if something more dramatic will be needed, like the replacement of the Republicans with a new party. That might be the only way to counter the organizational advantage of the religious right.