Are conservative Christians and the Republican Party one and the same thing? I wouldn't say so, although I wouldn't deny they make a up a huge part of the party. So much so, that Republicans can't win elections without them. But not so large, that Republican's can rely ONLY on them. The Republican Party needs to expand it's base, and it needs to do so while retaining most of it's current membership. How can that be accomplished?
Since Bush senior, conservative Christians have made their social issues the spearhead of the Republican party. While that may have had a short term gain for the party, in the long term, due to changing demographics, it's likely to be a losing proposition.
I'm not suggesting that religious conservatives give up their social positions, because:
A.) They WON'T.
B.) I wouldn't let anyone tell me to give up my positions on anything, so I would not expect anyone else to.
What I am talking about is, the spearhead of the Republican Coalition. In a coalition, the members have core beliefs they share, and a variety of other beliefs that can differ considerably. If the coalition is to hold together, the spearhead must be the core beliefs, so all them members can rally behind it and support it. If the spearhead is instead the agenda of one coalition member, the support drops, and the spear, through lack of support, never reaches it's target.
I think that's what we are seeing currently. Religious Republicans have been putting their social issues at the forefront, the spearhead, of the party. When they are asked not to do that, they complain that they are being asked to "give up" their social issues. I submit that that is not the case. I think what they are being asked to to is, to rally around the core beliefs that they share with other non-religious Republicans, and put those at the forefront of the party.
Why? So we can win elections. Why? Because if your party is powerless, NONE of your issues will be served well, if at all.
If you insist on all or nothing, you will often end up with nothing.
Social issues are also Hearts and Minds issues. They can't be legislated onto people against their will. If you try to impose such issues on a free people, against popular sentiment, you create resistance and even a backlash.
The political left understands this. Tammy Bruce, in her three books, goes into great detail as to how the left has succeeded in implementing many of their agendas over the years. The secret: they did it incrementally. They knew that giant, sweeping changes would only alarm and repel. So they advanced their causes piece by piece, eroding away at the opposition. Over time, it adds up, it counts, it makes a difference.
Religious and Social conservatives could do the same thing, but they tend to stick to "all or nothing" scenarios, and thus often end up with nothing; the moral purist high-road becomes a dead end.
The other factor is positivity. Who wins elections, historically? Usually it the most optimistic, positive and upbeat candidate. Democrats often loose presidential elections because their candidates whine and complain, and emphasis what they are AGAINST, more than the expound positively what they are FOR.
Obama was very upbeat and optimistic. Superficial perhaps, but it played well none the less. Conservatives (myself included) fell into the trap of constantly criticizing Obama about things the media would not cover, which ended up making the Republicans sound very negative. Furthermore, many conservatives were often negative about our own candidate John McCain. Some came around towards the end, but only half heartedly. And what did the loudest voices in the Republican party, the Religious/Social conservatives, keep pushing to the forefront? Anti-abortion and Anti-gay marriage platforms, and all sorts of things they were AGAINST.
We become the party that was AGAINST, which is usually the Democrats losing strategy, but this time it was ours. Oh sure, there was plenty of stuff we were FOR, but it was not at the forefront of what the public saw.
Are we going to learn anything from this? I keep hearing different factions of the Republican party saying, we need to kick out the religious conservatives, or the social liberals, or the small "L" libertarians, etc. Ridiculous. Kicking people out just makes our party smaller and weaker. What we NEED is, at the forefront of our party, a spearhead that we can ALL stand behind, support enthusiastically, and speak inspiringly of, and be positive about.
It's perfectly doable, but will we? Or will we continue to be perceived as the negative, all-or-nothing, divided and divisive, interfering busy-body party that non-religious voters complain about? It's up to us.
Tammy Bruce today has a poll on her blog, asking Should the GOP reach Out to Pro-Choicers?. I'm sure many Pro-Life conservatives would be tempted to automatically vote "NO", but I would ask them to think about it more deeply. I would ask them to consider, are you more interested in posturing against abortion (and getting nowhere), or changing laws to limit abortion, thus saving actual lives?
Tammy Bruce herself, while being pro-choice, has also called abortion "the Razor's Edge". She's said she doesn't approve of the way it's used as birth control, and she has a lot of sympathy for women who are pro-life. She has said that as a feminist, she wants every women to "find her own voice", and when many women do that they find that it's a "pro-life" voice, and she accepts that.
Tammy is conservative on many, probably most issues. Can we not expand our party to include people like her? Would it be such a bad thing for us to win elections?
This isn't about "giving up"; it's called "give a little, get a little". It's about the art of political maneuvering; it's about making incremental advances, instead of blunt inflexible posturing, that may feel good when you do it but in reality does NOTHING to advance your cause.
I've used abortion as an example here, but it could easily apply to just about any social issue that's important to you. "Compromise" is only a dirty word if you believe that idealism is more important than affecting actual change on the ground. Incremental change not only makes a difference, it also is a footsoldier in the battle for hearts and minds. If your cause is better served by incremental advances, then get started. Start moving things to where you want them to be, even if it's slowly, instead of just loudly complaining that you aren't there yet.
There is no political party that fits my views 100%. With maturity I've learned to compromise, because I realized that it's the only realistic way to actually advance the causes and principles that I do care about. I've understood that I can't do it alone, that I need other people, and that means agreeing with people on the things I can agree on, and agreeing to disagree about the rest. An 80% ally isn't a 20% enemy. Ronald Reagan taught me that, and it's a lesson that the Republican party as a whole would do well to strive to embrace, if it's going to survive the 21st century.