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Doug Lasken

Toward A New GOP Coalition

[Publisher’s Note: We are pleased to offer this perspective from longtime FR reader and occasional columnist Doug Lasken.  A reminder that the views expressed here are Doug’s and do not necessarily reflect anyone else’s views, including my own – Flash]

A successful political party, by one definition, is a party that is able to create viable coalitions, where a viable coalition is one that leads to sufficient votes to ensure election of enough party members to provide some hope of fulfilling the wishes of the coalition members.

The Republican Party has not acted in accordance with the above definition, but has replaced it with this: “A successful party is one that is in the right and takes the moral high ground.”    Of course Democrats claim that their party is in the right and takes the moral high ground, and that the coalitions within their party reflect that.  What, then, is the difference between the two parties?

The difference is that the Democrats don’t really mean it.  They are anti-war, but they promote war; they are in favor helping the poor by doling out cash (with healthy cuts to middle-management) but they work to destroy the middle-class, leaving nowhere for the poor to go; they claim to support public education, but they lavish billions on publishing and testing companies (the Common Core Standards) while pandering to teachers unions that, though they once saved the teaching profession, are now principal players in its undoing.

In other words, the Democratic Party is amoral.   Note that I do not call it “immoral.”  It’s an important distinction.  “Immorality” can be defined as an active belief in immoral ideas, such as genocide.  “Amorality” simply denotes a lack of concern with the morality of actions or ideas.  What replaces the concern for morality in the Democratic Party is an overriding concern for the maximum number of votes available from the electorate at a given time.

Thus, President Obama, since the Sandy Hook shootings, has assumed the apparent moral high ground by “advocating” restrictions on civilian ownership of assault weapons and high capacity ammunition clips.  I put “advocating” in quotes because the President does not advocate these moves in the sense of actively supporting them.  Last week, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid dropped the assault weapons provisions from California Senator Diane Feinstein’s gun control legislation, arguing that they had no chance of passage against NRA influenced Congressmembers, Obama was AWOL, both politically and physically.  Rather than speaking publicly to the issue, or buttonholing Congressional members expected to vote against Feinstein’s measures, the President flew off to the Middle East, offering the perfect example of amoral Democratic policy.  Obama retains the image of fearless gun control advocate while at the same time leaving untouched the power equations in Congress that he had vowed to fight.   The strategy does not on its surface re-define the NRA as a member of the Democratic coalition, but in effect it does just that.  The NRA, finding a modus vivendi under a Democratic administration, carries on with business as usual.  The success of the strategy was apparent this week, when Obama addressed gun control advocates and decried the setbacks that he did nothing to avoid.  You’ll look in vain for liberal Democratic yelps of cognitive dissonance, since, true to the amoral calculations of his party, the President correctly projected that guilt-ridden white liberals cannot bring themselves to think that an eloquent black man could be playing them.

Thus, as the Democrats work covertly to allow the NRA to retain its power, and in so doing reap, not the wrath of gun control advocates, but their votes, amoral policy trumps moral conviction.

At this point the reader might be wondering if I’m suggesting that the GOP be amoral.  No, I am not suggesting that.  What I am suggesting is that it start to look at its coalitions from the point of view of their ability to attract the greatest number of votes.  Such a process can easily become amoral, or immoral, or course, but it does not have to.

Let’s take religion as an example.  There is a strong segment of the GOP, loosely referred to as the “religious right,” that is convinced that the Founders sought a Christian theocracy, in which the government would to a certain extent play the role of high priesthood.  References here and there among the founders to Christianity and God are used to exaggerated effect, while comments from Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and many others against any element at all of theocracy, or representation in the Constitution of any religious dogma, are ignored.   People in this camp often claim that it is God’s will that we follow certain policies on abortion, on homosexuality, on Islam, etc.  Who determines what God’s will is?  Well, in an irony so striking you wonder how it goes unnoticed, the wing of the party that demands “small government” demands that the government decide our morality, that God’s will be interpreted by elected officials.  If such a government is “small,” then we need a new definition of “small.”

I have no problem with people who, at times, feel that they have some inkling of God’s will.  Though I don’t think such revelation has much to do with obtaining a mail-order frock and pounding your fists on Sunday TV, still, it’s a natural enough experience and many good people have it.  What many good people do not have is a wish to dominate others with what they believe God has told them.  Such people are called “fanatics,” and we recognize them as such when they assault strangers because God told them to.  But instead of recognizing such fanaticism in politics, the GOP has included much of this element in its coalition.   In fact, it has given it a veto power over the party platform, and the ability to coerce national candidates.

How has this worked for the party? The answer lies in last year’s presidential election.  Mitt Romney, basically a secular man with level-headed ideas about economics and society, was coerced into a false acceptance of the religious right.  Romney’s advisors believed he needed those votes to win.  In fact, they sank him like a stone.

But if the GOP can’t claim God’s endorsement, what can it argue about an issue like abortion?  Let’s take a step back and look at the situation.  Many people believe that abortion is immoral, and that God deems it so.   Fine, they are entitled to that belief, and they should not be ridiculed for it.  However, such beliefs are not political arguments.  In the world of high-school debate, which I coach, an argument based on a claim of God’s will is called “abusive,” because it cannot be debated.  It cannot be debated in the world at large, either, and thus is abusive in politics as well.  The Democrats have learned not to use abusive arguments (at least those that appeal to minorities), and they’ve noticed that advocating abortion rights brings the most votes (which is why they are pro-choice).  The challenge for the GOP is to argue abortion on social grounds, not religious.  Such arguments can focus on quality of life.  Do we want a cycle of conception and abortion, enacted by millions of women without end?  Does such a cycle play any constructive role in society?  Clearly it does not.  How do we counter it?  By outlawing abortion, so that millions of unwanted babies enter the world every year?  We’ve been there and done that, and it didn’t work.  How about promoting contraception, so that the pregnancy does not happen?  How about penalizing couples who irresponsibly ignore contraception, so that if they obtain an abortion it comes at a hefty penalty?

I recognize that these ideas are speculative, and that embracing contraception itself is a non-starter for many, but I’m suggesting a process more than specific positions.  It’s a logical process, mixing science, moral conviction and common sense.

The GOP will need to end the veto power of the religious right, no matter what, because it has made viable coalitions impossible.  What I suggest, if I may enter one more term from the world of debate, is utilitarianism: the greatest good for the greatest number of people- and thus, the greatest number of votes.  That may not be moral enough for some, but it’s the closest thing we’re going to get, in either party.

Doug Lasken is a 25 year veteran of the LA Unified School District, debate coach and freelancer.