The Party That History Forgot

February 15th, 2013

Robert Draper has an excellent look at how the GOP has failed so badly since 2004. He looks at both how behind the Republican party is technologically and the policy and brand issues that have turned the party into something of a joke. The whole piece is excellent and there are many parts worth discussing, but I wanted to highlight one in particular. This is from a focus group conducted by a GOP pollster:

The session with the young men was equally jarring. None of them expressed great enthusiasm for Obama. But their depiction of Republicans was even more lacerating than the women’s had been. “Racist,” “out of touch” and “hateful” made the list — “and put ‘1950s’ on there too!” one called out.

Showing a reverence for understatement, Anderson said: “A lot of those words you used to describe Republicans are negative. What could they say or do to make you feel more positive about the Republican Party?”

“Be more pro-science,” said a 22-year-old moderate named Jack. “Embrace technology and change.”

“Stick to your strong suit,” advised Nick, a 23-year-old African-American. “Clearly social issues aren’t your strong suit. Stop trying to fight the battle that’s already been fought and trying to bring back a movement. Get over it — you lost.”

I admit there’s a bit of schadenfreude here because I’ve been saying much of this since well before 2008, but people—especially younger people—have abandoned or written off the GOP because they don’t seem tied to the time period we’re in. They don’t appear to have any real ideas for solving the problems we have, like health care or concerns that the middle class is declining or that children will be worse off than their parents, let alone even seem to take these problems seriously. And that says nothing about waving off global warming as some kind of collective delusion and/or conspiracy of the left, evolution denial, utter stupidity on abortion and women’s health, and veiled race-baiting. The left derides the GOP as the party of wealthy white men, and the GOP does its best effort to provide evidence to support that.

There’s a clear path the party can take. First, take science (reality) seriously. Acknowledge global warming, acknowledge that evolution is real (and not phony trying-to-please-everyone stupidity like Marco Rubio’s answer to how old he thinks the earth is). Second, acknowledge that social conservatives lost the cultural battle on gay marriage (thank God), and that abortion is a contested issue in the country and while you can work to limit it, it must be rooted in truth (that science thing again), and it must be done with not just a focus on the unborn, but also toward maximizing the interests of all women, and with an actual understanding of what it’s like to face deciding whether to have an abortion and why. Third, take the deep (and real) fear people have that the middle class is on a downward path while the wealthy are ever-climbing seriously, because it is serious, and work toward actually improving the country’s situation rather than propose tax cuts as the solution to all ills like some snake oil cure-all. Fourth, mold this new party—socially moderate, fiscally-conservative—into one focused on allowing every person in this country to pursue and realize their dreams, free from government fiat and excess regulatory burden.

That fourth part is what the Republican party should be; not a party that’s dogmatically wedded to “small government” and tax cuts, but one that believes that while government has a role in our lives, it should lean toward solutions that don’t involve it at all or that when necessary, as much as possible, empower individuals and groups to accomplish a goal rather than centralized control.

That’s a potentially very strong philosophical driver for the Republican party, but getting there starts with parts one through three. And those will be difficult; those are entrenched beliefs within the Republican base and in leadership. So it will take—among many other things—all of us within the party standing up and pointing out when our leaders are wrong on these issues and when people in the party are wrong on them. As long as we allow xenophobia, homophobia and anti-science to fester within the party, the party will not have a future.