Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Beyond "The Base:" Open Up the Republican Party

Driving to the gym today, my radio was set to the talk station. Rush Limbaugh was going on with disdain for voters in "the squishy middle," who he called "moderates who don't know what they believe." He kept insisting that Republicans accept only the positions of their "base" and not "pander" to moderates just to expand chances to win elections.

Now, I'm pretty conservative in my views, but on several issues, I'm one of those for whom Rush would refuse to compromise. For example, while I'm strict about the economy--feeling the "bailout," and even more so the "stimulus package" thwarted our robust system's ability to self-correct--I'm rather "squishy" on environmental issues. And, given that I know and love some of them, I have sympathy for immigrants who left beloved children behind and endured arduous travels and risky starts to come to our land in order to work hard. Because of these and a few other views, I suspect Rush would disqualify me from the Republican "base" he extols.

Hearing a talk host I respect bash a whole amorphous category of voters got me riled. But even worse, it clarified why Democrats and Obama are riding high with the slogan "we're gonna help you," while the party that more closely reflects my positions seems to be contracting. And it's going to keep diminishing if touted Republican spokesmen continue spurning rather than welcoming people who mostly agree.

Frustration made me turn off the radio before I reached the gym, but an hour later, sticky and energized, I headed home and thought I'd give it another try. But it was as if no aerobics class had intervened--Rush was repeating exactly the same mantra: "We've got to stand on our core principles," he preached, "we can't move from our ideals just to include a wider group." Rush even said Jack Kemp, certainly a man of principle but also a man of magnanimity, emblemized not budging from his values.

I'm afraid we're in for some long-term Obama-izing of the system unless conservatives understand that inclusion is the name of the game. "The Base," whatever that means, will be there; it's us in "the squishy middle" who gravitate to the hospitable, the hopeful, the place flexible enough to offer both a "core" and some room for creativity and even indecision.

The other day I was talking to a friend who is a lifelong Democrat, but as she's gotten more comfortable with religion, has also moved in her values toward conservatism. She confided that while she now couldn't abide abortion personally, she didn't see why the government should prevent non-religious women in the early stages of pregnancy from having safe access. Government funding for them would be unacceptable to her; government neutrality in the first trimester seemed sensible. But the hard line against abortion by Republicans means she keeps voting contrary to her views on the economy, marriage and the war on terror--all much more urgent issues where conservatives could really use her support.

This friend agrees with Republicans on 80% of the issues, but can't jump parties because she feels shut out by hard lines. This does get depressing. Positions on social issues are shaped by all sorts of personal experiences and feelings, but the government, especially on a federal level, needs a "macro" role, and mostly, it needs to minimize any role at all. That should be what I hear on talk radio--characteristics to foster in government, not in members of a political party. We need to talk about positive ways to return government to its basics of protecting the country from harm and encouraging innovation and business prosperity.

This stuff about who's a "true conservative" versus who's intruding and polluting some kind of party purity turns me off. Sorry Rush, Ill turn my radio back on for the next host, the one who likes me just as I am.


  1. The mention of the abortion issue within the post reminds me of a question I keep forgetting to ask. As a Catholic, I know the Church's teaching on abortion but I was wondering if there is an "official" Jewish teaching on this issue since so much of Catholicism has its foundation in Judaism. Thanks much.

  2. It has to be a bit of a balancing act. There are some issues -- life, marriage, courts, economy, national security -- on which the Republican party needs to remain strong in order to maintain its identify. There are other issues (e.g., the environment) where they need to be more inclusive.

  3. I think this op-ed by Sen. Jim DeMint does a good job describing the best way to create a big tent - focus on freedom - http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124121871475178899.html

    Also, in the last 8 years the Republican Party has become more and more liberal - No Child Left Behind, Medicare prescription drug handouts, huge deficits, Sen. McCain as the Republican nominee last year. Remember when there was talk about Sen McCain switching parties a few years ago?

    It didn't work for the Republican Party. Why would anyone expect different results (losing) if the party continued on the same road?

  4. As someone who is in her mid-twenties and still relatively new to voting and being interested in politics in general, I feel a bit confused with the intense disdain each party seems to have for the other. When did this start? My parents who are very conservative say that they have voted democrat once or twice in the past couple decades simply because they felt that person was the best for the job. When did republicans and democrats become the Bloods and the Kryps? If I'm mostly conservative, but find myself leaning more to the left on, say the environment, as you mentioned, why must there be so many people out there like Rush Limbaugh saying "Uh-uh, you can't to that!" It just seems very small minded on both sides to limit people to only agreeing with one party on all issues.

  5. Birdie Bob: Jewish law allows abortion only to save the life of the mother.

    ChildsPlay: You mention so many imp't issues, but there is some latitude among Republicans on each of them; still Reps are distinct in having a differing philosophy in regards to each from Dems.

    Victor: Yes, great article by DeMint--he expresses what I mean by an overarching "philosophy." I agree with you except about McCain--though I think he was not the best possible candidate we could have fielded.

    Bethany: Thanks for your comment--frankly, I think there's more venom from Dems to Reps than vice versa, because many Dems have a religious fervor about government as the kindly provider; the ones who feel this way think Republicans are not only selfish but evil.