Thursday, October 25, 2012

Mourdock's comments represent a growing problem for my party

First there was Craig, then there was Vitter. Who was followed by Akin, now supported by Mourdock.

Craig and Vitter broke the law. Senate candidates Akin and Mourdock have an apparent sympathy for rape.

Taken together, these scandals speak to a serious and growing problem for the Republican Party.

While our party has many impressive, honorable national leaders - Romney-Ryan, Boehner, McCain, Portman etc, we also have a minority of officials who fall below the standards deserving of the American people. The problem here isn't just Craig/Vitter style ethics violations- the Democrats have their own affinity for electing representatives of flexible integrity - Jefferson, Rangel, Jackson Jnr, Calvert providing a few examples. Instead for the GOP, the deeper problem is the manner in which a small but substantial number of Republican candidates/officials are left un-restrained to purvey our party as a perceived bastion of hypocrisy and fundamentalism.

            First, where does the GOP's perception failure come from? To start, let's consider the examples above. Senators Craig and Vitter subscribed to aggressive government measures to restrict law abiding homosexuals from greater rights. These same officials then engaged in criminal personal conduct. The perceptive implication stemming from these highly publicized scandals was all too clear; that Republicans believe in utterly hypocritical intrusions into the private lives of law abiding Americans. Sadly, Craig and Vitter are far from lone examples. If this was simply an issue of hypocrisy, it could be written off as the result of a raw pursuit for votes. But then, we also have candidates Rick Santorum. In contrast to some, I believe that Rick Santorum is a decent, honorable man who means well for his country - I believe he is misguided but not without integrity. However, what is unquestionable is that Santorum subscribes to an extreme and highly aggressive understanding of state-individual interactions. Thus, where Craig and Vitter are simple hypocrites, Santorum is a committed fundamentalist. All found (and find) places at the highest levels of the Republican Party.

The central problem for the Republican Party is therefore clear-
In this apparent mixing of stunning hypocrisy and un-repentant fundamentalism, the GOP appears to many Americans as a faux moral police. A party more interested in restricting gay rights than increasing individual freedoms. More interested in lecturing and litigating against certain Americans than responding to their concerns. More interested in winning elections than serving Lincoln's enduring cause of social justice. As I have noted, I believe this perception is ultimately unfair. I know that the vast majority of Republican officials care far more about the economy than they do about gay sex. However in politics, perception is as important as reality. And it is evident that for many Americans, perceptions of the GOP are not good.

At the moment, this perception-dynamic has some political insulation. The social conservative movement offers political candidates a well organized and highly reliable voting block. However in the longer term, the impact of our fundamentalist flirtation will be far less positive. In appearing to stand for both the protection of individual freedom and the simultaneous restriction of individual freedom, too many Americans are coming to believe that Republicans are their enemy. Too many Americans, whether hispanics, women, homosexuals or others, believe that the Republican Party regards them as second class citizens. Again, while I do not believe that this perception accurately reflects reality, the fact that it exists at all should be of great concern to Republicans concerned about future electoral success. When it's personal, voters tend to remember.

As the social conservative movement increasingly cedes supporters to growing currents of libertarian social tolerance, the Republican Party will face a challenge in persuading voters to alter their perceptions of our party. In this regard, statements by Mourdock and co. will have a lasting, negative impact for the future of the GOP. 

For the sake of our identity and our political future, Republicans must more actively condemn those who celebrate the fringe of American politics.

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