"It's the Values, Stupid!"
By Christian Hartsock
It seems Republicans have been taking their recent landslide victory for granted both too much and too little. After winning 19 senate seats and reclaiming the presidency by a whopping 3.5 million margin in the largest popular vote in history, Republicans are apparently losing sight of those particular aspects of their social agenda which specifically accounted for this monumental success. Worse: the Democrats have been taking notes.
Ironically, after months of incessant weeping and gnashing of teeth, the left may have ultimately learned more from the sobering election results than the GOP even has - so much that they have begun taking noticeable steps towards reforming their image. Most recently, Hillary Clinton has been gushing over her religious faith; at least four CBS employees have either resigned or been fired; and most astonishingly, Michael Moore was last seen clean-shaven.
All this while Republicans - having just won an election on the chief basis of their superlative affinity with traditional Middle Americans and their party's core emphasis on moral values - are acting as if election results signified some abrupt need to retreat to the middle and tone down their policies. (Isn't it the Democrats' turn to do that?)
In an interview last month with a German newspaper, Governor Schwarzenegger prescribed that the Republican Party should "move a little further left and place more weight on the center."
Um, is that what Schwarzenegger got out of this election? That we should "move a little further left"? Maybe I missed something, but somehow that isn't exactly the message I got from 59,117,522 fellow voters last November.
In reward for having promoted certain unapologetically conservative policies throughout his campaign amidst a rising tide of ferocious liberal bullying in the social arena, President Bush received not only a colossal stamp of approval from voters, but a mandate.
Even after Gavin Newsom instigated his little cultural revolution in San Francisco last February, the silent majority voiced their collective dissent in November with unwavering solidarity. On an unflinchingly sweeping scale, amendments to protect the sanctity of marriage succeeded in all 11 states which allowed citizens to vote on them, including the liberal stronghold of Oregon.
Anyway, if I recall correctly, we were the ones reaching out to the center throughout our campaign. There is nothing more indicative of this than the fact that the main speakers at the Democratic National Convention were famously left-wing figureheads like Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton, while the main speakers at the Republican National Convention were centrist moderates like McCain, Schwarzenegger and Giuliani. Ironically, the most far-right speaker at the Republican National Convention was a Democrat.
One would naturally assume that now that the election is over, the about-face politicking would be over as well. Right? Wrong. In just the first week following his inauguration, President Bush randomly decided to take a rain check on his campaign promise to lobby for a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as strictly heterosexual. On Jan. 24, he explained to the Washington Post that there would not be enough supporters to approve the measure anyway. Yeah, actually, on second thought, that whole amendment thing might be a little difficult so.yeeaahh.we'll just scratch that whole plan altogether. Sorry about that, folks.
In an Oval Office interview on Jan. 26, Bush responded to a question as to what steps he planned to take against abortion, saying: "I think the goal ought to be to convince people to value life. But I fully understand our society is divided on the issue and that there will be abortions. That's reality. It seems like to me my job is to try to convince people to make right choices in life, to understand there are alternatives to abortion, like adoption, and I will continue to do so."
Gee, that's reassuring.
Well since "convincing" is the president's new preferred modus operandi (as opposed to "enforcing"), why not try simply "convincing" terrorists in Iraq that there are alternatives to beheadings and car-bombings? After all, there will be terrorist attacks anyway. That's reality, isn't it?
While addressing the most consequential social issues of the day isn't exactly on the top of the president's "to do" list at the moment, Hillary Clinton has swooped in and adopted them as her own. Apparently she's discovered the fact that sometimes the most effective way to combat the enemy is to become more like him. Lately, in appealing to the right, the senator has stopped just short of waving an AK-47 at an NRA convention and screaming: "From my cold, dead hands!"
Addressing a crowd of more than 500 at Boston's Fairmont Copley Plaza on Jan. 20, Senator Clinton expressed support for faith-based initiatives, using the "G"-word over a dozen times, and at one point proclaiming, "I've always been a praying person."
In a coolly calculated effort to impress the right on the precise issues over which the president has fueled the most disappointment, during recent interviews with Fox News and WABC Radio, Senator Clinton espoused her "adamant" opposition to illegal immigration, and acknowledged the fact that we have been failing to protect "our borders or our ports or provided our first responders with the resources they need."
And in a conference last Monday, she said: "I, for one, respect those who believe with all their hearts and conscience that there are no circumstances under which any abortion should ever be available." In addition, she voiced her support for abstinence education and parental notification laws with a judicial bypass.
Haven't Republicans gotten the hint yet? There is a reason why the Democrats are pretending to migrate to the right all the sudden, and it is not because that side is unpopular. As surprising as it may sound, the more the GOP neglects its base, the more it leaves its base up for grabs. So while Democrats are strategizing ways to infiltrate the GOP's influence on its own constituency, Republicans are twiddling their thumbs, rethinking their policies and daydreaming about the illusory benefits of moving "more to the center."
Their fixation on running Rudy Giuliani in 2008 is not helping in this regard either. Granted, there is no doubt that Giuliani's confidence, charisma, experience, rhetorical prowess and uncompromising fortitude would make him a fantastic leader in the war on terror. But after an election win based on moral values, Giuliani - a social liberal who voted against the ban on partial-birth abortion and discouraged lawmakers from adopting the Federal Marriage Amendment - is not necessarily the first person Republicans ought to be rushing to recruit for president.
Despite common presuppositions, following a president who was both overwhelmingly successful and overwhelmingly conservative with a leap to the center has not proven to be a very promising method in the past. One need only review the political patterns of the last generation to understand this.
Richard Nixon, having promoted a strong, hawkish foreign policy and a generally conservative domestic agenda, won two successive elections in both 1968 and 1972 by considerable margins - only to be followed by Republican weakling Gerald Ford, who lost the presidency to Jimmy Carter within two years.
In 1988, in an attempt to perpetuate the spectacular, unparalleled right-wing legacy of Ronald Reagan, Republicans ran his vice president - the more moderate George H.W. Bush. Four years later, after he had already broken his famous "no new taxes" campaign pledge, presided over a stalemate in Iraq and failed on a general level to live up to the legacy that preceded him, Bush was voted out of office and replaced by Bill Clinton. Democrats had campaigned against Bush under the popular slogan: "It's the economy, stupid!" while conservatives, who were apparently still in Reagan-withdrawal, had grown lethargic.
Consequently, Clinton won with a 43% plurality vote, and once again in 1996 against Bob Dole with 49%. Now has anyone ever wondered why Clinton was able to retain the presidency for two full terms despite his failure to get a majority to vote for him in both elections? There is no better answer than that conservative morale was not high enough. The GOP was failing to effectively appeal to and rally up its Middle American base, which constitutes a majority of the American public.
As indicated, the more squeamish and hysterical liberals become over a leader we elect, the more fed up and united the Middle American majority becomes, and thus, the more successful the GOP is. We do not thrive on running moderate, wishy-washy, "electable" Republican politicians. We thrive on running uncompromisingly conservative religious right ideologues. As Ann Coulter once said: "If you're not being called outrageous by liberals, you're not being outrageous enough."
Republicans need only to realize that we can count on the American majority to be on our side, so long as we demonstrate with unwavering sincerity that we are on their side. This is the side that is concerned, above most things, with protecting the rights of the unborn and the sanctity of marriage - which is not understated by the fact that 75-80% of Americans have been shown to be against abortion and gay marriage - and again by the collective rejection of marriage redefinition in every single state, both red and blue, which bothered to grant them an opportunity to vote on it.
Most tragically, it is this indispensable constituency whom the leadership it counted on to address these pressing social concerns has begun to either neglect or take for granted. Are we being coy, or just lazy? Have we forgotten that the campaign is over, and that we won? That it is no longer necessary to parade this political about-face in order to win the hearts and minds of the American public? We already have won their hearts and minds, and above all, their trust. Now it's time to fulfill that trust. Not only do we have a golden opportunity to more resolutely pursue the cultural agenda which has been so essential to our party - we have an obligation. And while it is important that we not become too eccentric and overzealous in implementing this agenda, it is about time for Republicans to relax a bit and start having a little more fun with the bully pulpit.
Christian Hartsoc is an 18 year old student at Piedmont High School in the San Fransisco Bay area. He has had guest columns published at World Magazine Blog, Political Vanguard, The Piedmonter, The Montclarion, The Contra-Costa Times, and the Piedmont Highlander, the school newspaper for which he is a current staff writer.
He plans to attend Brooks Institute of Photography, a film school in Ventura, California after High School and keep writing on American politics and culture.