Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Recipe to Save The GOP Part Three: Less Social Conservatism

Earlier this month, I'd written about how a distributist economic model could build a new Republican coalition and how the stalwart National Rifle Association and Boy Scouts of America could provide long-term demographic support for the GOP by encouraging (responsible) firearms enthusiasm in the young and inculcating them with patriotic values (this is not to say non-Republicans aren't patriotic, but the GOP tends to be friendlier to overt patriotism). Now it's time to risk stepping on yet another land mine, social conservatism.

For starters, religion in the United States is in decline. The mainline Protestant denominations have suffered the most, but evangelicals have taken hits too. Younger people in particular are quite often non-religious. The Southern Baptists, one of the strongest powers of the cultural right, are not doing too well at the moment. This New York Times article states evangelicalism is in trouble--and it's written by an evangelical, not a gloating devotee of the "New Atheists." One in five adults have no religion, with young people being increasingly non-religious. I remember seeing a local Baptist church was preaching a sermon on the Second Coming soon after Obama was elected (or re-elected, I can't remember which), which seems like an acknowledgement said church's cultural power was in decline. Stemming or reversing this decline is the responsibility of the churches--my concern here is the political implications.

For starters, this means banking on the Religious Right or the assumption religious people vote Republican (which in many cases isn't true, but that's a different issue) as an election-winner is, in the long run, a doomed strategy. This has several implications:

As far as concrete policy is concerned, the GOP should just lay off the homosexual issue in general. Five percent of the electorate was some form of non-straight in 2012 and that's just the tip of the iceberg. In a culture where shows like Modern Family, etc. are popular, harping about "the gay agenda" isn't going to help in the general election. I am not calling on anyone to endorse anything they feel is sinful--I'm simply saying don't make a political issue out of it. An exception can be made if it's something defensive in nature (i.e. opposition to people using public parks as hookup sites, which some people will claim is anti-gay), but as far as "starting it," no. Right now we as a country have so many other issues to deal with that culture-war stuff is a luxury.

On the abortion issue, this means attempting to outlaw abortion isn't going to work. See the recent failures of personhood legislation and the like. However, this does not mean pro-lifers need to abandon their efforts entirely--there are other ways to oppose abortion. For example, I wrote an earlier blog post on joint projects for pro-life and pro-choice people, such as making it impossible for rapists to try to claim custody rights over the resulting children (they often try to, if anything to blackmail their victims into dropping charges) and investing in scientific projects to make abortion obsolete. The latter is something that would only be effective in the long run, but the rape issue is something where more concrete action can be taken (see the work of activist Shauna Prewitt).

However, there is another way the Republican Party can reduce abortion without sci-fi techniques, by supporting more comprehensive sexual education in schools. These methods can include abstinence, and since it is the only 100% effective way to prevent unintended pregnancies and sexually-transmitted diseases, leaving it out would be irresponsible. However, many people (to say the least) aren't abstinent, and lack of knowledge on contraception could lead to more unintended pregnancies and thus the temptation to abort them. Discussing contraceptive methods on than abstinence does not equate to endorsing immoral behavior--one could make a poster with the effectiveness rates like abstinence 100%, condoms 85-90% (I can't remember the exact figure), and down you go. Abstinence-only sexual education has largely shown itself ineffective, with the most effective ones including information on contraceptive methods as a "backup."

The GOP should also cease being associated with, let alone actually pushing for, the teaching of intelligent design or full-blown young-earth creationism in schools. Not only has teaching a particular religion's origin story as scientific fact been found by the courts to violate the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution, but the scientific problems with young-earth creationism are legion and as The Devil in Dover shows, intelligent design has its fair share of problems. This is something that has cost the GOP in the increasingly important Asian and East Indian voter demographic.

Finally, the GOP should support legalizing marijuana. For the record, I don't use any sort of drug (I don't even drink coffee or drink alcohol more than the occasional taste), but supporting a continued marijuana ban is bad for this country and bad for the Republican Party. Here's one article on why it's bad for the country. Here's another. Marijuana legalization is becoming increasingly popular among younger people and as the Baby Boomers die off, they will become increasingly important votes to win. A slight majority now supports legalizing marijuana. And should the GOP support legalizing weed, it might gain the party support among African-Americans due to the racial inequities of the Drug War.

Remember how the Republican Party used to regularly win California? With one exception, the Republicans won California from 1950 to 1988 and won several times before that. Ronald Reagan, so loved by Republicans, was governor there from 1967 to 1975. That's not going to happen if we are--or are perceived to be--a party of Southern social conservatives. A Republican Party that can win California is going to be far more competitive nationwide than one that cannot.