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The Republican Dilemma
A political party must be able to balance its political agenda with the needs of its own constituents, even as it prepares for events in the future and reacts to current events. A party that fails to do this cannot expect to survive. The Republican Party has yet to understand this lesson, and it risks going the way of the Whigs. On a few key issues, such as abortion, contraception, and, most especially, immigration, Republican leaders in Congress and powerful conservative figures at the ground level remain stuck somewhere in the 1950's. With all do respect to my Republican peers, I believe that this is a losing proposition.
The Republican attitude on abortion is an excellent example. Fifty years ago, this was a subject that no one, Republican or Democratic, would ever have dared to bring up in public and rarely in private. It was considered taboo, an act against nature and morality, even murder, thanks to a resourceful, well organized campaign against it. In the more liberal decades of the late 60's and the 70's, abortion became more common, as more states legalized it. The issue came to a head in 1973, when the Supreme Court heard the case Roe v. Wade, and decided that a woman's right to an abortion was protected by the 14th amendment to the constitution. The backlash against abortion has been intense ever since.
Republicans are perhaps quite correct in that abortion is an extreme alternative to pregnancy, but they should have supported legislation that would make it easier for women to have access to contraception. After all, one cannot have an abortion if they aren't pregnant, right? Unfortunately, the Republicans have opposed contraception, too. Remember Rush Limbaugh's disgusting, sexist comments against Sandra Fluke? That was an extreme example, but Republicans and their allies have been arguing against contraception access for years. One would think that Republicans would be more supportive of it, since contraception helps alleviate the demand for abortion. Instead, we get a misguided campaign by conservative Catholic Bishops and Congressional Republicans to smear the Obama Administration for threatening religious liberty by requiring Catholic institutions to provide contraception if requested...
But contraception will eventually resolve itself. Already, most couples, including a majority of Catholic couples, have access too and have used contraception. According to a Bloomberg National Poll taken in March, more than 70% of Americans consider contraception to be a women's health issue, not a religious one. This would imply that even among those of us who oppose abortion, there is no protest against having access to contraception. Things got worse when Virginia Republicans overreached in proposing an invasive abortion bill.
Not content to mess around with women's reproductive health and right to privacy, however, Republicans have focused their attentions on immigration. There is much to be said for improving border security, and of deporting illegal immigrants who pose any direct threat to other citizens. But to hear some Republican leaders talk, you would think that any new person arriving on our shores would be at risk of deportation. Consider some of the proposals that emerged during the Republican Presidential primaries. Michele Bachmann proposed building a fence from one end of the southern border to the other. Not to be outdone, Hermann Cain proposed building an electric fence from one end of the southern border to the other. Rick Perry, who seemed to be the only candidate with a thread of human compassion, and Jon Huntsman, opposed these ideas simply because so many of those here illegally had no say in the matter of whether they should be here.
Ideally, the main debate would be about what to do with the silent majority of undocumented immigrants, those who have gone to American schools, have entered college, or perhaps have served in the military. And recently, President Obama moved to do just that, by using Executive Privilege to protect undocumented immigrants under the age of 16 from deportation. The logistics of this new order will be perfected later, but for now, it is a step in the right direction. At the very least, it has changed the dynamics of the debate. Congressional Republicans may or may not react to this challenge. Mitt Romney surely will, and he will charge that Obama has politicized this issue. But Romney has already done so, moving so far to the right in the primaries, going so far as to suggest that immigrants self-deport, that he has lost the potential support of Hispanics.
The Republican attitude on immigration will have to change at some point. For the first time in history, most children born in the United States were non-white. How many of those children were born to migrant parents? If the Republican Party wants to survive, it has to find a constituency other than its current one, which seems to be old white men. But that will mean shifting on a lot of positions, and giving up a lot of support. If Republican and conservative leaders find some compassion, and the willingness to think beyond the next vote, then maybe the party will become stronger and the change will set it morally straight.
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