Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Republican Party’s continued cluelessness

I haven’t written a post on this blog in over two months and I must admit that I don’t feel all that terrible about it. After all, there has been very little to write about in July and August other than the lunatic ravings of Donald Trump and the continued rise of Bernie Sanders’s insurgent campaign for the Democratic nomination for president. I’d rather save my breath (or keystrokes, I suppose) and write at length about the presidential primaries once we’re within spitting distance of any actual voting. (Having that said, I am very much enjoying watching nervous Democrats panic as they discover once again that Hillary Clinton is a pretty awful candidate. Heck, some party insiders are so desperate that names like John Kerry and Al Gore are being floated around.) But I’d be lying if I told you that my reticence to write about the 2016 election was the main reason why I haven’t had much to say lately.

No, the real reason for my recent silence has been the fact that I just haven’t felt like much of a “conservative” lately, at least insofar as I disagree with the way the American right has responded to just about every recent controversy. I opened up my last post by congratulating the Supreme Court for upholding Obamacare and legalizing gay marriage, and it seems that was just the beginning. My take on the Confederate flag issue notwithstanding, I have found myself utterly disappointed with “conservatives”—particularly those under the umbrella of the Republican Party—and the way they have talked about abortion, gay marriage, and foreign policy over the past few months. Time and again, they have positioned themselves on the wrong side of losing battles as they cling stubbornly to dated ideas that are simply out of touch with the majority of the American public.

First came the Planned Parenthood controversy, as the ironically-named Center for Medical Progress released a series of hidden-camera videos showing Planned Parenthood employees casually discussing the harvesting of fetal body parts for tissue samples to be used in medical research. The activists who produced the videos tout them as undeniable evidence that Planned Parenthood is involved in selling fetal tissue for profit—a patently illegal practice. But, as Sarah Kliff at Vox points out, there is no such evidence, although she goes on to say that there is plenty of reason to believe that Planned Parenthood is operating in an ethically gray area as they alter their abortion procedures in order to harvest better tissue samples. But therein lies my objection to the GOP’s response to these videos—rather than use them as a springboard to launch a serious national debate about the morality of abortion (Do we really think we shouldn’t place limits on when and how we terminate pregnancies? Is it ethical to prioritize leaving fetal organs intact over the safety of the procedure?), Republicans in Congress decided that they should just try and defund Planned Parenthood instead.

This is political showmanship at its worst. Don’t mistake me here—I consider myself pro-choice, but I nonetheless think that we should have a more robust dialogue on abortion in this country than we currently have. Those on the left shun anyone who wants to restrict abortion at any time or in any fashion while those on the right struggle with condoning abortion in even the most extreme circumstances. Targeting Planned Parenthood does nothing toward fostering an honest debate. All it does is perpetuate the myths that PP is primarily an abortion provider (not true) and that it receives one, big $500 million check from the government every year (also not true; most of that is in the form of individual Medicaid reimbursements for medical services which do not include abortion). Responding to those videos by trying to defund a nonprofit organization that provides necessary medical services to women all over the country isn’t a whole lot better than responding to the Charleston massacre by removing the Confederate flag from American culture. It is reductionist and stupid.

Next up was the Obama Administration’s nuclear agreement with Iran, in which the Iranian government agreed to drastically reduce its ability to stockpile weapons-grade uranium and submit itself to rigorous international nuclear weapons inspections in return for the lifting of economic sanctions. The agreement, while certainly not perfect and probably not as enforceable as I’d like, is nevertheless the best alternative to another disastrous war in the Middle East, which is likely the only other way to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But of course, every Republican in Congress has decried the deal as appeasement toward a terrorist regime, using all the expected comparisons to Neville Chamberlain and the like. Even Rep. Justin Amash, one of the truly “good” Republicans in the House, released a Facebook post yesterday in which he came out against the deal. Granted, he is quite a bit more articulate and quite a bit less hyperbolic than most critics of the deal, but I still find myself disappointed that he is essentially pulling support for a clean diplomatic solution just because it calls itself an executive agreement rather than a treaty. If I had to guess, I’d say he received some serious pressure from the party establishment to come out against the deal and had to come up with some kind of excuse to do so.

I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen of the Republican Party, but America simply cannot start another meddlesome conflict halfway across the world. It is utterly inconceivable to me that a party that is still watching this country pay the price for its past mistakes (in trillions of dollars, in lost prestige, in American lives) would so blindly and so forcefully advocate for a return to those very same policies. Just look at the current pack of contenders for the GOP nomination—Rubio, Walker, and Jeb in particular—and try to discern the difference between their foreign policies and that of George W. Bush. I certainly can’t. How many presidential elections in a row will these morons have to lose before they wake up and realize that it’s not 2004 anymore? But I digress. On to the next point.

I can’t finish this post without mentioning the media storm surrounding Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who was jailed earlier this month for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This, I have to say, is a rare issue on which everyone on my Facebook newsfeed seems to agree. That is as it should be, because this is a pretty open-and-shut case. As a county clerk, Ms. Davis issues marriage licenses not as a private individual but as an elected public official, someone who swears an oath of office and is legally obligated to uphold the law of the land. And, since earlier this summer, gay marriage is the law of the land. She is required, per her job description, to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. End of story.

Of course it couldn’t be that simple. Many within the Republican Party, including many of its presidential contenders, have decided to abandon their usual affection for rule of law and have tried to frame Kim Davis’s story as the government attempting to stifle a private citizen’s religious freedom. This is, for the reasons stated above, utter poppycock, and I suspect they all know it. But nevertheless, there was Mike Huckabee, standing triumphantly by Ms. Davis as she was released from prison earlier this week. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how I feel about this. All I’ll say is that I am in total disbelief that the GOP thinks the best way to win a presidential election is to try and start a war with Iran and then pump their fists in the air with a law-breaking bigot—who, by the way, is an elected Democrat. If you want to fight for religious freedom, then by all means do so. But Kim Davis isn’t your hero.

Yes, after all this, I still consider myself a conservative—a conservative of the libertarian stripe, but a conservative all the same. I believe in a limited government that stays out of people’s private lives and their pocketbooks. I believe in social change that is brought about by education and unfettered dialogue, not federal edict. I believe in a country where freedom, not central planning, provides its citizens with equal opportunity rather than guaranteeing equal outcome at the lowest common denominator. And today, I find myself seriously questioning whether there is a political party in the United States that cares about what I believe in. A Democratic Party that wants to redistribute wealth, stifle innovation, and win votes by dividing our country along ethnic and classist fault lines is clearly not the tent where I belong. But neither is GOP that refuses to realize the increasingly obvious truth that the old three legged stool of conservatism—social traditionalism, fiscal restraint, and hawkish defense—is simply a dated philosophy. The Democrats had to lose three elections in a row before they finally saw the writing on the wall and changed their tune in 1992. Who wants to bet the Republicans have to lose four before they figure it out? 

Why do we do this to ourselves?

Why do we do this to ourselves?