Token Dissonance

Black & gay, young & conservative. A Southern gentleman writes about life and politics after Yale


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Rising Tide of the Big Tent

“The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.” –Edward Kennedy, failed presidential candidate

Nothing lasts forever.

Nothing lasts forever.

In the rosy-fingered wake of the Republican wave of 2014, the Party of Lincoln will be in complete legislative and gubernatorial control of 24 states, which together amount to nearly half the population of the United States. As Reid Wilson reports in the Washington Post, Republicans now hold majorities in a modern record 68 of the 98 partisan legislative chambers (16 of which are supermajorities) among 49 states. (The Nebraska legislature is unicameral and nonpartisan, though effectively Republican.) Compare this to only six states completely controlled by Democrats, accounting for only 15 percent of the country.

As it stands, Joe Manchin may wind up among the last of the Senate’s red-state Democrats—assuming, of course, he continues to resist the Elysian lure of the elephantine caucus. Among purple-state Democrats, a modest number remain, but the unexpectedly close scares in New Hampshire and Virginia (still a shock to most, and where I’m proud to say my boyfriend, many our friends, and I voted for Ed Gillespie)—combined with the surprising Democratic loss in North Carolina—has essentially put this crowd on notice. Whereas, six years ago Southern Democrats like Mark Pryor and Mark Warner could rack up impregnable victories with high-soaring rhetoric and ostensibly centrist appeal, now almost anybody can lose nigh on anywhere. It’s as though George R. R. Martin somehow got ahold of the scripts of our elections.

Even as red-state Democrats have faded, Republicans have proliferated at every level of blue and purple states. There will be Republican governors from progressive Maryland to liberal Massachusetts. There will be Republican Senators from left-leaning Maine to purple Colorado. In supposedly blue Iowa, which birthed Barack Obama’s presidential ascent and has only voted for a Republican Commander-in-Chief once in seven elections since Ronald Reagan, conservatives will control both U.S. Senate seats, three of four House seats, the governor’s mansion, and the state House. And, of course, in President Obama’s own political backyard, the GOP of deep-blue Illinois will have the governor, a Senator, and nearly half the U.S. House delegation.

By contrast, a broad array of Democrats once hailed as rising stars have gone with the wind, like the debris of a star-crossed missile under a mid-Atlantic sky. Alexander Burns sings the dirge of the midterm Democrat over at Politico:

“At the start of the 2014 campaign, Democrats envisioned an election that would produce new national stars for the party in at least a few tough states – Georgia Sen. Michelle Nunn or Kentucky Sen. Alison Lundergan Grimes, for instance, or maybe even Texas Gov. Wendy Davis. Even if the party fell short in those “reach” states, Democrats hoped to produce new heavyweight blue-state Democrats – Maryland Gov. Anthony Brown, the country’s only black state executive; or Maine Gov. Mike Michaud, who would have been the first openly gay candidate elected governor.

Any of them could have landed on a vice presidential short list in 2016.

Instead, all of them lost.

Joining them were numerous down-ballot Democrats widely viewed as future contenders for high office: attorney general candidates in Nevada and Arizona who looked like future governors; aspiring state treasurers in Ohio and Colorado who could have gone on to bigger things; prized secretary of state candidates in Iowa and Kansas as well as countless congressional hopefuls around the country.”

Predictably, some progressives, including President Barack “my policies are on the ballot, unless they lose” Obama, are chalking up the bulk of their popular rejection to midterm demographics. Americans don’t “really” agree with Republicans, the thinking goes; it’s just that the Democratic “coalition of the ascendant” didn’t turn out—but they would have saved the Democrats, had they showed up! As it happens, we have exit polls, and they paint a more interesting—and more conservative—picture. As ABC reports (my emphasis):

Young adults, a Democratic mainstay…supported Democrats only by 54-43 percent, down from a 60-38 percent margin in their House vote two years ago. Nonwhites – a growing share of the electorate – slipped to 25 percent of voters, more than in any previous midterm but also 3 points off their share in 2012.

Single women, another core Democratic group, gave the party their smallest margin, 60-38 percent, in exit polls back to 1992. Women overall voted +5 points Democratic for House, 52-47 percent – down from +11 in 2012. Men, for their part, voted +14 Republican, 56-42 percent.

Key Republican groups came out swinging. Eighty-five percent of conservatives voted Republican, the most on record (albeit by a single point from 2010). White men voted Republican by 64-34 percent, the widest GOP advantage in this group in data since 1984. Seniors – 22 percent of voters – backed Republicans for the House by 57-42 percent.

And independents, back to their swing-voter status in this election, voted Republican by a 12-point margin, trailing only the 2010 and 1994 GOP advantages in this group.”

In other words, no midterm in history—including the Democratic wave of 2006—has featured higher minority turnout than this 2014 GOP wave. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, the 25 percent of the electorate that was nonwhite in 2014 actually exceeds the mere 23.7 percent minority showing in the “most diverse in U.S. history” Obama wave of 2008.

Let me say that again: the 2014 midterm electorate that restored complete GOP control of Congress was less white than the presidential-year electorate that first propelled Barack Obama to the White House. The difference, of course, is this that blacks, Hispanics, and Asians voted more Republican this time around.

Likewise, according to multiple exit polls, including those conducted by The Washington Post, NBC, and Wall Street Journal, the 2014 electorate was markedly less conservative and less supportive of the Tea Party than in 2010—though a modestly higher percentage of liberals, moderates, and middle-class Americans voted Republican this year. Republicans won among college graduates, independents, suburbanites, the employed, the unemployed, and voters who paid attention to the campaigns, and GOP completely erased an Obama-era deficit among Asian-Americans.

The picture for long-term progressive planners gets even grimmer when looking at some key states Democrats plotted to recapture. In the abortive left-wing hope of majority-minority Texas, Gov.-elect Greg Abbott not only performed strongly among Hispanics, but he also won a solid majority of women voters against a female challenger who arguably embodied the progressive charge of a so-called “War on Women.” Her fellow vanquished champion of “women’s issues,” Colorado Sen. Mark “obnoxious…insult to those he seeks to convince” Udall, saw his advantage among nonwhite voters collapse from a margin of 36 points in 2008 to merely 10 points in 2014. In Georgia, nonwhite turnout reached a record high even as Michelle Nunn surprised most observers by failing even to force a runoff. In Nevada, soon-to-be Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid will be the last statewide Democrat left in a place where the Hispanic Republican governor (who might make a promising U.S. Senate candidate in 2016) was reelected with more than 70 percent of the vote.

With the latest defeat of Alcibiades Charlie Crist, after the collapse of Alex Sink, the Democratic bench stool in Florida has essentially been reduced to the aging Southern charm of Bill Nelson and, perhaps, the inherited (political) fortune of panhandle Rep.-elect Gwen Graham, who will become the sole white Democrat in Congress elected from the Deep South. Supposedly purple Florida has no statewide elected Democrats (except U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson), a nearly 2/3 GOP congressional delegation, and yet another GOP supermajority in the state House. Florida has not seen Democratic majorities in either chamber of the legislature since at least 1996 (1992 for the state Senate), and my home state has not elected a Democratic governor since Lawton Chiles in 1994 (the year I started kindergarten), one of the longest such streaks in the South—after only Texas.

In other words, Democrats across the country can now finally empathize with the insatiable aching for a political savior—any savior—in the weary, embittered hearts of their comrades in the Sunshine State. Most of the swing districts—and there are dozens left—are now held by Republicans. There are districts as blue as D+7 that soon may be held by Republicans, pending final counts. The GOP bench is young, deep, and diverse—like the country—whereas the Democrats are enervated and grasping at atrophic platitudes.

To put it bluntly, while the Democrats wrote off the GOP as a regional party in 2012, the reality is now looking decidedly the reverse. Republicans won seats in every region and socioeconomic makeup of the country, including in cities (like New York and St. Petersburg), suburbs, and small towns. Democrats, by contrast, are largely reduced to urban enclaves, majority-black districts, and the coasts of the blue states. This has long been the case in Florida; now that the trend has obtained nationally, it will be fascinating to watch the results.

It’s also interesting to note that LGBT issues, to the extent they came up at all, were largely championed by Republican candidates from Maine to California to Florida. While not all of those contestants prevailed, many won easily. In my home state, Carlos Curbelo unseated an incumbent Democrat in the southernmost district on the continent, and Rep. David Jolly, who purportedly won the ire of many a social conservative for his endorsement of same-sex marriage, won his race by a greater than 3:1 margin. Both seats lean Republican. Given that Republicans will be defending seats mostly in the blue and purple states—like Pat Toomey’s—next cycle, this encouraging trend is likely to continue.

Republicans are by no means out of the woods demographically—the singularly unpopular Rick Scott, for one, hemorrhaged quite a bit of nonwhite support in his nail-biting reelection, and the midterm electorate was predictably older and smaller than in presidential years—but there is much cause for optimism. If the GOP moves swiftly to consolidate and expand recent demographic gains ahead of 2016, the future of American politics could very well turn out much differently than progressives like to imagine. If the Party fails as miserably as the Democratic supermajority of not-that-long ago, then everything could yet be undone.

For now, though, it’s time to prepare to govern. We have miles to go before we sleep.

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The Grand New Republic

Update: This post was adapted by The Daily Caller. You can find that article here.

“What’s happened with the Republicans is they are, the Republican Party, is a ‘Mad Men’ party in a ‘Modern Family’ America. And it just doesn’t fit anymore.” –Matthew Dowd

“We’ve lost the country.” –Rush Limbaugh

Some voters just want to watch the world burn.

Watching Fox News on the day after the election, you saw a fascinating dynamic at play. A number of pundits spoke sympathetically of amnesty and openly criticized Arizona SB 1070 amid discussion of how to appeal to the growing Hispanic population. The O’Reilly Factor featured the unflinching admonition “to stop this Bible-based bashing of gay people,” while other segments noted the unprecedented 4 for 4 sweep gay marriage advocates won at the ballot box. The telling sentiment of the day, however, was that conservatives cannot and will not compromise on principles. So where do we go from here?

For starters, we must recognize the historic nature of this election. Barack Obama won reelection despite disastrous unemployment and a dubious economic outlook. (We’ll set aside the matter of the murdered U.S. ambassador.) Decisive electoral failure under such extraordinary circumstances, even as the country overall shifted right, certainly merits some existential panic, despite modest gubernatorial gains and a reelected House majority. But whether you think the president won without a mandate by small and divisive tactics or prevailed largely on the rote inertia of incumbency, he undeniably did so while playing heavily to the demographic strengths of the Democratic coalition—women, Latinos, blacks, millennials, gays—and everybody knows that everybody knows this.

Somewhere along the way, the Party of Lincoln became, in the eyes of an ever growing segment of America, the Party of Aging, White (Straight), Embittered Men given to fits of delusion. There are many ways, reasons, and heated denials about how this happened, but in the end, Mitt Romney lost, Barack Obama will have his second term, and the Democratic majority in the Senate will grow, as will its presence in the House. Speaking of the incoming Congress, white men will make up less than half of the House Democratic caucus for the first time in history. But for all the rekindled talk of the perpetual dominance of the jackass, even the largest political majorities are, in the grander scheme, fleeting. Louisiana, Tennessee, and Arkansas were solidly blue in the 90s. Now they are deep red. Maine voted down gay marriage in 2009 and voted it up in 2012.

Assuming you noticed the tagline on my blog or on Twitter, you may have wondered how I could feel comfortable being Republican. After all, only 6% of blacks voted for Romney, and the GOP is understandably anathema to many gay Americans and their disproportionately young and professional allies. But I’ll let you in on a secret: I don’t expect the Party to look as it does now in ten years, or even by 2016. For one, there are many tough but necessary choices ahead that will strain the special-interest-driven coalition of the Left, whatever happens with white voters, and anything is possible over the next two to four years.

The conservative movement and its values of liberty, discipline, personal responsibility, virtue, family, community, duty, and free enterprise are objectively superior to the creeping statism and obdurate collectivism of the Left. The setback of this election notwithstanding, conservatism is far from dead or even moribund. It is merely in the process of doing what all successful life does—namely, to quote the president, evolving. The matter of adjusting tone and approach to such hot-button issues as immigration, abortion, and gay equality is not one of abandoning core principles. Rather, the project before the Party of Ronald Reagan and Condoleezza Rice is to apply those values to new circumstances and new audiences.

To this end, Republican willingness to engage on comprehensive immigration reform is a great start. While Marco Rubio may or may not appeal to Hispanics outside Florida, prominent Southwestern Republicans—e.g. Sandoval, Martinez, and Cruz—are well positioned to bring diversity into the conservative electorate. I doubt embracing open borders would win the Latino vote for the GOP. However, many conservatively inclined Latino voters may be more receptive when not worrying, fairly or not, that “driving while brown” will warrant harassment under Republican governance.

The question of gays is about much more than 5% of the electorate. Young Americans, including many young Republicans, overwhelmingly understand that gay families are valid American families of people who just want to live their lives and participate in their communities like anyone else. We live in a world where voters in West Virginia, Ohio, Arizona, and both Dakotas elected gay legislators at various levels of government and where Wisconsin sent the first openly gay U.S. Senator to Washington. (Did I mention that voters just approved gay marriage in three states and defeated a constitutional ban in another?)

Put bluntly, a movement identified with and defined by opposition to anti-bullying measures, anti-discrimination laws, gay couples adopting, and, yes, same-sex marriage, will bear witness to the leftward drift of millennials toward the political event horizon of liberalism—and the world will suffer accordingly. Fortunately, once these things are accomplished, they will cease to be issues, and gay families and the people who love them can focus on other things. In the meantime, for the good of the country and everybody who loves her, it’s time for opponents of gay rights to move on.

And so we come to abortion. Many millions of Americans, particularly among Republicans, identify as pro-life. There is nothing wrong with this. Indeed, I suspect we’re moving toward a national consensus on reasonable limits to abortion that vary somewhat by state. Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock did not lose once safe GOP Senate seats because they were pro-life. They lost because they were inanely self-indulgent purists who found a mawkish virtue in needlessly alienating most of the electorate. In so doing, they have achieved nothing beyond setting back the causes of restricting abortion and promoting conservative government by feeding into a tendentious narrative of a conservative “war on women.”

You should not interpret any of this as a move to eject anyone from the coalition or spark a Republican civil war. The voices and contributions of social conservatives will remain prominent and valuable. The focus on family values translates into policies that aim to benefit communities, such as school choice and more local control of education. Upon the rock of piety conservatives build institutions that provide education and social services to millions. For the sake of stewardship, Republicans of all stripes devote their resources to sound fiscal policy and good governance. Concern for life promotes charity and community service that change lives around the world.

The Republican Party, like America, is designed for the inclusion of the big tent. Our core principles are not tied to race, creed, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, or national origin. They are divined from the foundation of a diverse republic whose self-understanding is rendered, “Out of Many, One”. As I’ve noted before, the Party of Frederick Douglass, Calvin Coolidge, Oscar de Priest, and Barry Goldwater will continue to produce and hone partisans of free enterprise and limited government for as long as the American people seek prosperity. And we will welcome all comers.

As a certain young Republican congressman and vice presidential hopeful once said:

“If you believe in freedom, liberty, self-determination, free enterprise, I don’t care if you’re a Muslim, Jewish, Agnostic, Christian, gay, straight, Latino, black, white, Irish, whatever. Join us.”


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Conscientious Objection

“It would be refreshing, though, if it were expressed honestly, without the “of course we respect religious freedom” facade…Say what you really think: that the exercise of our religion threatens all that’s good and decent, and that you’re going to use the levers of power to bend us to your will.” –Ross Douthat

This Immaculate Contraception brought to you by the Obama Administration.

In case this needs to be reiterated, again (yes, I know that’s redundant): the contraception mandate in ObamaCare is a blatant infringement on free exercise of religion. Why many of its advocates will not admit as much—even as opponents concede the First Amendment isn’t absolute—is as peculiar as it is telling. Many on the Left are operating on the premise that serious religion is a marginal facet of social life that has little bearing on the practical world of serious people. But as the Supreme Court reminds us in Employment Division v. Smith, we can have a productive conversation about the nature of justifiable infringements on religious expression.

The curious impasse lies in liberals’ agitation for a “War on Women” and conservatives’ fears of becoming casualties of that campaign. But really, this isn’t about religious freedom, or even primarily about abortion. It’s about the complexities of fiscal compulsion, the content of our social obligations, and, of course, healthcare.

Is there a difference between being compelled to finance activities abominable to your values (e.g. Thoreau’s tax dollars in the Mexican-American War) and perform said activities (e.g. Thoreau hypothetically being drafted in that war)? Further, what constitutes legitimate uses of tax dollars? What are the limits of acceptable coercion, public or otherwise? What constitutes a properly religious space (a house, a school, a nursery)? Why do Democrats whine more about wars than the French? These are all complex and thoughtful questions that require serious interlocutors committed to discussion in good faith.

Don’t care to get into all those meaningful objections that affect real people and stuff? You needn’t worry; we won’t get around to having this national conversation. Bumper-sticker carnage and the “War on Women” make for much better entertainment in the media. Never mind the fact that the debates over abortion and women’s health decisions—which should and will continue—are not identical to the matter of taxpayers footing the bill for somebody else’s contraception.

But I have one last inquiry I hope you consider. Why should everyone subsidize free contraception? If your answer is that birth control has separate medicinal properties, why not treat it, in that capacity, like any other medicine? If you will answer that we need to make sure everyone is healthy; I agree. Everyone should have nutritious food, clean clothing, and good hygiene products, but we ordinarily charge people for those. If you have such aplomb that you will admit the government should subsidize our sexual freedom, then tell me more about your thoughts on conscientious objection or not having your tax dollars go to abstinence-only education, even if it might work.

Dear proponents of the mandate, my conservative friends may stop beating you with the Constitution if you acknowledge the legitimate concerns that these issues raise. If not, then there will be war. Just don’t whine about being oppressed.


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Conservative Care

“A majority of so-called Republican strategists believe that health care is a Democratic issue. They are wrong; health care is an American issue, and the Republican Party has an opportunity to demonstrate that conservative principles work when applied to real-world problems.” –Bobby Jindal, Governor of Lousiana

Turns out Congress still has a pulse under all that debt.

Today, August 1st, a number of ObamaCare provisions go into effect, and the administration has wasted no time in talking up the new benefits for women. And whatever we might think of the law as a whole, or how it was passed, many of those specific provisions are understandably popular. (What woman—or man—is going to complain about mammograms, diabetes screening, and domestic violence counseling?) Accordingly, the administration’s allies are driving home the advantages for women with graphs, figures, and lists of “anti-women” states.

As if on cue, the Senate Majority Leader appended a lengthy homage to ObamaCare in his opening remarks on the pending cybersecurity bill. The Minority Leader responded by offering an amendment that would repeal the healthcare act. Shockingly, it went nowhere. Republicans could hold 33 votes or 33,000 on repealing ObamaCare, and it would never get pass Senate Democrats, even if they allowed an up-or-down vote.

Whatever you think of the legitimacy of the “War on Women” narrative, it is part of very real perceptual problem for the Republican Party beyond the problems ObamaCare causes Democrats. It will be difficult for Romney to win—or even do better than John McCain—with a 21-point deficit among women voters. The newly effected ObamaCare provisions, coupled with yet another symbolic Republican push to simply repeal the entire law with no alternative, feeds well into the narrative of conservative indifference or hostility to women’s interests.

One way of attacking this problem is by including provisions women will support in a Republican-sponsored bill. There is, after all, nothing inherently liberal about women’s health, and we should remind voters of this. While any vote regarding ObamaCare is likely to be symbolic, at best, until after the election, conservatives can still offer new, more useful symbols. We promised America we would repeal and replace ObamaCare. To that end, we should put the Left on the defensive by pushing votes that specifically challenge what Americans don’t like about the law. Even if the votes must be piecemeal, they should allow for some political weapons.

Conservatives have already offered a number of thoughtful proposals to improve the healthcare system. Some include voluntary purchasing pools, interstate plans, tort reform, tax-free health savings accounts, incentives for healthy living, etc. Any conservative ideas already included in the Affordable Care Act can become part of the Repeal-and-Replace conservative bill. But the glaring differences between Obama’s law and the alternative—including the lack of a tax hike mandate or inclusion of conscience objections for employers—will give conservatives a stronger case to take Democrats in Congress to task, especially on the election trail, especially to women.

I’m tired of symbols; the inane $.07 rebate check my insurance company was forced to send me under ObamaCare was a symbol. I want to see bad policies defeated and better ones put in their place. Democrats hardly paused in pushing ObamaCare when the public turned against them, and they’re certainly not going to entertain Republican objections now. But if we campaign with a demonstrably better proposal built on bipartisan ideas and American common sense, liberals will have to respond. The Left tried to hamstring us with our ideas when they wrote the bill. Let’s really hamstring them with theirs—including opposition to the mandate—in the replacement. It’s a fight we can win.

As Bobby Jindal put it:

“In short, ideas matter. The public is interested in solutions that will improve America’s health-care system, not dismantle it. Republicans can lead on this.”

Conservatives, it’s time to lead.