Republicans Should Stick To What They Know, Say Liberals

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By Rich Lewis, CP Op-Ed Contributor
March 25, 2013|11:25 am

Let me tell you what's wrong with the Republican Party.

It's scary, narrow minded, out of touch, and run by stuffy old men.

Its ideas sound removed from people's lives. Instead of connecting with voters' concerns, Republicans sound like bookkeepers.

The party doesn't listen to female voters, and makes minority voters feel unliked and unwanted.

Young people roll their eyes at what the party represents, especially on certain social issues that many see as the civil-rights issues of our time.

Extremist groups that promote ideological purity - including radio stars, websites and magazines - stifle debate among Republicans, promote groupthink and drive away voters.

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The party is expert in providing ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but is unable to persuade or welcome those who don't agree with it on every issue.

As a result, the party is driving around in circles on an ideological cul-de-sac.

Now, before you Republicans angrily toss this page in the trash as just another piece of liberal garbage, consider this: Almost every word above is taken verbatim from a report released this week by the Republican National Committee. All that's missing are the quote marks.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and four other party leaders wrote the report after a months-long study of why the party did so badly in the November elections.

But while it is clearly healthy for any organization to confront its deficiencies, this unusually harsh self-assessment offers no hope for correcting them. It makes recommendations that are impossible to implement - or that will be implemented in a transparently false and ineffective way.

The difficulty is that the "problems" identified in the 100-page report are precisely the ideological and policy positions that define what it means to be a Republican in 2013.

The report is, in essence, saying: "If you want to attract more voters to the Republican Party, stop being Republicans."

For example, take the disconnect with women cited in the report.

Women are concerned with many issues, most of which are shared by men as well, but some things, such as abortion rights and equal pay for equal work, are especially important to them.

Republicans are opposed to abortion, and to any government effort to regulate wages. Those are core party principles: pro-life and pro-free market. If Republicans soften their stances on either, they become...well...conservative Democrats at best.

Or take the part about the eye-rolling young voters who reject the party's stand on "certain social issues." That's code for gay rights, and gay marriage in particular.

Can Republicans support gay marriage in a bid to win over those younger voters - and still be Republicans at all? Not according to the party's voting history, public statements or official platform.

Only one sitting Republican senator has expressed support for gay marriage, Ohio's Rob Portman - and he did that last week, and only because his own 21-year-old son is gay.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, one of those "ideological purity" groups enforcing GOP "groupthink," immediately condemned Portman's change of heart. He said it was fine for Portman to give his son "unconditional love" but not "unconditional support" in choices "that are both harmful to (him) and society as a whole." That's the Republican position.

Priebus himself was reduced to babbling when trying to reconcile this core Republican value with his report's call for changes.

"I know what our principles are, I know our party believes marriage is between one man and one woman," Priebus told MSNBC's Luke Russert. "But I also know our party's going to be inclusive, and it's going to listen to people and it's going to allow for differences in our party."

Sorry, Reince. It's one or the other. Listen all day, but there is no compromise here. What are you going to say - that gays can get engaged but not married? When it comes to gay marriage, you are for it or against it.

You can go right through the "problems" mentioned at the start of this column (again, the words are from the report), and in every case the root cause is a clash between what the GOP stands for and what certain voters want. Takers vs. makers. Deficits vs. safety nets. Sean Hannity and the NRA vs. anybody who disagrees with them.

Sure, you can win over women, Blacks, Hispanics, young voters - just stop being who you are.

Priebus knows this can't happen, so the report is shot full of language suggesting that Republicans should at least try to sound broadminded and inclusive.

But that's another dead end. No "massaging" or "reframing" or "explaining" of the message is going to fool anybody. Politicians have to prove their commitments with votes - and Republican lawmakers won't.

And what's wrong with that? We have a two-party system, and those parties should represent starkly different choices. And they do.

Republicans should just stick to their guns (so to speak) and be what they really are.

It probably means losing more elections and maybe being the minority party forever.

It's a nasty job - but somebody has to do it.

And Republicans are doing it so well.

Rich Lewis, a former reporter and editor, teaches at Dickinson College. He can be reached at rlcolumn@comcast.net. His column appears Sundays in The Sentinel (Carlisle, PA).
 

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