Monday, March 18, 2013

Grumpy Old Patricians?

Old rich white men.

That's what Reince Priebus says is wrong with the Republican Party.  It's the party run for old rich white men by old rich white men.

And grumpy ones at that.

Grumpy old patricians!

Priebus, meanwhile, is the youngish chairman of the Republican National Committee who issued a progressively blunt challenge to his fellow conservatives on the same day presumptive 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton made news (by not making news).

She confirmed her support for gay marriage, something some liberals said she'd never really done before to their satisfaction, even though her position on the issue has never been a secret.

In reporting Priebus' criticism of his own party, our national media may be hoping the GOP is getting ready to jump on the same bandwagons Clinton and her former boss, President Barak Obama, rode to success this past November.  But even though some conservatives are shedding their right-wing credentials, it's unlikely that the party will look anything like the limousine liberal side of the Democratic spectrum anytime soon.

Sure, Ohio's Rob Portman is breaking with Republican protocol on the issue of gay marriage, but he's simply following the same path former vice president Dick Cheney took after his daughter publicly identified herself as a lesbian.  Cheney's view on the subject hasn't weighed heavily on GOP strategy, and Portman's likely won't either.

However, on this subject, something else may.

Fact is, the tide of American opinion regarding gay marriage is changing so swiftly and decidedly towards gay marriage that it won't be Portman who can claim much credit for Republicans' bailing on the Defense of Marriage Act.  Young Republicans - many of whom come from broken families, and have seen how willingly conservatives ignore their marriage vows - may like the small-government side of politics, and wonder what business a government has in telling people they can't marry simply because of their gender.

You may know the reason why gay marriage is dangerous to any society, and I know the reason, but in terms of how the general populace sees the moral side of things, needing a law to tell people what's important is about as effective as laws prohibiting texting while driving.

Legislating morality doesn't convince people of what's right.

Scrambling for Relevancy?

In terms of making the ethos of conservatism more palatable and less stodgy to voters, however, the points Priebus makes about rebranding the Republican Party have some merit.  Even if some of the things he may want to change aren't the things that the party should be changing.

Priebus and other Republicans want the party to open up on immigration reform, if for no other reason than needing to woo the burgeoning political clout of Hispanics who can vote.  Amnesty is still a raw subject for many conservatives, but hopefully, reaching some sort of consensus on seasonal laborers and workers rights could lay the groundwork for effectively dealing with thornier issues.  Simply enforcing the employment rules we already have should help make workplace equity work across the board.

If you read Priebus' comments carefully, you'll note that he's not calling for a sea change in what the GOP stands for, but in how Republicans craft their message and convey it to voters.  Many right-wingers have come to believe the ends justify the means, so they care little about how people perceive the way they advocate for their views.

For example, in their effort to reign in government spending, Republicans need to quit waging class warfare, and then blaming liberals for the divisions conservatives have exacerbated.  As Cyprus has been reeling today from the European Union's suggested tax on bank depositor accounts, more than one conservative has come out and flatly stated that such an unprecedented penalty on everyday banking customers makes good financial sense.

Oh?

To the degree that taxpayers may need to share in the pain that their government is feeling is one thing; but to penalize customers of a financial institution for merely having deposits in a vault grossly perverts a relationship of trust that surely is a basic component of any modern, capitalistic society.

Even if, in the strictest interpretation of debt collection, a tax on depositor accounts can serve a valid purpose, it's a cold and calloused opinion to publicize, especially this early in all of the confusion surrounding the news.  Having American financial service executives working for conservative organizations belittling the anxiety being felt by bank account customers in Cyprus does nothing but prove Priebus' assessment:  Republicans are out of touch with sociopolitical reality.

Is Blind Obstructionism a Virtue?

We can also be rude.  Last week, when Texas' new, junior senator, Ted Cruz, challenged California's reigning liberal senator, Dianne Feinstein, about using the Constitution as the basis for American law, he displayed a nuanced form of arrogance that has come to define right-wing partisanship in this country.

Few conservatives agree that Feinstein's gun control advocacy stands up to their reading of the Second Amendment, but inferring that she doesn't know the Constitution, as Cruz did, is juvenile.  If Cruz really wanted to make his point in a fair way, he could have simply pointed out that it doesn't seem right for Congress to build loopholes into any Constitutional amendment.

Had he done so without appearing to insult Feinstein, she'd have had less of the platform he gave her and others in the hearing to point out the flaw in his argument.  For example, free speech does have its limits.  Perhaps Cruz, already knowing the flaw in the point he wanted to make, wanted to create a smokescreen around this aspect of his argument, and he knew goading Feinstein would incite her to take his bait.

Okay, so maybe Cruz isn't white, and he isn't old, but he displayed the very rancor that has made the Republican Party the party of condescension in Washington.  The party that seems to pick fights instead of working to solve them.  The party, as Democrats have become so fond of saying, of "no."

Priebus says he wants the GOP to tone down its rhetoric and ramp up its broader appeal.  What good are a bunch of admirable political convictions in a democratic republic if you're too haughty to seek buy-in from outside your own caucus?  It's easy to play to your narrow constituency, but a good politician knows not to make enemies so cavalierly.

If Cruz's grumpy irascibility is any indication, the party appears more interested in making a point than making policy.

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