Opinion | Republicans should dislodge from traditional social issues
Published: Thursday, March 21, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 21, 2013 23:03
If the Republicans want to stave off political irrelevancy, they would be wise to embrace libertarianism and the ones leading the charge, such as Senator Rand Paul.
For far too long, Republicans have been politically strangled by being behind the curve on important social and political issues of the day. For instance, in the debate over gay marriage to be settled in the Supreme Court this year, Republicans remain behind.
Recently, Rob Portman, the Senator from Ohio, changed his position on gay marriage because his son, Will, came out as gay to him and his wife. Some have lauded this revelation as narcissistic or reflecting an empathy gap; that it took personal ties to make the reversal on an issue, I’ll still heap approbation on the Senator for coming around, nevertheless.
However, in response to Portman’s change, Speaker of the House John Boehner said, “I believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. … It’s what I grew up with. It’s what I believe. It’s what my church teaches me. And I can’t imagine that position would ever change.” Even in the event of a son of his coming out gay, he said his position would not change.
Certainly, there is much to be said about falling back on “that’s what I grew up on” as the foundation for a belief and the absolutism of never changing, and Boehner’s remarks demonstrate how Republicans continue to be behind on important issues of the day.
For another example, two weeks ago, Rand Paul, the Senator from Kentucky, led a filibuster on the nomination of John Brennan to be CIA Director.
It was an old school filibuster that was essentially “speak until you can’t speak anymore.” Rand mostly focused his filibuster on the question of whether the President of the United States could kill an American citizen on American soil without due process. He used that platform to extend to other issues concerning the limits to executive power, a more sensible foreign policy and even domestic privacy issues.
All told, it was a marathon exercise that made libertarians roar in approval, even if the stauncher ones are skeptical of the heir to Ron Paul’s legacy. The filibuster represented a moment for the GOP to finally embrace civil liberties.
Just as importantly though, it really represented a further strife in the Republican Party between conservatives and libertarians; such as Senators John McCain, Lindsay Graham and Rand Paul. After the filibuster, the former two came out on the Senate floor to criticize Paul.
McCain’s criticism was the most striking. He called the filibuster a “stunt to fire up impressionable libertarians.”
If the issues of gay marriage and civil liberties are not enough to sway you that Republicans need libertarians to maintain relevancy, consider this: Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections (Obama twice, Gore in 2000 and Clinton in the 90’s).
It’s high time for the Republicans to change course. My best recommendation for Republicans would be to dislodge themselves from the Christian right and unnecessarily derisive social issues and focus more on the economy, civil liberties and a more sensible foreign policy.
As to the latter point, recently, at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), The Christian Science Monitor reported on a poll of CPAC attendees, in which “50 percent said the US should pull back, leaving it more to allies to take care of trouble spots.” Moreover, Rand Paul won the CPAC presidential straw poll with 25 percent of the vote.
Traditionally, the CPAC presidential straw poll is viewed as meaningless because it mostly is, but taken with the other poll, perhaps it’s a further sign that at least some Republicans may be willing to embrace the libertarian takeover.
Some may find the notion that Republicans need libertarians to stay relevant in the national discourse an absurd one. Yet, consider this; McCain’s earlier criticism was still astute in one regard: most of Ron Paul’s followers and other libertarians are young people. If the last two presidential elections demonstrated anything, it’s that the Republican Party, among other things, could use young people.
Certainly, I wouldn’t lose sleep if the Grand Old Party simply faded into historical obscurity, but I also want libertarian ideas to gain more traction. If the Republican Party is that platform and Rand Paul the mascot, so be it.