Lost in political space

Posted: Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sen. John McCain's daughter and his presidential campaign manager think they've figured out why McCain lost the 2008 election and what Republicans must do to win in the future. They need to be more like Democrats.

Steve Schmidt and Meghan McCain delivered their analyses in separate speeches to the Log Cabin Republicans, whose stated mission "is to work within the Republican Party to advocate equal rights for all Americans, including gays and lesbians."

Schmidt said he believes that a political party should not take or argue a position on same-sex marriage based on religious grounds. "If you put public policy to a religious test," he said, "you risk becoming a religious party, and in a free country, a political party cannot remain viable in the long term if it is seen as sectarian." Meghan McCain claimed, "Too many Republicans want to cling to past successes. There are those who think we can win the White House and Congress back by being 'more' conservative. Worse, there are those who think we can win by changing nothing at all about what our party has become."

In his remarks, Schmidt tried to engage in moral acrobatics, asserting that a pro-life position ought to translate into support for same-sex marriage: "The argument of the pro-life community acquires its moral force because it holds that the life of the unborn is not distinct in its dignity from the life of the born, and, thus, possesses a God-given right to be protected."

That argument could easily be turned around. If God gives rights to the unborn, doesn't He also get credit for defining marriage as between a man and a woman? The comment from the preacher at my wedding (and many other weddings in the "old days") seems relevant: "What God has joined together, let no man put asunder."

Republicans are in electoral trouble for many reasons, but one of them surely is not that they are insufficiently liberal on social issues. What's the point of having a two-party system if one party mimics the other? Many erstwhile Republican voters turned on the GOP not because they were insufficiently liberal, but because they were insufficiently conservative.

Schmidt and McCain could not begin to count the number of votes that would be lost were the party to abandon social conservatives and their issues. Whatever minimal gains might be made from younger, more progressive Republicans will be more than offset by older (and younger) social conservatives who will abandon the party and either stay home in disgust on Election Day, or vote for third-party candidates. Either scenario will bring the same result: the election of more liberal Democrats.

Meghan McCain said Republicans needed to look forward, be more modern, forget the past (presumably she means those Reagan and Republican congressional victories) and adopt new beliefs. Why not forget the Founders while we're at it? McCain's perfect candidate was on the "Today" show last Tuesday. Carlie Beck, a California high school cheerleading coach, was fired after she posed nude for Playboy. In an interview, Beck said she thinks everyone should make up his or her own morals. That "philosophy" is perfect for the GOP of McCain and Schmidt. It's beyond the "if it feels good, do it" code of the '60s. It's morphed into, "if it will get you elected, embrace it."

Dissing the past is a quality found mostly in arrogant youth who think they know more than anyone else and believe only they are enlightened enough to tell the rest of us how and what to think. But the past and those who have gone before are great teachers for moderns who would learn. The writer of Ecclesiastes noted that there is "nothing new under the sun."

Republicans can take old ideas that once brought them victory and repackage them for a new generation. Embracing what has worked - economically, politically and morally - has sustained America through many challenges. While a moral reformation cannot come through government, moral deterioration will advance with greater speed if political leadership does not remind the country of unchanging principles.

What shall it profit a party if it gains electoral victory, but loses its political soul?



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