February 24, 2009

Why Southern Moderates Should Run as GOP

Filed under: Politics — PolitiCalypso @ 7:01 pm

I’ve never been able to understand why everyone to the left of Pat Robertson chooses to run for office on the Democratic ticket in the Southeast region. It’s inadvisable in this region (except for those positions that are specifically for Democratic districts, like the absurdly gerrymandered Congress) as a personal electoral strategy, because—again, with that noted exception—the Southeast in general votes Republican by default. And it’s foolish as a long-term strategy for anyone who is troubled by the dominance of Religious Right theocratic politics in this region.

Let’s go ahead and get a few things out of the way. First, since this is unfortunately usually associated with Southern politics in some way, the recommendations I offer are not specific to any given race of people—but rather, to moderates of any ancestry. Secondly, I am not talking about voting. I’m talking about those with political ambitions. I’m talking about running for office. Third, I am not necessarily singling out moderates to the exclusion of others, but my advice is addressed to them because I have yet to meet a self-identified liberal who also would consider running on the Republican ticket. If you’re one of those endangered creatures, then you can take this advice too.

I think that a major shift is needed in the way political candidates are recruited in the Southeast. Specifically, I think it is LONG past time for moderates to run in Republican primaries rather than Democratic ones. All too often, we end up with elected representatives who are utter embarrassments, because no one runs for GOP nominations except the Pat Robertson crowd (or hypocrites who pretend to be of that mold) and the South defaults Republican.

The theocratic ideology has no place in U.S. politics or law. I have always felt this way. I recall writing an essay for school at age 15 or 16 explaining why school-led prayer was unconstitutional. My reasons for it are more sophisticated in understanding now, but the views themselves have not changed.

The idealized purpose of law is to set out standards of morally acceptable behavior. Naturally, this ideal often becomes corrupted in practice, but in the exists-only-on-paper view, this is why we have laws. The idea is that moral behavior keeps a society stable. I think that part of the reason why so many Religious Right types don’t get it is that they don’t understand what the source of that morality must be. In the U.S., the moral basis for a law must be secular. Certainly there can be overlap between a religious basis of morality and a secular one, but a law (or potential law) is defensible only if it has a basis in secular morality. For instance, bans on murder and robbery can be defended on a non-religious basis. A ban on, say, same-sex marriage really can’t be defended on a moral basis unless you invoke religious dogma. (Yeah, I went there.) This is the problem with the Religious Right: It wants to have the church involved in governing. Don’t believe those who use the scare tactic that so-and-so wants to “ban religion.” No one with remotely mainstream political beliefs would consider it right to prevent churches from promoting their agenda through private venues. Let them speak on the media, let them use free speech and free assembly to push what they want, but keep their moral opinions out of government unless those moral opinions can be successfully defended without invoking holy texts. And, incidentally, it goes both ways: Keep the government out of the church too unless it breaks a law.

The governing philosophy of the Religious Right—the Religious Right as a political movement—is antithetical to the form of government that we have in the United States. The framers of the Constitution made it very clear. They did not put any restrictions on government interference in economic matters, but rather, left it up to future leaders and citizens to determine how much government involvement in the economy that they wanted. Libertarianism and liberalism are therefore both Constitutionally valid economic philosophies. But for moral matters—social policy and law—it is very clear that religion cannot be the sole basis. The Religious Right as a political movement is arguably dangerous to our form of government, and they have taken over a major political party.

With this point, I return to the original subject of this post. I’ll reiterate it: An antidemocratic ideology has taken over a major political party. In large part, this was caused by a massive recruitment drive in the 1980s and 1990s by Religious Right organizations. Those entities encouraged theocratically inclined people to run for office as Republicans, and over the years, they managed to change the makeup of that party. To reverse this damage will require a lot more than voting Republicans out of office. That is not a true reversal because it does not address the change that really happened, and it keeps that major political party in theocrat hands still. Moderate and non-theocratic Republicans were “primaried” out of office or gradually retired until only the theocrats were left. To undo the theocratic revolution, moderates must regain a voice within the GOP.

Since the South is the GOP stronghold of the nation, it makes sense that the change should begin here. Primaries in general, especially at local levels, have an uncanny tendency to be personal rather than ideological. They are decided quite often by who put out the most signs and advertisements, who has the best network, and who has the best get-out-the-vote operation. Since it usually is not about ideology, moderates stand a fighting chance at being nominated. And the Republican tilt of the Southeast gives them an automatic advantage in the general election. Certainly, some primaries would result in a theocratic person being nominated anyway, but a major change like this would take time to effect. However, the “everyone knows everyone” aspect of local primaries could also result in a weeding out of some of the Religious Right hypocrites who have skeletons in their closets. It’s a win-win.

It’s important to protect the political process from belief systems that are antithetical to our Constitutional government. This could require some people to take actions that they would see as very cynical and manipulative. Southerners who identify as something other than conservative (or even who do identify as conservative but not Religious Right—i.e., libertarians) may have psychological aversions to calling themselves GOP, but if they’re considering going into politics, they will have to deal with real-world strategy soon enough. Might as well begin immediately.

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