Following the Facebook, Twitter, and old media discussions of the 2012 presidential election results has led me to an unsurprising conclusion: many Republicans, including some of my friends, are horrified that President Obama has won. Considering the tenor of the race, I expected as much. What confuses me in reading their comments, is that the President Obama they are vilifying has nothing in common with the man who has led our nation for the past four years. In response, I have a few observations about the President and the direction of the GOP:
President Obama is a Christian
It’s time to let go of the argument that “President Obama is not a Christian!” This is the one most squarely in my area of expertise, and the one that is most offensive to me. Perhaps it is only an issue here in the Deep South, where religion permeates everything, but I am at my limit with the “We must remember God is in control, even if we don’t have a Christian in the White House” comments. They are as insipid as they are absurd.
Where to begin? First, President Obama is a Christian. Plain and simple. He is not the caricature that fundamentalists insist defines the religion, but fundamentalists do not speak for Christianity. In fact, they rarely seem to even understand it, historically or biblically.
Which leads to my broader point in this regard. Not only is it indefensible to attack the President’s faith, it is equally irrational to claim that there is one singular “Christian” perspective on specific political topics. Opposition to same-sex marriage is not the “Christian” perspective on the issue. Opposing abortion rights or reproductive freedom is not the “Christian” stance. Capitalism is not the “Christian” economic system (despite embarrassingly ludicrous claims to the contrary). Individual Christians, and Christian denominations, have vastly different perspectives on all of these issues.
Interestingly, fundamentalist Muslims, fundamentalist Jews, and fundamentalist Christians tend to agree on all of them. So, if you’re looking for an adjective that describes unanimity on those views, “Christian” is inaccurate. “Fundamentalist” is spot on. Billy Graham’s regrettable decision to privilege what he calls “biblical values” over actual Christianity is the perfect example of this. Graham was willing to functionally endorse the Mormon candidate (who, Southern Baptists are very clear, is not a Christian – see here as well) over the Christian candidate because Graham’s narrow, fundamentalist interpretation of Scripture is more important to him than historic Christian faith. This privileging of politics over actual Christian theology has become the norm in fundamentalist Christianity, leading to their willingness to ignore enormous theological differences in order to push their agenda of intolerance.
Christians as a whole, however, have a broader understanding of the gospel and our Scriptures. With 42% of Protestants and 50% of Roman Catholics voting for President Obama, it is time to move past the myth that one party represents the Christian view or Christian values. The language is a code anyway. What people – on either side of the fence – mean when they say “Christian values” is: “my values, which I defend using religious language.” As a result, the descriptor is meaningless, and it demeans the breadth and complexity of our tradition.
The only real consequence of fundamentalist claims to an exclusive “Christian” platform is that it inspires fierce, partisan disdain for the other side. Rather than being a political opponent, members of the opposite party become theological adversaries. They are not just the enemy of our ideas, they become the enemy of our God as well. Instead of analyzing and evaluating ideas on their own merits, people unequivocally and passionately reject them as heresy. This kind of thinking has never ended well – during the Inquisition, in Calvin’s Geneva, or under the auspices of the Taliban in Afghanistan. More importantly, and to repeat, it is simply not true. Christians have different views on every political issue, and there isn’t a universal “Christian” perspective on any of them.
Let this one go. At best, it is intellectually dishonest. At its worst, it is an excuse to hide selfish and bigoted ideas behind a smokescreen of religiosity to prevent them from being challenged.
President Obama is not the Enemy of the Economy
Another claim – perpetuated in some circles – with near-religious zeal is the myth that President Obama is spending money willy-nilly to drive us off the looming fiscal cliff. This claim is made despite Forbes identifying President Obama as the “smallest government spender since Eisenhower.” The myth goes unchallenged because the popular perception is that Republicans are more responsible than Democrats, but spending under Obama is not a dramatic increase over past presidents. In fact, even the popular perception of Democratic spending Republican could use some revision.
As Daniel J. Mitchell of the conservative Cato institute points out, both parties spend too much money. Where they differ is how to subsidize their over-funding. Republicans argue that preserving the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy will generate more overall wealth and, consequently, more tax revenue for addressing the deficit. This is patently untrue, and Romney’s tax cuts would certainly have favored the wealthy or ultimately cost revenue.
Most Americans, overwhelming, realize this and support raising taxes on the wealthy. That’s hardly unfair. Despite what how people think wealth is distributed in the US, 80% of the wealth in this country is in the hands of 20% of the population, with a staggering 1/3 of all wealth in the hands of only 1% of the population. That top 1% actually got richer during the economic downturn. Meanwhile, those who make minimum wage have to work more than 70 hours a week to afford rent.
In a time when the economy is weak, reducing the taxes on the wealthy – who are clearly doing just fine, and at a time when people working two jobs can barely pay their rent – does not make sense. The 2012 GOP could not see this, and their rhetoric centered on people whom they viewed as self-described “victims” “dependent upon government.” Americans who actually work for a living, however, realized that this is patently false, and that, even as the fabulously wealthy enjoy the benefits of a healthy, stable, safe nation maintained by their labors, it is increasingly hard for the people who make that America possible to make ends meet.
If Republicans want to represent working people, they cannot be the party of the one percent. They have to realize what hard-working Americans already do, giving further benefits to the wealthy does not help the American people.
Health, Healthcare and the Environment are not Partisan Issues
Limiting our ability to regulate the impact of corporate greed on the health of our citizens or our environment – no matter how economically expedient – does not help us either. Republicans disagree, but this should not be a partisan issue. It does not matter how many jobs might be created, it does not matter how much money there is to be made, if it is accomplished at the expense of American well-being the cost is too high. Mitt Romney may not be worried about the rising oceans, but the rest of us are.
Nevertheless, Republicans are trying to perpetuate the myth that corporations simply cannot afford to create jobs and make a profit if they must do so in a context that insists that they do so ethically (with fair wages, healthcare for every employee, and without harming the environment or public health). Their claims have no grounding in fact. Corporations are doing just fine, as are their executives. Obviously, they want to make as much as they can, but it is our jobs as citizens to insist that the tremendous profit they earn at our expense be done ethically. Government regulation is how we accomplish that.
As a side note, government investment in innovation is also how we do it. Much has been made of the dramatic failure that was Solyndra. It was a risk, on important innovation, that went wrong, but it was hardly a catastrophic one on the scale of past erroneous attempts at innovation. We need a president who will create a strong vision for the future, and that requires the risk of innovation.
Civil Rights Are Not a Partisan Issue
As we move into that future, our citizenry is changing almost as rapidly as our technology. Let’s look at the demographics of the presidential voters again. Republicans did very well with rich, old, white men. But this is not the era of old, rich white men. This is one area where mainstream media and conservative evangelicals agree, and the election results are proof that America’s demographics are changing.
This is bringing civil rights issues to the fore again in a way not seen since the Sixties. As the Human Rights Campaign reports, November 6, 2012 was an unprecedented night of victories for equality issues. The first openly gay Senator was elected. Three states passed referendum’s supporting gay marriage, and LGBT-friendly politicians, including the President, fared very well.
Mitt Romney’s lackluster record on civil rights hurt him badly in this election. Likewise, other Republican candidates who talked about “legitimate rape” and children conceived in rape as a “gift from God” were soundly defeated. Attitudes and comments that might be acceptable in the locker room or the Gentleman’s Lounge at the club are no longer acceptable for those who want to lead a diverse nation of women and men.
Republicans have felt comfortable speaking from the position of privilege – white privilege, male privilege, heterosexual privilege, and the privilege of wealth – for far too long. If they want to remain a national party, they will have to move beyond that. The groups who voted for President Obama are the growing edges of the electorate. Perhaps more importantly, young people of both parties no longer see the partisan lines on social issues that their elders considered immutable.
Certainly these issues still galvanize a certain section of the Republican base, but they are increasingly distasteful to the young, educated, and diverse voters who will lead our country into the twenty-first century. Additionally, immigrants – who make up an increasingly large part of the electorate – are unlikely to support a party that continues to treat them as second-class citizens, or not even citizens at all.
Obama Has Not Governed as a Liberal
Finally, and sadly, despite all of the rhetoric from the fringe right, President Obama is not a liberal, or at least has not governed as one. A liberal would not have allowed any arctic drilling. A liberal president would not have been soft on Wall Street. A liberal president would not have allowed a former Monsanto Vice President anywhere near the FDA. A liberal president would have pushed for a single-payer healthcare plan, rather than a conservative plan that favored insurance companies. President Obama is a moderate conservative.
So, if Obama was the conservative in the race, what does that make the Republican Party of 2012? Simply put, they are a fringe party, pulling themselves toward irrelevance. Re-defining “Christianity” to mean fundamentalism and then pushing a theocratic agenda. Defending the super-rich at the expense of the working classes. Protecting corporate interests and profits over the health of our citizens and our environment. Opposing civil rights for women, sexual minorities, and immigrants. These are not “conservative” positions, they are anachronistic ideas that should be repugnant to all citizens of the twenty-first century.
Unfortunately, in an astonishing case of myopia, some Republican voices are promising to go even further to the right. They would be wise to listen to Republican Senator Linsey Graham, who observed, “We’re not losing 95 percent of African-Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics and voters under 30 because we’re not being hard-ass enough.” He is right, but the problem runs even deeper. The issue is not that the Republican Party isn’t pushing its conservative values “hard” enough. The Republican Party has exchanged actual conservative values – of community, integrity, and personal responsibility – for pseudo-religious hypocrisy, greed, self-destruction, and ethnocentrism. Until the Republicans can jettison those anti-social values, the only relevant conservative party in America will be the Democrats.