In the aftermath of the election, throughout the media and elsewhere, conservatives have been debating the necessity of reforming and refocusing the Republican Party. The argument in favor states that without significantly broader appeal, the party will fade away and die out in relatively short order. On the other hand, the argument against reform states that the party cannot embrace major change without betraying the very nature of conservatism. I believe, however, that the answer is not so black and white. Is it time for the Republican Party to evolve? Yes. Can the Republican Party evolve without sacrificing the essential principles of conservatism? The answer is also yes.
First, we must recognize and promote good family values wherever they are found, regardless of whether or not they conform to our ideal norms. Good, strong family values are not the exclusive province of married, two-parent, nuclear families. The nuclear arrangement itself is the best and most common means to achieve the end goal of safe, supporting families, but it is not the only way to achieve that outcome. In my life I know single parents who raised children that have become competent, well adjusted, productive and happy adults, and I know victims of violence and abuse who came from nuclear families. Accept the current reality for what it is and stop creating barriers and closing minds by limiting the model of success to the nuclear family.
Second, we must push out the racist and xenophobic elements of the party from any position of leadership and/or elected office. Arizona's controversial immigration law serves as a perfect case study of the way that policy ideas once relegated to the right-wing fringe have taken hold in mainstream Republican thought and quickly pushed away the fastest growing segment of the population. That I, a law-abiding, natural-born U.S. citizen, could be detained by law enforcement and ordered to show proof of citizenship based solely on suspicion of the color of my skin and my last name is abhorrent. It is not equal protection under the law, and although the truth may make some uncomfortable, it is racist at its core. The Republican Party will never appeal to Latinos, no matter how much they may identify with the traditional principles of conservatism, as long as people like Jan Brewer and Joe Arapaio continue to represent it. Relegate them back to the fringe where they belong. They contribute nothing of value to the political discourse, even in the absence of federal immigration reform.
Third, we must confront the accusations of a Republican “war on women” with empathy and compassion, rather than curt dismissal. Abortion is an intractable issue for most conservatives, and that will never change. However – and this is especially true for conservative men – we must treat the experiences of those women who have suffered the tragic injustice of rape or incest, and those women who have confronted the fear and uncertainty of a life-threatening pregnancy, with kindness and respect. Outrageous, misinformed rhetoric, and dismissive calls to “just live with it” are ignorant, callous, and needlessly alienate women. Furthermore, on the issue of contraception, we must recognize that the U.S. government is under no obligation to take orders from the Pope, as it were. Many faith communities do not prohibit the use of contraceptives, at least in certain circumstances, so this is not purely a religious freedom vs. secularism argument as some have postulated. We should leave the issue of contraception as it is currently settled: a matter of individual choice for a woman and her family, based on their beliefs and convictions.
Fourth, we must recognize the separate spheres of religious belief, public education, and scientific development. Darwinian evolution is, for good or ill, the consensus of the global scientific community. Human-induced climate change is, for good or ill, the consensus of the global scientific community. While every family must have the right to teach children from their own faith traditions, we do a disservice to future generations by insisting that evolution and climate change be removed from the marketplace of ideas. The research and jobs of tomorrow depend on study and understanding of the current models and consensus. Teach your children what the Bible says about the creation and eventual destruction of our world, but allow them to study and learn and keep pace with modern scientific development, so that they may keep the United States economically competitive in the years to come.
Finally, we must stop promoting policy intended to leave our society and government indentured to the financial interests of the wealthiest among us. The core ideas of limited government and limited taxation must be continually evaluated by outcomes, not rhetorical value. It has been made clear in recent years that some approaches to satisfying these values have simply not worked. Massive tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans have not produced an explosion of new jobs or a real trickle down of wealth. Wholesale deregulation of the financial sector is one of the leading causes of our recent recession. Lax labor regulations and the exultation of corporate greed have created unsustainable income disparities. The Walton family may be the richest in the country, but their workers are largely dependent on government assistance due to poor wages, which hardly serves the goal of limited government. It’s high time that we re-embrace the notion of top-down accountability when considering ways to reduce the role of government and keep taxes at reasonable levels. Policies that directly benefit those at the top with only vague, indirect hopes for benefitting those at the bottom, do not serve those goals in any way, shape or form.
I am part of a younger generation of American voters who find themselves increasingly alienated from the Republican Party, for the reasons outlined above. And I am telling you: if we are not willing to shed the superfluous, ignorant and banal elements of the current party establishment, the Republican Party will be relegated to a permanent minority status until its eventual demise. Traditional conservative values and ideas have an important place in the U.S. political spectrum, but for now, in large part due to these distractions, those values and ideas are being ignored.
Ian Hernandez lives and works in Seattle, Washington.
The CJS Forum seeks to promote an open exchange of ideas about the relationship between faith, culture, law and public policy. While all the articles are original and written especially for the CJS Forum, they do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for a Just Society.