Conservatives watching this week’s gay marriage arguments at the Supreme Court are wondering if it will happen again: Unelected justices ignoring the will of legislatures and high-handedly imposing their own wishes on one of society’s most divisive moral issues.
In political circles in Washington and elsewhere, a good number of these conservatives will also make a surprising confession: They are strongly rooting for that outcome exactly.
In a mostly hidden subtext of the gay marriage debate, a lot of Republicans would be thrilled with the most far-reaching court decision possible. This is the only way, they reckon, to take the issue out of an electoral arena in which it is increasingly bringing them little but grief.
It seems counterintuitive at first. It’s easy to understand why Republicans want the Supreme Court to issue a sweeping decision that overturns both the Defense of Marriage act and California’s proposition 8, because they think that will “take the issue out of the electoral arena” and make it go away. It’s the the same reason why Republicans want the President to enact their agenda on government spending, and cuts to Social Security, Medicare, etc. It spares Republicans from having to do a lot of hard work that will cost them politically, in the short term.
The shift in public opnion has left both Democrats and Republicans scrambling to play catch-up, but if politicians have been Johnny-come-latelys to the marriage equality movement, Democrats have raced ahead of Republicans. Led by Hillary Clinton, several Democrats used the oral arguments at the Supreme Court became an occassion to announce their support for marriage equality. Even hold-outs like Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey have publicly changed their positions from opposition to support.
The difference is that Democrats have an incentive to move with the changing tides. Many of the newly-minted supporters of marriage equality were probably for many years “closet” supporters who believed and political feasibility required them to reflect the mainstream position instead of leading on the issue. Now that support for marriage equality has become mainstream, Democrats have nothing to lose and everything to gain by “coming out” publicly in support of what many already supported privately. The traditionaly Democratic constituencies that formed the winning coalition for Obama and the Democrats in 2012 already support marriage equality.
Republicans, on the other hand have a lot to lose — at least in the short term — because they’re caught between factions. Two charts from the Post/ABC poll illustrate the point. The first shows that even among Republicans support for marriage equality has shifted from 24 percent in 2004 to 34 percent in 2012, but a 59 percent majority of Republicans still oppose marriage equality.
At a glance, it looks like Republican politicians have plenty of room to comfortably oppose marriage equality. Break it down by age and party, and it becomes another story.
A majority of Republicans, ages 18 to 49 support marriage equality. It’s a slim majority, but it’s a majority nonetheless, and one that’s likely to grow. The problem for Republicans is that it’s not growing fast enough to outpace Republicans ages 50 to 64, and 65-and-up, who remain solidly opposed to marriage equailty. Those older Republicans probably represent the religious conservatives who are increasingly out of step with the rest of the country, but whose votes the GOP still needs, even as their influence in the party must inevitably wane with the changing demographics of the American electorate.
Even if the writing is on the wall, Republicans can’t afford to lose those votes in the short term, even if it means delaying the cultural shift their party needs to make for its long term viability. Over the last two weeks, as more and more Americans show their support for marriage equality, and the Court seems likely to bring down DOMA, the GOP has begun to show the strain of keeping their old coalition together.
The thing is Rush Limbaugh is actually right about gay marriage and the GOP. Marc Ambinder makes the point that while nearly 8 in 10 Americans under 30,(and almost all the Republicans he talks to) support marriage equality, but the Republican’s who are likely to vote in the GOP primaries don’t support it and won’t support it any time soon. That’s why Republicans have more to lose in the short term.
The second thing is, homosexual marriage. If the party makes that something official that they support, they’re not gonna pull the homosexual activist voters away from the Democrat Party, but they are going to cause their base to stay home and throw their hands up in utter frustration. Now, whether they like it or not, the Republican Party’s base is sufficiently large that they cannot do without them. And their problem is they don’t like ’em. It really isn’t any more complicated than that.
Rush is right. The GOP’s problem is that its primary and caucus voting base is older than its new ideological entrepreneurs. The young Turks need to take over the party. But it is hard to figure out how they’ll fashion a political coalition that allows for this until the old generation just dies off. The traditionalists still vote in the primaries and caucuses. Tea Partiers overlap more with libertarians on some issues than your generic non-Tea Party conservative might, but they’re still social conservatives. Some conservatives understand this more than others. CPAC is not representative of the GOP or its base. Wish it were! But it’s not.
Famously incompetent war pundit Bill Kristol says that the Republican Party’s new attempt to be more reasonable, or as Kristol calls it, “fashionable,” is dumb and stuff because young people don’t know anything anyway.
“This kind of pathetic attempt to say, ‘Oh, my God! Young people especially are liberal so let’s just rush to cater to them,’ as if they’re going to respect you if you just embrace the views of some 26-year-old who doesn’t know anything honestly.”
I have absolute confidence that walking ideological corpse Bill Kristol knows just as much about young people as he does about the proper planning and execution of the wars he so bravely suggests those young people go off and fight, so I heartily suggest the Republican Party listen to him on this. No, go for it, we’ll all just wait over here.
The changes that we are seeing in public attitudes about homosexuality are just the tip of the political iceberg. As Bob Dylan once sang, performing to the Baby Boom generation when it was challenging the prevailing political orthodoxies, “something is happening here. But you don’t know what it is. Do you, Mr. Jones?”
America’s political parties would do well to listen to Dylan’s song. There are two new generations of Americans who have entered into their adulthood, now in their late 20s, 30s and 40s, who are starting to become more influential in the electorate.
…The substance of politics will also change. This has been evident with the recent debates over gay rights. Americans in their 30s and 40s have grown up much more comfortable with homosexuality than their predecessors.
Many of them lived through the horrors of the AIDS epidemic, when it became unacceptable to continue adhering to old taboos that prevented serious discussions about public health concerns. They had more friends and family who were openly gay, considering this to be an acceptable and fully normal part of America life. They watched popular culture that was filled with gay characters, such as the two male leads in “Will and Grace.” When Jerry Seinfeld joked in his show, after being mischaracterized as a homosexual, “not that there’s anything wrong with that,” these generations laughed and understood. According to Pew Research Center, 70% of Millennials support gay marriage.
It’s not just marriage equality, and it’s not just “generation X and Y” voters either. Republicans are out of step with the majority of Americans and the emerging American electorate on a wide range of issues.
Jed already hit the Christian Right’s whining of Republicans abandoning them on marriage equality. But I want to refocus on Gary Bauer’s comments, because they go beyond simple grousing over a wayward coalition partner:
“If we gave our voters an accurate portrayal of our ideas, that we want to cut the rate of growth on Social Security, give tax cuts to billionaires and then the values issues, the values issues would be more popular than the economic agenda of the current Republican Party,” said [social conservative leader Gary] Bauer…
That’s how we liberals frame the Mitt Romney wing of the GOP. Economic conservatives might pretend that there’s more to them than tax cuts for billionaires, but even their own partners disagree. And Bauer can’t even be bothered to pretend otherwise anymore.
That’s not a characterization that suggests mutual respect and agreement, but one of barely disguised disgust. Theirs is a marriage of convenience—the Gordon Geckos don’t care for the Bible Thumbers, the Bible Thumpers don’t care for the Gordon Geckos. And now that their collective suck isn’t leading to White House victories, the knives are out.
Funny thing is, both those sides are equally to blame for the GOP’s woes. Mitt Romney conservatism (aka “tax cuts for billionaires”) is as unpopular as Rick Santorum conservatism (aka “hate the gays”). They need each other to amount to something, but that’s no longer a nationally viable party.