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Queering the GOP

Jeb Bush stands for the Republican Party's pro-gay future

When Bush officially launches his presidential bid later this year, he will likely do so with a campaign manager who has urged the Republican Party to adopt a pro-gay agenda; a chief strategist who signed a Supreme Court amicus brief arguing for marriage equality in California; a longtime adviser who once encouraged her minister to stick to his guns in preaching equality for same-sex couples; and a communications director who is openly gay.

To an extent that would have been unthinkable in past elections, one of the leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination has stocked his inner circle with advisers who are vocal proponents of gay rights. And while the Bush camp says his platform will not be shaped by his lieutenants’ personal beliefs, many in the monied, moderate, corporate wing of the GOP — including pragmatic donors, secular politicos, and other members of the establishment — are cheering the early hires as a sign that Bush will position himself as the gay-friendly Republican in the 2016 field.

Read the whole thing. It’s pretty interesting stuff, and it ought to bring home to social conservatives how profoundly we have lost this thing. If I were Jeb Bush, and I didn’t have a strong belief one way or the other on same-sex marriage (and it appears from the piece that he’s either for it, or at most not against it), then this is exactly what I would do. It will open the wallets of the donor class, and take SSM as an issue off the table in 2016. Sure, it will tick off a substantial number of social conservatives, but they (we) are not the future. This issue has tremendous symbolic value among the middle class, where the GOP still has an image problem, as the recent Pew survey revealed. Besides, we all know that the Supreme Court is going to constitutionalize same-sex marriage later this year, so there’s a political advantage to getting on the SSM bandwagon before SCOTUS leaves socially conservative Republicans behind.

What Bush’s moves represent is the institutionalization within the Republican Party of the most radical aspect of the Sexual Revolution. I don’t think many GOP grassroots activists, especially in the churches, understand this. They will. This was inevitable, and now, it’s here. No Republican president will ever campaign on a promise to appoint Supreme Court justices who will overturn same-sex marriage. Given that it is very difficult to imagine SCOTUS revisiting abortion in our lifetime, or ruling differently on it than it did in Casey, it seems to me that socially conservative voters have to ask ourselves what, exactly, does the Republican Party offer us? I think the GOP would be much more sensitive to religious liberty concerns than the Democrats, but that is pretty thin stuff. It might be enough to justify voting Republican, but if other issues are front and center — war and peace, or economic concerns — there will be much less cause for a social conservative to vote Republican for socially conservative reasons. 

“Vote Republican: They May Be Politely Indifferent to Us, But At Least They Don’t Hate Us” is hardly a rallying cry. That logic may make the most sense, from a strictly pragmatic point of view, but most people do not vote strategically. Social conservatives, I think, are now in a worse position vis-à-vis the GOP than labor unions were to the Democrats in the Clinton era. Republican presidential candidates will still feel obliged to respect us publicly, but they will not advance our interests. The difference is, labor unions still had money to donate. There aren’t many social conservatives in the GOP donor class.

The last Bush president was (is) an Evangelical Christian who openly campaigned for social conservatism, including traditional marriage. But the late David Kuo, who was a Bush White House adviser on social policy, explained to 60 Minutes what was really going on behind the scenes:

David Kuo is an evangelical Christian and card-carrying member of the religious right, who got a job in the White House in the president’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. He thought it was a dream-come-true: a chance to work for a president whose vision about compassionate conservatism would be matched with sweeping legislation to help the poor.

But Kuo says the so-called compassion agenda has fallen short of its promise and he blames President Bush for that in his new book.

As correspondent Lesley Stahl reports, he also says the White House was a place that cynically used religion for political ends and that White House aides ridiculed the very Christian leaders who helped bring Mr. Bush to office.

In his book, Kuo wrote that White House staffers would roll their eyes at evangelicals, calling them “nuts” and “goofy.”

Asked if that was really the attitude, Kuo tells Stahl, “Oh, absolutely. You name the important Christian leader and I have heard them mocked by serious people in serious places.”

Specifically, Kuo says people in the White House political affairs office referred to Pat Robertson as “insane,” Jerry Falwell as “ridiculous,” and that James Dobson “had to be controlled.” And President Bush, he writes, talked about his compassion agenda, but never really fought for it.

“The President of the United States promised he would be the leading lobbying on behalf of the poor. What better lobbyist could anybody get?” Kuo wonders.

What happened?

“The lobbyist didn’t follow through,” he claims.

“What about 9/11?” Stahl asks. “All the priorities got turned about.”

“I was there before 9/11. I know what happened before 9/11 … The trend before 9/11 was…president makes a big announcement and nothing happens,” Kuo replies.

This is exactly what George W. Bush did on the Federal Marriage Amendment, which went nowhere. The next Bush would be an improvement only in that he would not be hypocritical about it. This is also the difference between him and any plausible GOP competitor who says things social conservatives want to hear.

Eventually orthodox Christians and other social conservatives will learn this. Clown acts like Phil Robertson growling at CPAC about hippie herpes, and how we need real Christians in the White House, are a distraction at best from political reality. This reality is something that social and religious conservatives have to come to terms with.

Forget it, orthodox Christians, it’s Chinatown.

UPDATE: Reader Devinicus writes:

Rod, I think you are confusing national politics for politics tout court. The national Republican Party is a hopeless case for social conservatives. But then again, it always has been. That doesn’t mean that state Republican Parties are as well.

My policy when it comes to elections is: always vote in local races and issues; always vote in state referenda; vote for statewide offices and state legislature as seems prudent and worthwhile; never vote for national offices. Giving money to a national candidates strikes me as among the stupidest things a person could do with their money, short of using it to buy heroin and giving that heroin to children.

Electoral politics at the highest levels of government really doesn’t matter. What matters is money and access to elites. National elites are a lost cause for social conservatives. They would do well to shore up their prospects at the state and local levels, learn how to defy the federal courts, and get to building those arks.

This is true. I was talking about presidential politics, and more broadly, politics at the national level. Thanks for the opportunity to clarify.

Reader Bobby, who supports SSM, writes:

So, this isn’t so much a debate about the merits os SSM as it is about the merits of social paternalism. Social traditionalists don’t simply believe in the merits of conservative social practices. They also believe in the merits of paternalistic social institutions that have the power to cudgel people to choose conservative social practices. Of course, such paternalistic social institutions only make sense if we see ourselves as participating in a common culture. And that’s where the rub lies.

What drives social conservatism is a wistful longing for the kind of common culture that we once enjoyed. Social paternalism was important then because it played an important role in mediating the relationship between individuals and that common culture. But, like it or not, the world of Jay Gatsby has won out over the world of Nick Carraway. And, like it or not, the common culture has faded, replaced by a world where paternalistic social institutions have no substantial role to play. Going forward, practicing Christianity will become more akin to practicing yoga. Christianity will certainly continue, but Christendom is all but dead.

Against this tableau, social conservatism is simply a last-gasp effort to stop the burial rite from proceeding. SSM isn’t significant because of any direct threat it poses to the social order. Rather, its significance lies in its totemic value–as the event that represents the final passing of judgment against the notion of a common culture and against the alleged need for social paternalism.

Yes, this is true, but I do not think this is the victory that Bobby believes it is. I agree. We have little or no common culture. The atomization is advanced. Alasdair MacIntyre saw this decades ago. Absorbing this lesson is critically important for the church, so Christians can learn how to be authentically Christian in a post-Christian, and increasingly anti-Christian, culture.



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