Social Issues + Generation Gap = Growing Rifts in GOP?
As the GOP prepares to exert new clout in Washington, D.C., deep divisions over emphasizing social issues over fiscal matters threatens to fray party unity. In the longer term, youthful party members--and prospective young Republicans--are increasingly untroubled by a group that the GOP once reliably demonized: America’s GLBT citizens.
A Jan. 3 Christian Science Monitor article reported that while the Tea Party may have helped the GOP reclaim seats in the Senate and control of the House, actually keeping the new lawmakers’ toes on the party line could prove problematic.
"In the culture wars of the 1990s, elections were decided by values issues," noted the Christian Science Monitor article, "gun rights, school choice, marriage, abortion.
"But in November’s midterm elections, such issues were dwarfed by economic concerns, such as debt, spending, and the size of government," the article added. "Many of the tea party candidates focused on these fiscal concerns, playing down social issues." Already, internal dissent among the Tea Party arm of the Republican party has come to light, with one branch writing to presumptive party leaders John Boehner and Mitch McConnell to demand attention to fiscal issues, while another splinter wrote a separate letter to demand just the opposite: a dedicated focus on social questions, especially legal and social parity for gay and lesbian Americans and their families.
In another recent development, a number of fringe-right groups have announced a boycott of this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) due to the presence of high-profile gay conservative group GOProud. Among the fringe right--and generally anti-gay--groups refusing to attend the 2011 edition of the event are the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America.
Anti-gay religious website WorldNetDaily (WND) reported that those two organizations would be joined in boycotting this year’s CPAC by equally anti-gay organizations the Center for Military Readiness (which stringently opposed the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell), Liberty Counsel, and the National Organization for Marriage. The latter is the group behind nation-wide attempts to roll back or prevent marriage equality, including the 2008 California ballot initiative Proposition 8, which rescinded then-existing marriage rights for gay and lesbian families.
Anti-gay conservatives and their mainstream counterparts have vastly different perspectives on how to maintain a vibrant culture on the ideological right. "Social issues are quite damaging and create internal dissension within the Republican Party," Princeton historian Julian Zelizer told the Christian Science Monitor. "Many Republicans realize that in the last 20 years, those cultural issues are not winning issues for Republicans, especially gay rights."
Zelizer went on to note, "Their best hope is not to talk about it and focus on the economic and national-security issues, where Republicans are more united and more in touch with where public opinion is."
But, the Christian Science Monitor noted, the editor of WND, Joseph Farah, declared in an online op-ed, "If the U.S. ’conservative movement’ is to survive, prosper and be a force for reclaiming everything that made America unique and great in the days ahead, it is going to need a purge" of elements that the fringe right consider to be "false" conservatives, or "CINOs"--conservatives in name only.
Even as the Tea Party-infused GOP faces immediate concerns over ideological purity and the future of conservatism, younger Americans are likely to grow up without much sympathy for the politics of division as they have been practiced in the past, with opportunistic politicians building their platforms on the backs of sexual minorities.
At RealClearPolitics, Erin McPike posted a Dec. 30, 2010, op-ed that examined the issue of younger Americans--and future voters--facing a "fracture" within Republican ranks that could cost the party credibility unless the GOP embraces the changes that have already taken place in the culture. Among other cultural markers of a youthquake threatening to re-configure the right, McPike noted, is the way in which conservatives in Congress and younger members of the military responded to the recent repeal of the anti-gay 1993 law, "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," that prevented openly gay patriots from serving in uniform for 17 years. Of the eight Republican Congressmembers who voted for repeal, McPike observed, "five are among the youngest in the upper chamber - and they’re not all moderates."
Moreover, Melissa Kennedy of the Log Cabin Republicans told McPike that "Nearly all young service members supported the repeal of DADT because it simply doesn’t matter to them what anyone’s sexual orientation is and many happen to know and are friends with gay people."
Out, Proud-and Visible
One major factor in the rapidly increasing level of acceptance that GLBT Americans have enjoyed is the fact that so many sexual minorities now refuse to be relegated to the closet. "Conservatives and Republicans in general aren’t any different than anyone else in America," GOProud head Jimmy LaSalvia said. "[O]ver the past number of years we’ve seen more and more gay people come out and live their lives openly and honestly."
A Jan. 3 United Liberty posting reported on McPike’s essay, with author Jason Pye commenting, "if conservatives and Republicans cannot realize that stories like this do not shed favorable light on their movement since voters are simply not concerned about social issues these days, then they will lose support amongst younger voters."
Added Pye, "Focusing on issues that can bring together conservatives, and even libertarians, should be the goal over the next two years" until the 2012 presidential election.
In popular, as well as political, culture, gays--particularly young gays--are becoming more and more visible, partly in response to how younger gay Americans are more comfortable self-identifying and emerging from the closet at younger ages than in years past. The Los Angeles Times noted in a Jan. 4 article that numerous TV shows--including youth-oriented programs such as 90210, Glee, Gossip Girl, and a number of others--feature openly gay characters. "As it becomes more common for teenagers to realize - and then tell others - that they are gay or lesbian, there is also a growing number of teen characters on TV programs geared toward teens going through the same thing," wrote Los Angeles Times correspondent Whitney Friedlander.
Brave and self-possessed gay teens are not purely the stuff of televised fantasies. An Arizona 15-year-old made headlines for confronting anti-gay bullying in his state by warning schools throughout Arizona that they need to address homophobic bullying--or face "legal ramifications."
Local newspaper the Arizona Republic reported on Jan. 34 that the teen, Caleb Laieski, put schools on notice with an e-mail sent to over 5,000 school administrators, effectively getting his message to every school in the state.
The 15-year-old was a victim of anti-gay bullying himself before he left high school, the article reported, but that didn’t stop him from establishing Gays and Lesbians United Against Discrimination at age 13. As for his newest effort, "This is more not to threaten a lawsuit but to put resources out there," Laieski told the press. "But if they don’t want to cooperate, there’s going to be consequences." Laieski is not studying for his GED, the article said. The teen was ready to sue his former high school when he won concessions from the Dysart Unified School District that provided protections for GLBT students. Now the teen is ready to take on the school system in the entire state.
But not everyone on the right, or in the older generation, is prepared to hear such messages. At FreeRepublic.com, a conservative chat site, McPike’s article was debated by participants who generally rejected gays and gay conservatives.
"Fiscal conservatism is good," wrote one. "Social conservatism is good. Folks who want to be socially Liberal can go join the Libertarian Party."
"I guess I don’t belong in the GOP any longer," wrote another. "I do not support gay marriage or DADT."
Another denied that youthful Americans were less antithetical toward gays. "It is not about ’a generational problem,’ wrote the chat participant. "It is about DNC-pandering, RINO-shapeshifting, and unconstitutional fascism by those in power."
Wrote another, "It seems the GOP is just not Hip. They have a generational problem, A Hispanic problem, an abortion problem, an immigration problem, a race problem... And the beat goes on."