The Problem with Ideological Purity

A recent post at Political Animal made a point I’ve pondered frequently as I’ve watched the GOP morph from political party to religious cult.

After a brief discussion of the attack on Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate, the post considered the implications of the GOP’s refusal to bend even when voters are likely to punish them for that intransigence:

The most striking fact when it comes to women and birth control is this one: 99 percent of sexually active women use it.

Pundits have often pointed out that historically, neither party tends to dominate the political system for very long. The reason for this is that, like how corporations exist to make money, political parties exist to win elections, and if the party keeps taking positions that alienate huge fractions of the electorate, then they’ll change those positions.

But the GOP isn’t doing this. After the 2012 defeat, driven in large part by being absolutely crushed in practically every minority demographic, Republicans halfheartedly tried to choke down an immigration reform bill to at least stop the bleeding. President Obama signaled his support, and the Senate passed a half-decent measure. But now reform looks dead because House Republicans refuse to let the Senate bill come up for a vote. For the GOP, it’s almost the worst of all worlds: a bill supported by all the prominent Democrats goes down due to extremist Republican intransigence. Now Democrats get to blame the GOP for breaking their promise, and quite possibly increase their share of the minority vote. It would have been better to not do anything.

Something similar looks to be happening for women’s issues. Ken Cuccinelli just went down in the Virginia governor’s race largely due to his antediluvian views on women’s rights. The party as a whole would be best served by this debate just going away. But extremists have strongly-held beliefs, and don’t particularly care about clear-eyed electoral cost-benefit calculations.

Here in Indiana, the culture-warrior contingent of the state GOP remains adamant about the need to pass HJR6, despite pretty convincing evidence that their position is costing them support–especially among the younger voters they will increasingly need.

Politics is the art of compromise. Religion, of course, is a matter of faith. To describe today’s Republican party as “Faith Based” is accurate–but it is not a compliment. It’s another way to suggest that the party’s current course is suicidal.


Living in Indiana

Yesterday, a county election board ruled that Dick Lugar isn’t eligible to vote using the address of the house he sold in the 1970s. (The board declined to find criminal intent, since the Lugars had relied upon opinions issued by two Attorney Generals.)

I’m not about to delve into the question whether the board–which evidently relied on its own attorney’s analysis of the relevant statutes–was right or wrong. But it’s hard not to wonder what’s really going on with this particular line of attack.

This morning’s Star editorialized

Such is the state of politics in 2012. Instead of building a philosophical and intellectual case as to why Richard Mourdock is a superior candidate, the Republican primary challenger’s campaign and his supporters have instead chosen to wallow in side issues such as the status of Lugar’s residency.

The easy reply to that observation is that it would be pretty hard to build a case for Mourdock being a superior candidate; the man is a bad joke.

The attack on Lugar’s residency is obviously intended to drive home the argument that the Senator is out-of-touch. (Whatever the technical legal resolution, the “optics,” as the political types say, are awful–and effective.) Being out of touch, having been in Washington too long, are time-tested themes of many campaigns, and whether this one has taken the attack a step too far will ultimately be decided by primary voters who will either agree with the charge or recoil from the way it has been pursued.

I have been saddened by Lugar’s pandering to the ever-more-rabid GOP base, but I am even more saddened and appalled by what that base considers evidence that Lugar is out of touch. The list of complaints includes things like supporting nuclear arms negotiations, voting for the President’s Supreme Court nominees, and being willing to compromise with the Democrats from time to time in order to get the nation’s business done.

In other words, they want to remove him for being a sane (albeit very conservative) lawmaker who actually understands what elected officials in a democratic system are supposed to do.

I’m not sure that I live in Indiana any more. Politically, it feels more like the Twilight Zone.