The backdrop of the 2012 presidential election was that of an economy tumbling over its edge, submerged in abysmal employment numbers, staggering poverty levels, and a welfare system the most bloated it had ever been.
For perspective, let us compare this to the recoveries of the four recessions prior. The recession of 1974 took a mere twenty months to return, in all its glory, to pre-recession employment. The most arduous and prolonged of the four was the 2001 recession, requiring 47 months to regain its former prosperity. By contrast, in those final 2012 months preceding the Obama-Romney election, a whopping 58 months and counting had transpired since the commencement of the 2007 recession, and no intimation of a recovery was in sight.
Compounding this hemorrhaging was the utter joke of an employee participation rate at 63.6%, translating to over 4.5 million jobless American citizens. Despite these, so many who had simply given up, the unemployment rate – as in those still job hunting and failing – had shot up three full percentage points. Four years and no signs of healing? They can only blame Bush for so long.
With a dying economy as the crisis at the forefront, I had bet on Mitt Romney not only grabbing the win, but cruising along a victorious landslide straight into the Oval Office on his way. And, with the Democrats steeping in worry, I was far from alone in my predictions.
As if the odds weren’t stacked against Obama enough, there has certainly been no president in my lifetime, nor quite some time before that, who has personally goaded on class warfare and incited racial divisions to such a suffocating intensity. But even so, what it comes down to is the tried and true political axiom, “It’s the economy, stupid,” which all but foretold the results. History had proven time and time again that elections rest simply on “jobs, the economy, jobs, and the economy”. With only FDR in 1936, from within the tumultuous midst of the Great Depression, no other president had ever been reelected under these economic statistics – the job losses, the poverty, the plummeting median wage. So something must have radically changed to invalidate this tried and true “poor economy equals defeat” equation.
The question is simple: what happened? What transpired presents the GOP with a valuable lesson, one we must heed as the 2016 presidential race encroaches. Simply put, the Republican Party has the look and feel of a theocracy, and an outdated one at that. The Evangelical movement has taken the party hostage, wounding it in its clutches. This has stained us with the unshakeable veneer of intolerance. Our opponents seize on this handout that we unknowingly gift them, wasting no time in painting anyone right-leaning as racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, xenophobic, you name it. They look at us, and see a group trapped in the Stone Age, while the self-proclaimed “Progressives” bask in the reputation of having open minds and moving forward, in lockstep with the evolving times.
Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against those who bear strong religious beliefs. Religion oftentimes lends itself to family stability, instills children with a moral compass, and cultivates a conscience in this habitually morally bankrupt world.
However, it is best for the GOP to hold onto their religious beliefs, holding onto them as personal – keeping it to themselves rather than ramming it down others’ throats. This mode of religion has no place in politics, and yet somehow my never-ending fight for lower taxes and restrained government is inextricably entwined with the Bible. Why must these two wholly unrelated issues go hand in hand?
America is a secular nation, through and through. The consecrated separation of church and state is enshrined in our Constitution and thus in this country’s foundation. And yet, the exact opposite is also true: America is a Christian country, despite what the President proclaims and demands. This is not a call to arms to fight for the preservation of Christianity against this perceived attack. It is instead simply a relic of the Judeo-Christian tenets that our government was founded on and our laws assembled on. When controversy erupts over whether or not the Ten Commandments can be posted in a public school or outside some state building, the heart of the matter and the basic point is blatantly missed.
Whether fervently religious or ambivalently agnostic, the Ten Commandments are a signpost of our American culture. Whatever religious weight you personally attach to them is simply a side note. The “In God We Trust” extolled on our currency is not a religious endorsement, but rather a reminder that the notions of religion and secularity are not mutually exclusive.
However, there is a tipping point. This boundary is crossed when religion crowds out the secular, trampling on that sacred divide between church and state. And herein lies the Republican Party’s predicament, its weakness.
During the primaries, the Republican candidates fiercely debate one another, often attacking, in order to compete for the title of the most religious, the man with the loftiest family values, the most passionate and stalwart pro-lifer – that last one an inadvertent gift to the Obama campaign machine, supplying ammunition for their shrewdly contrived and ferociously effective War on Women spin barrage. And so, the definition of conservative has somehow shifted from reigning in a government to be held accountable, to prudently balance its budget and curb its senseless overspending, instead to a contest for who has clocked in more time in church this week.
The inflexibility of the Evangelical movement clings to the wrong issues, yet their votes are vital to any successful Republican White House bid. Rather than preaching religion, simultaneously maiming their own political interests, perhaps a better way to promote the family values that these candidates fixate on is to repair the economy once and for all. More jobs spur more money, enough for Americans to raise their families properly without sinking into the destructive welfare and food stamp existence, without resorting to illegal activities to score quick cash or to numb reality. Who attends which church and how often is a measure of absolutely nothing.
Where oh where is the political party for me, a moderate Republican? The issues driving me are the impending fiscal cliff, and the all too tangible, unremitting raising of my taxes. As if living in Manhattan isn't expensive enough, I need a city tax on top of all the others, carving out half of my paycheck every two weeks.
Foreign policy is critical, especially to me, but from a strategic standpoint, we have to step away from all the emotion to see that it is secondary. There is no need for the word abortion to ever be mentioned on a campaign trail again. As somebody with firsthand experience with abortions, I know that shit happens. When former Missouri state candidate Todd Atkin claims that women cannot get pregnant from so-called “legitimate” rape, whatever that means, not only do I cringe, but I see a man drowning the entire Republican Party with him. And rather than shunning him, sure enough, the Indiana senate hopeful Richard Mourdock echoed this insanity, decreeing that pregnancy from rape must clearly be “something God intended”, effortlessly alienating any non-religious zealot. By spewing nonsense like this, the Democrats don’t have to do anything to win.
How bizarre to contemplate such an out-of-touch guy legislating on my behalf – and for the party that I am rooting for and advocating, no less. How can I defend that, and why would I want to? This medieval retrograde thinking has no place in our political dialogue. And then other Republican candidates must waste their efforts in an attempt to detach themselves from this faction of their party. The radical right-wing bloc that casts votes by religious zealotry maims the entire party. In this Twilight Zone, men who proclaim that rape pregnancies are valid somehow raise my taxes. I fail to see the correlation.
The demographics have shifted left in this country. Gay marriage is legal in all fifty states, and it’s here to stay. Roe v. Wade is never getting overturned. Abortions within reason, such as those in the first trimester, are entrenched in our society and have been for some time. If that quarrels with your religious beliefs, I cannot claim to understand your struggle. But politics is politics, and religion is religion. And the sand is rapidly coursing down the hourglass for the GOP. Evangelicals must curb their obtuse inflexibility on abortion and gays, if for no other reason than to win the election.
I have sat through dinner table talk after talk between women and between gays who cannot justify voting for a Republican president. To them, it is personal – and how could it not be? Proof that the artificial War on Women media blitz was brilliantly played are the countless girls who examine the election as if it is a sweeping avowal on the sole issue of abortion. To them, “choice” is an essential condition, an absolute necessity in their government. How many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of women would change their vote over this one issue? For too many voters, especially the young, jobs and taxes are immaterial when compared to the perceived threat of losing the right to control their bodies, and when compared to their homosexual lifestyle vilified as a deplorable sin.
It’s time for the Evangelical wing of the GOP to compromise, for the sake of the party, for the sake of strategy if nothing else. The Republican Party must modify its platform to say: "Although we do not agree with abortion and find it wrong, we are tolerant of it," – tolerant being the key. "Furthermore, we will allow choice for women." Make the same statement for gay rights, and that’s all it would take.
If the GOP ever wants to grace the presidential winners’ circle again, and I hope for this country’s sake that it does, I just told them how to do it.