Friday, November 16, 2012

The Times They Are A-Changing

Ross Douthat offers Republicans a way to survive the Culture Wars:
In the spirit of breaking out of the “I told you so” box, let me offer two places where I think the post-Romney G.O.P. could improve its position by changing in ways that don’t necessarily dovetail with my own preconceptions and beliefs. The first, perhaps over-obviously, is the issue of gay marriage, where my side of the argument has lost enough ground with voters to render the Republican Party’s official position on the issue — and particularly the call for a never-gonna-happen constitutional amendment — an empty gesture to a now-collapsed consensus, which is likely to soon alienate more voters than it mobilizes. It’s probably no longer a question of “if” but “when” the party beats a strategic retreat on the issue (I expect there will be a pro-life, pro-gay marriage Republican nominee within a generation if not sooner), and it makes a certain raw political sense to pre-emptively declare a big tent on the question, and make the party’s litmus tests support for federalism rather than a Supreme Court settlement and (as Rod Dreher of the American Conservative has argued, presciently and strenuously) support for the broadest possible protections for religious liberty. I’m not sure how such a shift would affect the rate at which evangelicals and conservative Catholics turn out for Republicans — that would be the big strategic risk, obviously. But my sense is that the party would just be formally acknowledging what many religious conservatives already accept — that a political platform can’t hold back a cultural tide, and that if the American understanding of what marriage is and ought to be someday turns back in a direction that cultural conservatives find congenial, the details of the Republican platform will be largely incidental to that shift.

As with gay marriage, so with marijuana. My ideal policy world would privilege other forms of criminal justice reform over the outright legalization of pot, and words cannot express how little sympathy I have for stoner culture. But when Paul Ryan implied to an interviewer that states should be free to make decisions about marijuana policy (the question was about medical marijuana, but the principle could have applied more broadly), there was no sound political reason for the Romney campaign to subsequently walk those comments back. There is still a large constituency that supports marijuana prohibition, but with crime rates down it’s not an issue that has any impact on presidential elections, and national Republicans would lose very little by taking a federalist, live-and-let-live approach to measures like the ones that passed in Colorado and Washington. We have a drug policy that nobody regards as a success, and a country that’s now split down the middle on whether pot should be legal for personal use. In that environment, the Republicans probably have more to gain politically from showing some flexibility on the issue — especially flexibility that can be wrapped in 10th Amendment principle — than they do from playing the law and order card and leaving it at that.

On pot and gay marriage, then, I agree with writers who think Republicans would profit politically from moving in a more libertarian direction, even if isn’t the policy direction I would necessarily choose.
So there are ways that the GOP can recover. But will they listen?

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