One of my favorite writers is conservative columnist David Brooks. But his contention that GOP problems stem from sticking too strictly to economic conservatism is the wrong analysis.
A better one is that the core of the Republican Party is driven by ideological conservatism, which informs its economic policy. That’s what is at the heart of the GOP’s challenge today. That’s why the GOP will continue to shrink if it does not reform itself philosophically.
At the heart of GOP ideology is a deep belief in fundamentalist Judeo-Christian values. Conservative Republicans believe that America is a Judeo-Christian nation. And the very extreme ones believe that in the end it is a Christian nation solely. In fact, a protestant Christian nation, solely. In other words, Jesus rules. From there, everyone else is merely an invited guest in America.
These types have invaded the ranks of the Republican Party, and slowly have pressed their ideas into the national GOP platform. If your ideas support their Christian interpretation, they will support you. For example, anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist is, by all accounts, a moderate when it comes to religion. But his economic philosophy is in line with fundamentalist Christian notions about the overreach of a secular federal government that controls values by its power of taxation.
Norquist receives his greatest support from these Christian groups. Norquist is the author of “The Pledge”, a signed promise made by elected officials to refuse to raise taxes “no matter what, even if the country goes to hell.”
Norquist is powerful, but hardly the only influence in Washington. Other issues drive the religious right: abortion, gun control, states’ rights, retaining Christian symbols in public buildings, one man/one woman marriages, immigration, and evolution.
A majority of these issues now constitute the core of GOP political policy. They are ideologically centered around a strict Christian interpretation of traditional Biblical teachings. It was this that America was reacting to in the latest election.
It seems most Americans feel safer and more represented by a secular federal government that supports a philosophy of social diversity. In America, democracy means equality. Equality means there are no qualifiers. One has equal citizenship no matter one’s religion or lack of religion. All lay claim to equal protection under the constitution no matter what one’s personal beliefs are.
From time to time we have called on the federal government to protect the principle of equality. Without the Emancipation Proclamation (1863, and eventually the 13th Amendment in 1865), slavery would have continued in several states. Without the Supreme Court Decision in Brown v Board of Education (1954), we would not have struck down the doctrine of separate but equal in education. In other words, education would still be segregated by race.
The federal government serves a useful purpose. It is a check on the excesses of localism, of which local religion is a dominant player. Historically, religion creates more distinctions than any other institution: salvation vs. damnation, evil vs. good, saint vs. sinner, truth vs. heresy, insider vs. outsider, etc. Whether religion is the cause of local excesses, or the tool that is used by the powerful to enforce local distinctions does not matter. In either case, religion is involved.
So when David Brooks says that economic policies of the GOP are what caused such a disastrous election result, he has it only partially correct. The invasion of the religious right to halt the principles of federal governance is what concerns most Americans. It appears they’ve had enough.