The Party of Exclusion
The GOP’s embrace of ‘religious freedom’ laws is at odds with Reagan’s call for a big tent.
By Peter Fenn April 1, 2015 | 10:00 a.m. EDT + More
I was surprised by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signing such a horrendous, poorly written law on “religious restoration,” but not nearly as surprised when the Republican presidential candidates rushed to his defense after the criticism went nuclear. Are they all in the grips of religious fanatics?
Consider this: “Conservatism is the antithesis of the kind of ideological fanaticism that has brought so much horror and destruction to the world. The common sense and common decency of ordinary men and women, working out their own lives in their own way — this is the heart of American conservatism today. Conservative wisdom and principles are derived from willingness to learn, not just from what is going on now, but from what has happened before.”
Is this from some 18th-century philosopher? Not exactly.
[SEE: Editorial Cartoons on the Indiana Religious Freedom Act]
It is from a speech by Ronald Reagan to the Fourth Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 6, 1977. A speech he gave nearly 40 years ago outlining his beliefs and calling for a New Republican Party.
As a life-long Democrat and a liberal I am not fond of President Reagan’s time in office, nor the movement of his party to the right. I am not fond of the absence of Republican leaders who represent moderation and reasonable compromise – the Eisenhowers, Fords, Dirksens, Doles. Yet, even Reagan would be appalled at what his party and its leaders are up to these days. (And not only in Indiana; Arkansas also passed a “religious freedom” law yesterday.)
Also in that speech, Reagan made the following comment after appealing to factory workers and black voters with his conservative agenda:
And just to set the record straight, let me say this about our friends who are now Republicans but who do not identify themselves as conservatives: I want the record to show that I do not view the new revitalized Republican Party as one based on a principle of exclusion. After all, you do not get to be a majority party by searching for groups you won’t associate or work with. If we truly believe in our principles, we should sit down and talk. Talk with anyone, anywhere, at any time if it means talking about the principles for the Republican Party. Conservatism is not a narrow ideology, nor is it the exclusive property of conservative activists. (my emphasis added)
Well, the Republican Party today certainly seems to conform to a “narrow ideology” and consistently responds to intolerance from “activists,” whether we are talking about anti-LGBT actions, anti-immigrant actions or anti-minority actions. It is almost as if every Republican candidate for president is either too afraid to confront the far right or truly believes what they are saying. All the candidates are doing their very best to out-do one another on just how extreme they can become in the course of this campaign.
[SEE: Republican Party Cartoons]
Sen. Ted Cruz announced his candidacy for president at Liberty Baptist University. That is considered the mainstream of the Republican Party now? Consider this: Reagan chose to campaign in the South Bronx toward the end of the 1980 presidential race. How is that for a contrast?
When Americans are increasingly hostile to discrimination, we have a political party that appears to embrace it. When Americans are worried about inclusion, we have a party that is all about exclusion.
America is changing. America is becoming more diverse. America is moving forward. The Republican Party seems intent on moving in reverse. It seems to be intent on being the party of the aging white male. When Bill Clinton was president, 87 percent of the electorate was white; now it is 72 percent.
Or, as Reagan said in that speech in 1977, “if we are going to attract more working men and women of this country, we will do so not by simply ‘making room’ for them, but by making certain they have a say in what goes on in the party.”
Not only are many Americans light years away from having a say, the door is being slammed in their face.