a socially liberal republican, for real?

Prop 8 Protest in DC

Prop 8 Protest in DC

I really enjoyed this discussion of the re-branding of Republican politics in this month’s issue of Bitch magazine. I’m posting the argument I found most provocative, but the counter-argument is available here. Personally, I don’t really care about Meghan McCain or her views on the Republican party. What I do care about is the notion that one can be socially liberal and still subscribe to conservative ideology, which essentially mandates that government stay out of people’s lives. Sometimes isn’t it necessary that the government step in and legislate rights? Case in point: civil and gay rights. Civil rights wouldn’t exist without Martin Luther King Jr., yes, but we also needed the government to legislate rights. While McCain claims to support gay marriage, legislation is necessary to provide homosexuals with the right to marry. I can’t see how one can support gay marriage but suggest it’s best for the government to always stay out of its citizens’ lives, even when people’s rights are on the line. (I suppose one could be fiscally conservative but socially liberal. But he/she wouldn’t be a Republican.)

This piece is certainly hyperbolic, and I don’t agree with all of it (e.g., the notion that Republicans only care about wealthy whites strikes me as extreme and inaccurate). Still, I think it’s an interesting discussion of whether or not conservatives can ever truly embrace social liberalism. xo, m

Is Meghan McCain the new heartbeat of the GOP or the new headache?

You’re darn tootin’ the Republican Party finds itself leaderless right now—who wants to grab the helm of a ship adrift in a sea of shit? But yes, Meghan McCain seems pretty convinced that there is a way to marry a liberal philosophy on social issues with classic Republican ideology. The problem is, she’s wrong.

Before we get to how she’s wrong, let’s explore how McCain envisions this cozy coupling of lefty-righty politics. Via various media outlets, McCain has been hammering home her I-contain-political-multitudes message with a steady cadence. She perhaps best summed up who she is in a recent speech to the Log Cabin Republicans, in which she proclaimed:

I am concerned about the environment. I love to wear black. I think government is best when it stays out of people’s lives and business as much as possible. I love punk rock. I believe in a strong national defense. I have a tattoo. I believe government should always be efficient and accountable. I have lots of gay friends. And yes, I am a Republican.

Putting aside the fact that McCain somehow equates wearing black and having tattoos with liberalism, let’s concentrate on sentence no. 3. This sentence, along with the tenets of fiscal conservatism and relying on a free market to correct social ills, embodies classic Republican philosophy. It’s commendable that McCain is vocal in her criticism of the GOP’s current incarnation, which prioritizes hellfire-and-damnation histrionics at the expense of pretty much everything else. But that doesn’t mean the party’s laissez-faire ideology is compatible with advancing the social issues—gay rights, sex education that goes beyond abstinence-only, the environment—to which McCain is apparently so attached.

Gay marriage is a good hypothetical case study: Let’s say McCain gets her wish, and the GOP powers that be decide to “stay out of people’s lives,” and not give a shit who marries whom. It still wouldn’t be enough. History has shown us that rights need both enacting and protecting, and that requires legislative muscle, and that in turn requires—somewhere down the line—a government that cares enough to act. Whether or not Republicans are capable of caring about anyone other than rich white men is arguable, but even if they did, their core principles would dictate that they not act. Let the chips fall where they may, they’d shrug.

The problem is, sometimes the chips fall and it gets dangerous. Back in 1998, in Laramie, Wyoming, Matthew Shepard was beaten, pistol-whipped, tortured, and left for dead, tied to a buck fence. He died five days later, and his assailants used the “gay panic” defense in court, claiming they freaked out because he hit on them. More than 10 years later, Wyoming—and many other states—has no substantial hate-crime laws.

And this is what McCain doesn’t get. When violence is at hand, and when people can’t feel safe in their own country, active government is called for. That means not just passively waiting for rights to spring up out of thin air, but actively pushing for them via legislation and government involvement. The history of this country has proven it: Would the civil rights movement have succeeded without Brown v. Board of Education and its ensuing laws? Would the marchers and protesters and school integrators have survived without the National Guard troops guarding their flanks? Sometimes justice requires a symbiotic effort on all fronts; neither the grassroots movement nor its governmental counterpart could have made it without the other.

I’m guessing that’s not what goes through the minds of McCain and her many faithful queens in the Log Cabin Republicans. I’m guessing that, for her, it feels very brave and progressive to take on Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh via Twitter, or to assert that she’s “pro-sex” on The Colbert Report. But all McCain is really asking for is a much larger tent, full of even more people her party will be all too happy to ignore.
—Jonanna Widner


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