Katrina Vanden Heuvel and Charles Lane of the Washington Post have drawn a bright line around what ails this country in two recent columns. Van Der Heuvel's is about the source of our moral crisis, while Lane's is an object lesson in why ideological purity -- and the frenzy it sometimes awakens -- can backfire on the very people that endorse it.
First, let's look at Lane's enlightening reminder, his "be careful what you wish for" lesson. In his article, Lane sketches out the history leading to the 2003 Supreme Court decision, Lawrence v. Texas, in which Justice Anthony Kennedy did the unthinkable: He sided with the liberal members of the court to overturn Texas' anti-sodomy law. What led to this case was a fanatical pursuit of sustaining a law that never should have been enacted, one that banned private consensual sex if it was homosexual in nature.
As laudable, from a religious, moralistic perspective, the Texas law might have been -- for its narrow constituency -- its clearly unconstitutional overreach set up a cataclysmic event, the granting of gay rights by the Supreme Court. This in turn set up the more recent successes for gays around gay marriage. In fact, one could easily place the passage of the Texas anti-gay law as the beginning of the march to broader gay rights. How beautifully ironic.
The implications from Lane's cautionary tale are as illuminating as they are refreshing, not to mention, reason for hope. More on that later. Now on to Vanden Heuvel. Her column speaks to the "moral crisis" in America as being cut out of whole cloth by the Republican Party. Here she makes it stark:
The real crisis of public morality in the United States doesn’t lie in the private decisions Americans make in their lives or their bedrooms; it lies at the heart of an ideology — and a set of policies — that the right-wing has used to batter and browbeat their fellow Americans.There, she put it in a nutshell -- an apt metaphor. The Republican Party is not about freedom, they're about how ideological purity comes at the expense of freedom, that freeing the individual from regulation and taxation comes at the expense of the least of us, the ones who would benefit from community and what community action can bring to the citizens of that community.
They dress these policies up sometimes, give them catchy titles like Rep. Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity.” But they never cease to imbue them with the kind of moral decisions that ought to make anyone furious. Ryan’s latest budget really is case in point. It’s a plan that says that increases in defense spending are so essential, that massive tax cuts for the wealthy are so necessary, that we must pay for them by ripping a hole in the social safety net. The poor need Medicaid to pay for medicine and treatment for their families? We care, we really do, but the wealthy need tax cuts more. Food stamps the only thing standing between your children and starvation? Listen, we feel your pain. We get it. But we’ve got more important things to spend money on. Like a new yacht for that guy who only has one yacht.
By the way, the number of citizens thrust into that growing cohort known as "the least of us" is alarming, making it all the more inconceivable that the Republicans would push now for changes in tax law and budget priorities that would increase poverty and weaken the safety net originally provided to alleviate it. But that's exactly what the Republicans are doing.
From Lane's thesis -- be careful what you wish for -- and Vanden Heuvel's declaration -- that the current moral crisis stems from Republican ideology becoming a moralistic feeding frenzy -- we can derive a hopeful scenario: The Republicans seem hellbent on self-destruction in an election year that seemed to be one of the largest openings for Republican gains in a decade but now seems one of the biggest opportunities for Democrats to define themselves as the party of all the citizens -- the disinclination of the 1% notwithstanding.
Republicans, driven evermore to the right by tea-party types, the Koch brothers, the NRA, Rick Santorum's haughty rhetoric, and Rush Limbaugh's naughty rhetoric will, it's now likely, so fabulously overreach that they'll achieve what they wish for: an ideological purity that attracts the well-established 28% of America I like to refer to as George W. Bush's dead-enders, you know, those frightening people that considered Bush an exemplary president.
Who doesn't this thin coalition attract? Just about everybody else. Their only cause for hope is that Democrats might fail -- as they often do -- at their messaging and that what's left of the Reagan Democrats and the blue-collar Republicans still fall for the line that individualism should trump community even if it reduces many pocketbooks in America to a frighteningly barren place. It may be empty, but it's my pocketbook!
I'm with those who believe Democratic principles are hollow structures compared to their grander architecture under FDR, Truman, JFK, and Johnson, and though a supporter of Bill Clinton, I do hold him responsible for contributing to the hollowing-out process. But even Clinton drew the line when it came to decimating the middle class to increase the prerogatives of the wealthy. He may have even crafted the best state he could under the circumstances.
But the catastrophe awaiting the U.S. if the Republican dream survives its spiral into purity is too horrible to contemplate. So let's pull together, Democrats, stay on message, and craft that message positively to take advantage of the stumble the Republicans are currently taking. Let's give them their "be careful what you wish for" moment in 2012.