Friday, May 11, 2012

Will the GOP Evolve or Die?

Michael Gerson, a former head speech writer and a senior policy adviser to President George W. Bush, has a column in the Washington Post that looks at the GOP's long term suicide if it doesn't "evolve" on the issue of gay rights and gay marriage.  Like it or not, the aging gay-hating white Christianist base of the GOP is literally dying off (and none too soon, in my view) leaving the party increasingly at odds with the younger generations.  While they may not always vote currently, younger voters reflect the political future and the Republican Party seems Hell bent in permanently  on gay rights issues and women's issues.  Here are some column highlights:

Principled or calculating or a bit of both, President Obama’s choice on gay marriage is a bet on the political future — a wager on the views and values of the millennial generation making its long march through American institutions.    It is a group in which Obama still has broad support but which he no longer inspires as he once did. “The Obama generation,” says Brookings scholar William Galston, “lasted about five years.” Those ages 18 to 24 are less enthusiastic about Obama than are those ages 25 to 29.  .   .   .  Obama’s gay-marriage shift is not likely to change this dramatically.

But looking beyond a single election, it is undeniable that America is in the midst of a large, consequential shift in the attitudes of the rising generation. A recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Berkley Center at Georgetown University found millennials to be less religiously affiliated than their parents. A majority thinks that government “is getting too involved in the issue of morality.”

 In the 2006 data sample that informed the first edition of Robert Putnam and David Campbell’s indispensable “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us,” 25 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds described their religious preference as “none.” The result of the 2011 sample, printed in the second edition, was 33 percent. In five years, support for gay marriage in that age group went from 48 percent to 60 percent. Those describing premarital sex as “never wrong” went from 34 percent to 44 percent.

[T]he baseline of social liberalism is starting higher than in previous generations, with major political consequences as this cohort works its way through the decades. It is easy to infer that the Republican Party — as the more religious and culturally conservative party — is doomed in the long run.

Republicans and conservatives will be forced to make some adjustments over time. The millennial shift will influence the way conservatives argue. The tone of Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum on social issues during the recent primary season — itself a throwback to the early days of the religious right — will not be an option.

This trend will influence the coalitions that Republicans build. It will make less and less sense to aggressively alienate groups of voters holding socially conservative values — Latinos in particular — based on other issues. Lost ground among younger, unmarried voters will need to be gained somewhere.  And the generational shift will inevitably influence the fights conservatives choose to make. Even a significant portion of millennials who regard homosexuality as immoral support gay marriage out of a commitment to pluralism.

The immediate political influence of cultural debates is overestimated. But the impact of a generational shift in cultural attitudes is only beginning.

As the shift continues, we can expect to see and hear even more hysteria and stridency from the Christianists and Tea Party crowd - a segment of society that, if we are lucky, will go the way of the dinosaurs.

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