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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Republicans’ Magic Slate

Scott Walker
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What do Wisconsin Republicans really believe? Be careful before you answer. The answer apparently can change as quickly as they can wipe clean their Magic Slate.

It’s easy enough to list the passionate personal interests of some really intense groups of state Republicans: Banning same-sex marriage. Preventing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in this country. Destroying a woman’s right to choose an abortion. Repealing the Affordable Care Act. Opposing raising the minimum wage or any tax increases on the wealthy.

Besides how overwhelmingly negative most of those issues are, something else jumps out at you about the list. Not a single one of them has majority support in Wisconsin or the nation.

Somehow, though, Republicans have found success in Wisconsin by cobbling together the passionate last gasps of opposition by many different groups desperately fighting losing battles to prevent the world from changing around them.

But as the world continues to change anyway and Republicans find themselves left with a shrinking pool of bitter dead-enders, how do party leaders start abandoning what are becoming increasingly extreme positions?

Apparently, Republican Gov. Scott Walker has decided to start by abandoning vociferous Republican opposition to same-sex marriage.

Despite his unwavering support for Wisconsin’s constitutional ban on gay marriage ever since it passed in 2006, Walker suddenly announced last week it didn’t really matter.

Walker said it was a constitutional question that should be decided by the courts (activist courts!!) and he didn’t even know whether overturning the ban would really mean any major change in the state’s values.

“Any federal judge has got to look at that law not only with respect to the state’s constitution, but what it means in terms of the U.S. Constitution as well,” Walker said. “I’m not going to pretend to tell a federal judge in that regard what he or she should do about it.”

The rapid change in public support for marriage equality across the nation caught Republicans by surprise. They always thought they could count on homophobic hatred.

But now decency and acceptance of gay friends are driving enormous numbers of young voters away from the Republican Party. Walker is clearly ahead of most other Republicans, who usually don’t even acknowledge gays as human beings unless one of their kids happens to be gay. 

Walker’s election-year transformation also was pushed by his likely Democratic challenger Mary Burke’s support for marriage equality and his own lust for national office.

 

Hate Is Easy To Spread

The problem Walker and other Republican leaders have in trying to broaden their party’s constituency beyond angry, aging white males is that love may be all you need, but hate is a lot easier to spread.

After President Barack Obama won re-election with the votes of more than 70% of Latinos, Republican leaders, including Congressman Paul Ryan, correctly concluded Republicans had no future if they continued alienating America’s fastest growing minority.

But after years of fanning the flames of racism and accusing Latinos of stealing the nation’s dirtiest, lowest paying “white” jobs, most Republicans still can’t bring themselves to support badly needed and widely supported immigration reform.

And, boy, wouldn’t this be a great year for Walker to start respecting women as if they were equal members of society who deserve equal pay and possess enough intelligence to make their own health care decisions without running gauntlets of humiliating obstacles created by male Republican legislators?

You know, since Walker’s opponent, Burke, is a highly intelligent, successful version of one of those women things.

Instead, Walker and every single Republican in the Legislature, male or female, wants to end the right of women to make their own decisions about whether to have an abortion, a protected American freedom for more than 40 years.

But we can’t expect Walker and other Republicans to simply discard their own deeply held beliefs, can we?

Well, first of all, who says they have any deeply held beliefs? In an afternoon, Walker went from being an ardent opponent of same-sex marriage to someone who no longer believes it will make any difference whether such marriages are legal or not.

Successful politicians, Republican and Democratic, are pretty good at believing anything they think will get them elected. They watch to see which way the majority is going and then run around and get in front.

And since when is abandoning bad ideas anything other than a good thing?

The future belongs to those politicians who can change along with a racially and sexually changing America moving seriously toward the ideal of equal opportunity for everyone regardless of race, gender or economic class.

When parties become too extreme, they have to change. Before the 1960s, Democrats were the ones whose party was being defaced with racism and hatred and Republicans were still the respectable party of Lincoln.

Democratic President Lyndon Johnson wiped his party’s slate clean with the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Republicans need to do the same.