Republicans making the wrong calculations

There is a very good reason why political parties should keep their distance from religious institutions. The former need to be able to adapt to changing social values and new political realities while the latter, locked in as they are to doctrines that are supposedly god given and unchanging, tend to be unable to evolve so easily. So if by a fortuitous set of circumstances, the values of major organized religions and a political party coincide, that may result in short term electoral success for the party but it would be mistake for the party to identify itself too strongly with the values of the religions because at some point the paths will inevitably diverge because social realities change faster than religious doctrines.

Of course, even religious doctrines do change over time when religious institutions realize that the tide is turning irreversibly against them (such as on issues of racial equality) and that they need to change course and go with the flow or risk losing their congregations, but there can be long periods when they can be out of step with the rest of the world.

The Republican party seems to have not learned that lesson and by aligning itself too strongly with values that come out of religion, it now faces a quandary because those values are seen as increasingly backward and even hateful. We see the issue playing out with respect to birth control and same-sex marriage. There is no rational reason for opposing either. Birth control is here to stay and in a few short years, same-sex marriage will be as routine as mixed race marriages. The only reason for opposing either is religious dogma that is disconnected from any rational basis. Religious institutions oppose both based on some interpretation of their scriptures but there is no reason for political parties to do so, because there are no social or economic reasons to support such an attitude.

The sheer irrationality of the opposition to birth control can be seen in the fact that 99% of all sexually active women (and 98% of Catholics) use some form of birth control. You would not get numbers like that if opposition to it had any rational basis.

So what I don’t understand is why the Republican party, that should be more concerned about winning votes than religious doctrinal purity, seems to be so opposed to it, as evidenced by their championing those opponents of the Affordable Care Act that are objecting to providing birth control as part of their health insurance plans. They may be doing this as a tactical move as part of their strategy to oppose the ACA wherever they can but they are cementing the view that they too are opposed to birth control

It should not be surprising that the party is paying a heavy political price by hitching its wagon to this losing proposition, and that women are edging more and more towards the Democratic party.

Over the last decade, Democrats have tried to widen the gap by charging the GOP with conducting a “War on Women.” There are several fronts in that war, Democrats say: Republicans oppose easy access to contraception, oppose abortion rights and oppose expansion of entitlements to help the poor (who are disproportionately women and children).

A 2012 Pew survey found that 57 percent of women favor Democrats. Young, single, gay, minority and pro-abortion-rights women have been with the party for a while. Older, white, married women lean to the GOP. But now married, churchgoing women living in cities are also voting for Democrats.

The Republican party’s calculus may be that they need to hold on to their religious base. But that calculation is a long term loser. The numbers of the religious are shrinking even if their fervor may be increasing, while the numbers of women are going to be the same and their role in politics is increasing. You would think that there would be an iron law for political parties: Don’t alienate your biggest demographic. But the Republicans seem to be ignoring it.

I can usually understand the thinking of people who take stands opposite to my own, even if I don’t agree with their reasoning. But the opposition to birth control and same-sex marriage makes no sense whatsoever.


  1. Dunc says

    You would think that there would be an iron law for political parties: Don’t alienate your biggest demographic.

    There is an iron law, but it’s not that one – it’s Jonathan Schwarz’s Iron law of institutions:

    “The people who control institutions care first and foremost about their power within the institution rather than the power of the institution itself. Thus, they would rather the institution ‘fail’ while they remain in power within the institution than for the institution to ‘succeed’ if that requires them to lose power within the institution.”

  2. colnago80 says

    Putting it another way some folks would rather be a big cheese in a small group then a small cheese in a big group.

  3. raven says

    Yeah, birth control is widely available and almost universally used. And it isn’t going to go away, not in the 21st century.

    You would think the GOP would be pushing BC as much as they can. It’s a reliable way to lower the abortion rate which in fact has gone down for decades in the USA.

    It also lowers the teen pregnancy rate, an important metric because it is highly correlated and causal with life long poverty. In the Netherlands where comprehensive sex education and birth control are widely available, the teen pregnancy rate is 1/6 of the USA.

    And if you look at Tea Party politicians and fundie xian leaders, they almost always have small families of 2 or 3 kids and are likely to be BC users.* David Green the Hobby Lobby CEO has 3 kids, not 10 or 20. They don’t want to reproduce like rabbits because they have better things to do with their time and money. They want their mindless followers to do it instead.

    *There is an alternative theory about how they end up with small families. They simply use their ugly personalities as birth control. While there is some data on this, namely those ugly personalities, it might not work. To another vaguely humanoid toad, a vaguely humanoid toad fundie leader can be irresistible.

  4. raven says

    locked in as they are to doctrines that are supposedly god given and unchanging, tend to be unable to evolve so easily.

    Religions do evolve and quite rapidly, on the time scale of years. But evolution is blind and they don’t always go in what we would consider a forward direction.

    For an important evolution teaching court case in schools in the 1950’s, the Southern Baptists were on the side of evolution. Then they got taken over by right wingnuts and purged all their moderates. These days accepting evolution can get you kicked out of the SBC.

    You can also see it in the fads that sweep through fundieland every few years. These days modern day self described prophets talk to the gods all the time. God wants everyone to send them money and vote for the Tea Party. Demons are very in and do everything and explain everything. Heaven is real. Angels, which had a great run about a decade ago, have all but disappeared. I’m sure they will be back someday.

  5. Wylann says

    On the subject of BC: I don’t know the number, but I know there are a lot of women who take BC pills for reasons other than BC. My wife was one of them (a relatively new medical procedure finally made it so she doesn’t need the pills anymore). So, in addition to trying to eliminate the choice of his female employees, the HL CEO is potentially forcing some of them to either pay for their own, or get another job to prevent possibly tragic life threatening illness. He’s a douchecake of the highest order.

  6. raven says

    David Green Wikipedia:

    Green lives in southwest Oklahoma City with his wife Barbara. One son, Mart Green, is the founder and CEO of Mardel Christian and Educational Supply and of Every Tribe Entertainment while his other son Steve Green is President of Hobby Lobby. His only daughter, Darsee Lett, is Creative Director for the Hobby Lobby stores.[2]

    David Green is the Hobby Lobby CEO who is now fighting the ACA at the Supreme Court over birth control.

    David Green has 3 kids. With modern medical support a woman can easily have 10 or 20 kids.

    So how did that happen? Well who knows, but probably like the vast majority of people, at some time they used some for of…birth control. Which makes him a typical fundie xian hypocrite.

    It wouldn’t be anyone’s business but Green made it everyone’s business by being a public figure and leading a crusade against birth control and the ACA.

  7. Trebuchet says

    Not only has the Republican party hitched its star to religion, it has done so to what is really a relatively small minority of religious people. A majority of American Christians are still in “mainstream” churches, or are Roman Catholics, most of whom are not particularly active in the church.

  8. Mano Singham says

    double-reed and Dunc,

    While I agree that representing moneyed interests is important, vital even, for political parties, they cannot afford to neglect the sheer numbers of votes. Besides which, I don’t think the oligarchy cares much about birth control or same-sex marriage so there is no pressure from that quarter.

  9. unbound says

    I’ll put in my vote for this as well. Both my wife and daughter are on birth control for other reasons (excessive menstrual bleeding which makes them anemic – iron supplements aren’t sufficient to resolve).

    That is another problem with the fundamentalists narrow, black-and-white view of the world. Simple answers are almost always the wrong answers.

  10. Dunc says

    Mano, that was not my point. I didn’t say anything about “representing moneyed interests”, and I don’t think this particular phenomenon has anything to do with the oligarchy. I said that those who currently have power within the party are more concerned with maintaining (and if possible, extending) their power within the party than they are with achieving power for the party.

    Narrowing the base for primary challenges by appealing to an ever smaller, ever more extreme subset of the voting population makes it easier for them to maintain their positions within the party, even as it makes it less likely that the party will ever regain power. On the other hand, pushing for the sort of reforms and policy changes that would be required to broaden the parties appeal in the long term would increase the risk of losing a primary in the short term. Extremism is an adaptive strategy if you consider that current and potential GOP politicians are more concerned with competing with each other within the party than they are with the political fortunes of the party as a whole.

    Think of it as something like the Tragedy of the Commons. All of the individuals involved are only concerned with maximising their personal short term gain (relative to each other within the party), regardless of the resulting collective long term costs.

  11. says

    I think you might be underestimating the depth of their misogyny and (relatedly) homophobia. When you listen to Republican politicians’ offhand remarks about rape, women’s sexuality, gay people, poor people, black people, immigrants – the remarks that often get them into hot water – you see the uncalculated contempt and hostility on display. I don’t think they could conceal it enough to convince people that they held a different attitude even if they wanted to. It unintentionally comes through even in their cynical PR efforts to court poor or minority voters.

    They really do have repugnant views about large categories of people, including the view that those people are lesser and largely expendable and should obey, which doesn’t work well in relatively democratic contexts in which those people participate. Their only options are to work to marginalize and disenfranchise those people politically (which they do somewhat well); to rearrange the political system putting real decision-making in the hands of elites (which they do extremely well); to try and instill fear, fatalism, and complacency in the population (which they do somewhat well); or to convince people that they hold different views than they do (which they don’t do well at all).

  12. doublereed says

    I’m not exactly sure what you mean, Mano. What makes you say they cannot afford to neglect the sheer numbers of votes? Do you see Republicans being voted out by any considerable force? Because it looks to me that even though they’ve lost a couple of severe battles, they’re still waging the war on women, and still have pretty much unilateral control over the House and many State Legislatures. The media is still treating them with an equal amount of respect, rarely challenging their many incorrect assertions.

    As you say, they have not really gotten any pressure from the oligarchy from SSM and the war on women. That means sheer inertia will win, and they will just do whatever they’ve been doing. It seems to me they have at least ten years more to go before anything severe happens. But then I’m a cynic about these things.

  13. lpetrich says

    The Republican Party might respond to losing a lot of the female vote by positioning itself as the party of virility, thus getting a lot of the male vote. If they have not already been doing so.

  14. sigurd jorsalfar says

    Republican Party calculations, like the calculations of present day US capitalists, have ceased to be long-term. Instead they are driven by the logic of ‘getting while the getting is good’.

  15. sigurd jorsalfar says

    They can’t afford to neglect sheer numbers of votes because the demographics are NOT in their long term favor. This doesn’t mean they will all be voted out of office tomorrow or even the day after.

  16. raven says

    Well, it is easy for David Green.

    His wife might not find 10 pregnancies all that easy though. But these are fundies. Who cares what Mrs. Green has to go through.

  17. doublereed says

    “Long term favor”? What does this mean, practically speaking? As I said, I don’t see why they’ll have any significant problems over the next decade. Are you worried about the decade after? Who cares?

    Practically speaking (in the short term), there’s nothing to stop them from neglecting sheer numbers. Oh, they might suffer sometime later in the future? Maybe. Maybe it just means they’ll fight women’s rights for another decade, and then stop. It’s not exactly difficult for politicians to change positions. If they need to change positions, they always can later.

  18. Chiroptera says

    So what I don’t understand is why the Republican party, that should be more concerned about winning votes than religious doctrinal purity….

    But remember that a party doesn’t exist mainly to get elected to office. A party exists in order to promote the agenda that its members believes in. If a party changes its stance in issues in a way that contradicts what its members believe, then winning the election really doesn’t serve any purpose.

    There are several problems we see with the Republicans. One is the problem with politics in the US: we don’t have true political parties. What we have are two major coalitions of people with widely different beliefs and goals. In the Republican Party, one faction of their coalition has manage to take control of the party’s machinery to promote its narrow goals at the expense of the other members of that coalition.

    Another major problem is that the people who are currently driving the Republican Party are incapable of compromise (maybe this is what you meant by “ideological purity”). A major rule in politics is to compromise because half a loaf is better than none at all. (The danger here is not only are the Republicans not going to get a piece of the loaf, they are making sure that there is not loaf for anyone to get at all.)

  19. sigurd jorsalfar says

    Perhaps long term thinking doesn’t matter in the least and all a political party has to do is turn on a dime when the demographics change and it can maintain power.

    But clearly the GOP can’t afford to neglect the sheer number of votes and still maintain the current set of policies, given the demographics they face. And surely there are plenty of people in the GOP for whom policy, and not just power, matters, which will make turning on a dime a challenge. Do you think that when the turn happens, people who vote Democratic now will suddenly turn to the GOP? Why would they do that? Or do you think that the entire GOP base will turn on a dime with the party bosses? That seems unlikely to me.

  20. sailor1031 says

    There is NO indication that any in the republican party are interested in policy over power. As more reasonable republicans have been defeated at primaries by extremists the rest, and some democrats too, have clearly indicated by speech and action that it is staying in power that is their concern and nothing else. To hell with ‘policy’.

    As for people who voted democrat suddenly switching and voting republican. This happens frequently – like every election. These people are called ‘swing voters’ and are people who often don’t know how they want to vote until they are in the polling booth – if then! However they voted last time has no bearing on how they’ll vote next time even if there is no change in party positions. They are irrational and emotional and thinking is not their strong point. They have been the bane of every election for several decades.

  21. doublereed says

    Again, I ask what impetus you see right now that forces them to change. And I think you doubt how much the GOP has rigged the media to make people think that they are the “responsible” party. People can’t wait to vote for Christie, even though his fiscal, economic, and educational policies have been terrible for NJ. So yes, I think there are many democrats who can’t wait to vote for GOP, because there are a lot of economically conservative democrats.

    And politicians are naturally spineless creatures. They will certainly fall in line when they are told.

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