Sunday, March 4, 2012

The GOP war on the 1960s: “I thought this debate was over years ago.”

Curiouser and curiouser turns the 2012 Republican presidential primary. But what seems now to stand out the most is how the race is turning on issues that one had thought were long since resolved. In many ways, Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign, and the pull he is having on the Republican Party, seem to be a referendum on the 1960s and the changes that decade unleashed on American society.

Over the last few weeks I have had so many people turn to me and say about the issues being debated this year: “I thought this debate was over years ago.”

Think about it.

Santorum grossly misquotes a 1960 John Kennedy speech talking about the need to respect a diversity of religious perspectives and not use the government to impose its orthodoxy upon others. JFK gave this speech both to assure voters that his Catholicism did not mean as president he would take direction from the Pope and that America was simply more than a Protestant nation. Santorum construes this speech to be about an attack on religion and a separation of church and state that makes he want to throw up. Never mind also that the Supreme Court has also repeatedly addressed  issues of prayer in public schools and public displays of religion on governmental property. Santorum wants to fight this battle all over again. “I thought this debate was over years ago.”

Santorum hates birth control and think that employers and their health plans should not be required to pay for it for women. In 1965 the Supreme Court ruled in Griswold v. Connecticut that a constitutional right to privacy protected the choice of couples to use birth control. Last year Rick Perry was assailed for a decision at one time to mandate human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine for  young women to protect their health. Rush Limbaugh calls a woman a slut and prostitute for taking a stand on this issue. All this is reminiscent of the battles in the 1960s over the pill and claims that it encouraged promiscuity. Have we not resolved the issue of protecting women’s health and promoting women’s equality? “I thought this debate was over years ago.”

Beginning in the 1960s states began relaxing abortion laws and repealing rules restricting sexual behavior between consenting adults.  In 1973 in Roe v. Wade the Supreme Court affirmed reproductive rights of women, and again did so in 1992 in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Yet Santorum and all the Republicans want to take away these rights and label women who want to control their reproductive and sexual choices as sluts. “I thought this debate was over years ago.”

Ron Paul objects to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act as eroding personal freedom. I thought Martin Luther King, Jr., “I have a dream” speech and the civil rights movement demonstrated the importance of racial equality. “I thought this debate was over years ago.”

The 1967 Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court case stated that marriage is a fundamental right.  Then beginning with the 1969 riots at the Stonewall Bar in NYC the movement for gay rights began.  The two events come together to represent a national evolution towards equal rights regarding of sexual orientation.  The Republicans want to deny marriage equality to gays and lesbians. “I thought this debate was over years ago.”

It is curious. The Republican presidential candidates and the base seem intent on revisiting the 1960s. They cannot seem to stand the fact that America has evolved, even after nearly 50 years has passed. It is more than simply the politics of nostalgia. It seems to be one of both a generational and racial divide, looking to see a world that has changed and an anger over it. For the Republicans, these issues are disasters both in 2012 as they will alienate many swing voters, but beyond as one generation dies out, only to be replaced by another that believes simply: “I thought this debate was over years ago.”

Final Thoughts
My very first undergraduate political science professor Mary T. Hanna wrote a book in 1979 entitled Catholics and American Politics. She foretold of a future American politics with Catholics as the largest religious denomination in the country. Yet at the time she wrote the book in 1979 she saw a Catholicism that was progressive and liberal. Since then much of Catholic politics has turned conservative. What we may be seeing in the United States now is how the change in Catholicism is driving the GOP. It is now a religion that is large and conservative, pent on using it clout to further its orthodoxy. Amazing how it is forgotten the days when Catholics were a minority persecuted by a Protestant majority. Amazing how it has forgotten the wisdom of JFK’s 1960 speech.

Super Tuesday Preview
Super Tuesday will be rough for Romney. He will not do well in the South and if he doe not win Ohio then the race is clearly wide open. The race is tightening in Ohio and it is unclear who wins but even a close second by Santorum along with wins in Oklahoma and Tennessee and a Gingrich win in Georgia mean the race is not over for a long time. But now the race is less about states than delegates, although where those deletes are won makes a difference in terms of assessing presidential prospects. Romney, except for Florida, seems to win in states that Republicans will not win in November, and has a tough time in close swing states such as Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio.

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