by Eric Rader
The summer of 2011 is drawing to a close, and the warmer days will soon give way to crisp autumn weather. While fall marks the end of the growing season in this part of the country, it is also a time for new beginnings. In Washington, D.C., members of Congress and President Obama are coming back from their summer breaks and will soon consider new legislation to deal with the unresolved economic and foreign policy challenges facing our nation. In early August, the president and congressional leaders reached an agreement on the nation’s debt ceiling, avoiding what would have been an unprecedented and calamitous default by the U.S. on its debt obligations. The Republican presidential field has taken shape over the past few months, and now the GOP candidates will intensify their campaign efforts as the first primaries appear on the horizon. At the same time, President Obama has begun to focus on his own reelection effort for 2012, and he is crafting policy proposals to combat the persistently high unemployment rate.
While there are legitimate and profound policy differences between President Obama and his Republican adversaries over how to handle the economic and foreign policy challenges facing our nation, it seems that some GOP candidates would like to make this campaign about social issues. Most of the Republican candidates for president have made statements that are obviously designed to appeal to the most intolerant elements of the GOP electorate. One of the candidates, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, believes the U.S. Constitution should be amended to ban same-sex marriage and squash the successful effort in New York to extend equality to gay and lesbian citizens, contravening his own belief that states should decide important social issues like marriage. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, another presidential candidate, built her early political career on a homophobic platform, and has made comments linking homosexuality to the devil and enslavement, while her husband runs a psychology clinic that offers so-called “reparative therapy” to gays and lesbians who wish to change their sexual orientation. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has argued that marriage cannot be redefined as something other than male-female, making the ridiculous statement that a person can call a cup of tea a basketball, but the cup of tea doesn’t become something else just because someone redefines it. Santorum has also likened homosexuality to bestiality and incest.
All of these statements and many others reveal how far the modern-day Republican Party has moved to the extreme political right on almost every issue. At one time, Republicans were the “Party of Lincoln,” where tolerance and respect for civil rights was a proud legacy of the father of the party. Former President Ronald Reagan – certainly no friend of the LGBT community – argued that the Republican Party should be a big tent where divergent points of view could exist together. Now, it seems, many Republicans believe that to be conservative means to attack and demean citizens who are “different” from the majority. It is somewhat ironic that the most moderate Republican candidate for president this year is a Mormon who once served as governor of Utah, Jon Huntsman. Huntsman supports civil unions for same-sex couples and has decried some of the more outlandish views of some of his Republican competitors, especially Perry’s hostility to the scientific evidence of global climate change and evolution.
Over the coming months, the political debate will likely become even sharper than it has been over the past few months. It seems that congressional Republicans will oppose anything President Obama does or says, even if his positions make sense. The president has probably been too acquiescent in his dealings with the right-wing Republicans who control Congress. Many Obama supporters would like to see the president fight back against the vicious and divisive agenda of the GOP. The next 14 months will give Americans a chance to evaluate the contrasts between the president and his opponents. Fair-minded citizens should remind the Republicans that all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and that public policy should be based on evidence and reason. The great threat to our nation today is high unemployment and economic stagnation, something that many Republicans seem to want to ignore in favor of social issues. Unfortunately, Republican intransigence during the debt-ceiling debate created an unnecessary crisis, and the resulting compromise may actually make our nation’s economic problems worse. Ultimately, the voters will decide who is most capable of leading this nation toward peace, prosperity, and unity in the years ahead. President Obama should now stand firm against Republican extremism, and work to advance a pro-growth, inclusive agenda for all of America’s citizens. If he does this, then America will be stronger than ever in the years ahead.
Human Rights Campaign’s information on the so-called “National Organization for Marriage,” a group supported by some of the Republican Presidential candidates:
President Obama’s statement in support of the Respect for Marriage Act, legislation that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act: