Guest: GOP’s focus on ‘values’ digs its own grave


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For years, the Republican Party was the party of morals and fiscal responsibility, themes that rang true with many Americans. Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush both promised to shrink the federal government and reset America’s moral compass. In the early 2000s, however, the party shifted away from the economic aspect of its platform and toward the indistinct, intangible characterization of “values.”

This shift has harmed the party and the country as a whole.

Shortly after Bill Clinton’s presidency ended, the party’s deterioration began, unseen. Many voters chose George W. Bush because he was seen as having “family values.” As vague as Reagan’s “beacon on a hill” rhetoric was, basing one’s image on “family values” is ridiculous. What does it even mean?

Nuclear or extended family? Did John Kerry and the Democrats not have family values? Basing the party on an idea this broad and ambiguous meant that the luster would inevitably tarnish.

The party continued throwing more eggs in the “values” basket and losing the image of fiscal responsibility. Voters were still used to the economic prosperity of the Clinton years, so penny-pinching in 2000 did not feel as relevant as it had in the early ’90s. Republican politicians attempted to form images of themselves as people with strong values and moral character. Focusing on forming this alabaster sheen is a main cause of the party’s downturn nearing the end of this decade.

Politicians and pundits routinely remark on how commenting on politicians’ personal lives is inappropriate and irrelevant. They say that ad hominem attacks are petty and distract voters from “the issues.” The GOP gave up its right to this defense when it made its members’ morality become synonymous with the issues.

Rep. Mark Foley, R-Flor., railed against child pornography and was then caught soliciting sex from young male pages. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., speaks out for prayer in schools and abstinence-only sex education, but he has been embroiled in a prostitution scandal. Unfortunately for the Party of Lincoln, the list goes on.

It is impossible to build a strong party on officeholders who dictate values for our lives but act at odds with these values. The American people are smarter than Karl Rove, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., like to think. Even if the GOP practiced what it preached, the views the party has come to embody are more about vote-getting sound bites than a vision for our country.

Look around. America is facing economic hardship, even though economists say the worst is over. Looking forward, our government is facing mounting debt. Republicans are becoming irrelevant, and Democrats are becoming lazy. Spirited, intelligent debate brought on by the party would galvanize Washington the way a two-party system is meant to. (The health-care discourse doesn’t count, because the Republican position of fearmongering and naysaying does not provide for intelligent debate.)

Rational Republican thought still exists, but it is drowned out by polarizing firebrands. Americans identifying with both parties will benefit from a stronger, more focused Republican Party.

Hopefully, the elephant has not forgotten.

Will Mattessich is a UI student and member of Hawkeyes for Progress.

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