For several elections going back to the 1980s, Republicans held the whip hand on many hot-button social issues: “God, guns and gays,” as well as abortion, crime, patriotism, illegal immigration and welfare. In the 1988 presidential election, Vice President George H.W. Bush demolished Michael Dukakis and Democrats by labeling them “soft” on crime. During the late 1990s Democratic politicians couldn’t run away from the gun issue fast enough, and you barely knew any who spoke to the illegal immigration mess other than calling for higher fences.
Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s “brain,” devised numerous spurious state ballot initiatives such as anti-flag burning and anti-gay marriage amendments to ramp up turnout among Christian conservatives in 2000 and 2004.
Suddenly Democrats are the ones on the right side of social issues. What happened?
To start, numerous polls now show large majorities of Americans — from 65 percent to 80 percent — demanding universal background checks to purchase guns, wanting some kind of path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants and favoring higher taxes on the wealthy. Fifty-four percent approve of legalized abortion in most cases; and 58 percent say gay marriage and 54 percent say legalized pot is okay by them. Atheists and the religiously unaffiliated now make up 20 percent of the population.
Surely generational rotation has something to do with this as younger voters more comfortable with these issues replace older, more conservative ones. But also progressive changes often take decades to be adapted as Americans of good will eventually come to common sense terms with their initial uneasiness and even hostility.
America appears to remain less progressive than it actually is because of the over-representation of conservative viewpoints in Congress. For instance Democrats actually won 1.4 million more votes in congressional races in 2012 than Republicans but because of grossly gerrymandered House districts in GOP-controlled states the country is subject to a dysfunctional lower house in the clutches of 50 tea party fanatics.
As to the Senate, the 14 states with two Republican senators represent about 24 percent of the nation’s population but account for 28 votes. The 19 states with two Democratic senators or an independent caucusing with them represent about 42 percent of the population but have only 38 votes. The other 17 states have one Democrat or an independent caucusing with them and one Republican.
So if Senate votes were allocated by population, Democrats would control a near filibuster-proof 59 votes to the Republicans 41.
I’m not suggesting changing the Constitution providing for two senators from each state, but between the tectonic changes on social issues and actual popular votes it’s time to discard that hackneyed myth this is a center-right nation.
If conservatives would acknowledge their positions on everything from constitutional theory to intelligent design and abortion to homosexuality are plainly personal opinions and not the universal verities they allege, the political dialogue could once again become civil. It’s simply not possible to negotiate with absolutists who claim to own the truth.
Marty Moore is a freelance writer living in Port Richey.