Can a political party that refuses to challenge the most vicious mischaracterizations of its views win at a national level? The Republican Party seems intent on finding out.
Opponents of Arizona’s entirely reasonable religious freedom proposal did everything they could to present allies of religious freedom as bigots. The New York Times editorial board claimed the bill was “A License to Discriminate.” Writing in USA Today, Kirsten Powers called the bill an “abomination.”
It was nothing of the sort. As Ryan Anderson of The Heritage Foundation explains, Arizona’s “controversial” bill brought the state’s existing protections of religious liberty into line with federal protections that had passed with overwhelming bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate and had been signed into law by President Clinton in 1993. The bill would have amended the 1999 state law to protect all citizens and the associations they form from undue burdens by the government on their religious liberty or from private lawsuits that would have the same result.
Put simply, it says nothing about my views of contraception that I believe Catholic nuns should not be forced to purchase it. Similarly, it says nothing about my views of homosexuality that I believe a photographer should not be forced to photograph a gay wedding.
The Republican Party–the allegedly conservative party–claims to stand for economic freedom. The 2012 Republican Party platform proclaims, “We are the party of maximum economic freedom and the prosperity freedom makes possible.” How is it consistent with the principles of economic freedom–that a worker should be free to set his own wage requirements–to say that government can force an individual to work a job that violates their personal religious principles?
Yet the rush to trample economic and religious freedom in an effort to save face with The New York Times was breathtaking. Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, who used to be one of the great champions of freedom before he became a Senator, said he hoped Gov. Jan Brewer would veto the religious freedom legislation. Sen. John McCain followed suit.
Three Republican state senators wrote, “While our sincere intent in voting for this bill was to create a shield for all citizens’ religious liberties, the bill has instead been mischaracterized by its opponents as a sword for religious intolerance. These allegations are causing our state immeasurable harm.” They urged Brewer to veto the legislation.
That is the current state of the Republican Party. If your most vitriolic opponents spend enough time perverting legislation meant to preserve your constituents’ freedoms, it should then be defeated so that the allegations might stop.
Do these Republican profiles in courage think the Republican Party came out of this episode looking better than it looked two weeks ago?
Arizona’s legislature passed a law. Its opponents were hysterical in claiming this law was based on animus towards homosexuals. Rather than standing up and articulating that while the GOP values the right of all individuals to love whomever they want it also values the right of all individuals to have diverse religious beliefs, the GOP accepted the premise that the bill was an attack on gays and lesbians and ran for the exits as quickly as possible.
The final bit of hypocrisy? A month ago, during the State of the Union address, Republican congressmen and senators rushed to be seen with Duck Dynasty star Willie Robertson. McCain, himself, waved up to Robertson from the floor of the House. Robertson, you see, was a celebrity that Republican voters had rallied around following controversial comments made by his TV co-star and father Phil Robertson.
When A&E suspended Phil, no conservative argued that government should coercively force them to reinstate him. No, A&E’s freedom was respected. Meanwhile, many Americans stood with Phil, and A&E responded to those market forces by voluntarily changing course. So it was easy for McCain to stand for the photo-op.
But will America’s elected Republicans protect the liberty of all Americans–A&E and the Evangelical Photographer–when it requires more than a handshake and photograph that could be used to rally the base back home? Will they actually work to pass legislation that advances religious and economic liberty? No, that might get you called names by The New York Times.
No wonder Americans are cynical about the Republican Party.
Michael A. Needham is the chief executive officer of Heritage Action for America (heritageaction.com).