The Tax Day Tea Party protests were more significant to American political culture than I originally thought. I wrote off the ridiculously costumed crowd as angry huddles of eccentric fringe conservatives, but it turns out that the Tea Party Protest represented a larger, more serious political problem.
The political spectrum is becoming increasingly polarized due to an interesting shift in American culture. Throughout the Clinton and Bush Eras, the major concerns of Americans were the social policies of our politicians. Politicians’ stances on the elimination of abortion in society determined, in many cases, whether a politician was warmly received by the public.
In the 1980s there was a marriage between Christians and Republican politicians. Since then, Republicans have greatly benefited from the service of Christians. In exchange for touting “societal morals,” Christians dutifully came to the voting booths in droves to support Republican politicians. To a large extent, these Christian Republicans are the reason behind the Republican reign in the 1990s.
More recently, Christians like myself have come to the conclusion that it is difficult for followers of Christ to support the ideas of either political party entirely. A Christian can’t, with a clear conscience, advocate on behalf of abortion rights, but in the same way no Christian should ever support policies that marginalize the poor. Thomas Merton once wrote, “We must never overlook the fact that the message of the Bible is above all a message preached to the poor, the burdened, the oppressed, the underprivileged.” Our God is the God of the poor, foremost.
Since President Obama has been in office, political debate has focused on government fiscal policies. It’s a welcome shift. But where once social concerns like abortion polarized America, the fiscal policies are just as divisive. Democrats believe that the stimulus package and programs supporting the poor are necessary, while the majority of Republicans believe that these liberal fiscal policies are ruining America.
What I find interesting is that President Obama’s stimulus package is not based on socialist or even liberal ideas; it’s based on Keynesianism. The basic idea of Keynesian theory is that the government should save money when the economy is strong, and the government should spend money to stimulate the economy when the economy is weak. Nevertheless, the majority of Republicans ignorantly label everyone who supports the stimulus package efforts as Socialists, and so did the Tea Partiers.
The thousands of Tea Partiers who came out to protest in hundreds of cities across the United States — and those who think like them — are the only Republicans left. That’s why Arlen Specter had to leave the Republican Party Tuesday. He said, “Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats.”
The fact that so many people shifted to the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania made it difficult for a moderate Republican politician like Specter to have a chance in Republican primary. The tea-sipping Republicans won’t vote for center-right politicians who might be useful to balance out the ideas coming from the Democratic Party.
The massive change in Pennsylvanian voter registration reveals a larger ideological shift in America as well. According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll released April 24, only 21 percent of Americans polled consider themselves Republicans. This is the moment in American history of the Obama Big Tent.
As Republicans have become more extreme in their political tactics and rigid ideology, the American public has shifted closer to the center. Those remaining in the Republican party are the fringe conservatives who will only re-elect those Republicans who support their rigidly conservative ideology. People like Arlen Specter, who agree with some Democratic policies and some Republican policies — like myself and the vast majority of the American people — have no place in the Republican Party.
Sen. Olympia Snowe, a Republican moderate like Sen. Specter, said Tuesday, “On the national level of the Republican Party, we haven’t certainly heard warm, encouraging words about how they view moderates, either you are with us or against us.”
The New York Times goes on to report that “She said national Republican leaders were not grasping that ‘political diversity makes a party stronger and ultimately we are heading to having the smallest political tent in history for any political party the way things are unfolding.'”
My political leanings, and the 200,000 Democratic converts in Pennsylvania, rest in the openness of the Democratic ideology. I know that I can be a Democrat while retaining some conservative ideas. The emerging Republican Party is all or nothing, and as a result we should expect more moderate Republican politicians and free thinkers to begin changing the letter after their names too — to the detriment of our public discourse and evenness of the political debate, I am sad to say.
Stephanie England is an English junior and Mustang Daily political columnist.