How much damage can culture warriors do?
Exciting news, everyone: Despite his Google problems, Rick Santorum is announcing his run for President today. That raises the Republican field to 95% batshit, which may actually be a new record, historically speaking, though then again that's iffy if you consider the Goldwater question. There are many ways Santorum is just going to make the current clusterfuck even worse, but one of them is that, now that Mike Huckabee's out of the game, Santorum is easily the one with the longest public record of claiming that contraception is the devil. As a rule, I tend to think that one should avoid hating on something used by 99% of the public, at least if one wants a career in politics. Santorum has hedged his bets on this—his public statements are all "THE PILL IS EVIL", but he voted with the Republican caucus in the past when it came to generic support for family planning. Of course, now that it's become mainstream and expected for Republicans to oppose family planning funding, I don't imagine he'll be able to pretend to be even remotely moderate on this issue.
I mention contraception in large part because it's an excellent stand-in for how far right the Republicans have gone in response to Obama winning the election. And how they've deliberately chosen to be out of touch and paranoid over the other available options. I have a mixed response to this. On one hand, I'm glad, because by concentrating their efforts on just the most paranoid, out-of-touch people in their base, Republicans are limiting their general appeal to voters. Most people just really aren't going to be as fully on board with a politics that is based solely on sex and race panic. I think most of us are too busy trying to get work and trying to get laid.
On the other hand, I'm concerned. Even if this stuff limits the actual Republican Party's viability, it has a way of infecting our discourse. The more people floating racist paranoia and going into full-blown sex panic, the more normal these things seem. A year ago, the idea that feminists had defend the right of women to prevent pregnancy was considered so far out there that people laughed at me when I said that we really had to be aggressive on this front. But now the idea that contraception is controversial is taking hold. And once something gets marked as "controversial", you start getting the problem of the centrist types who are more interested in keeping the peace than justice looking for ways to compromise, in the vain hope that it will calm down right wingers, when what it does is embolden them. If we start giving ground up on contraception, look for other incursions into basic rights to determine what your personal life looks like. I'll note that the section of my Bloggingheads with Michael Doughtery that got clipped by the New York Times was where we debating whether or not people should have a right to terminate relationships that aren't working out. (Technically, we were talking about divorce, but by implication, this is a system where people would also not have the right to avoid divorce by not marrying in the first place. If anything, I'd say the conservative distaste for cohabitation outstrips the distaste for divorce, by a long shot.) I can easily see divorce becoming "controversial" in the way that conservatives have managed to make contraception controversial.
All of this, of course, is about taking people's anger and worries and using that energy—much of which is rooted in economic concerns—to convince them to turn on their neighbors. The sheer amount of energy dropped by workaday Republican voters on being angry that someone else is having an orgasm, having a good day, speaking in their first language, talking on a cell phone, looking fly, or otherwise feeling pleasures that they disapprove of really leaves me feeling exhausted. But if all that energy is going towards hating your neighbors and trying to figure out how to make their lives suck more, then I suppose it's not going into thinking about the big picture of where this country is headed.
And this strategy is working really well on the base voters. I guess it remains to be seen if it has any impact on the country at large, or if it works mainly to marginalize Republicans.
Of course, even if this does result in long-term losses for Republicans, they can do a whole lot of damage on the way out, as we're seeing with the attempts to defund Planned Parenthood. They're trashing the joint on the way out the door.