Despite the usual debate over gun policy, we seem to be on track for more of the same. This would represent a squandered opportunity for Republicans, despite New York’s Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg calling for President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney to take a stance on gun control. (Obama spokesman Jay Carney emphasized Obama’s support for the second amendment, while Romney on Monday reiterated that he saw no need to renew the federal ban on assault weapons, which expired in 2004).
Indeed, few political leaders today are willing to limit gun rights, largely due to the disproportionate power of the NRA’s 4.3 million members. In addition, adds Adam Winkler of UCLA Law School, those favoring gun rights can be galvanized to vote on this single issue, while those favoring gun control view this issue as one of many. The result according to Steve Schmidt, a senior Republican strategist, is that “Politicians go to the NRA, Democrats and Republicans, and they basically read a script which is not much different from a hostage video.”
Meanwhile, we Americans rationalize away the blood and gore. “The fact of the matter is, there are magazines, 30-round magazines, that are just common all over the place, and you simply can’t keep these weapons out of the hands of sick, demented individuals that want to do harm,” Mr. Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, told “Fox News Sunday.” “And when you try and do it, you restrict our freedoms.”
What has been overlooked, however, is the longer term political risk of not taking on the gun lobby. Especially for Republicans. And nowhere are those longer term risks better illustrated than the decline of the California Republican party, which not so long ago gave America the Republican icon, Ronald Reagan. Today, however, only 30% of state voters call themselves Republican, leading Kevin McCarthy, the number three Republican in the House of Representatives, to admit: “We are at a lower point than we’ve ever been.”
California has long been the forerunner in national trends – and may prove to be the forerunner here, too. Significantly, the Republican decline in California parallels that party’s escalating intolerance against Latinos, gays, feminist women, blacks, and Muslims. As Schmidt told the New York Times, “When you look at the population growth, the actual party is shrinking. It’s becoming more white; it’s becoming older.”
Having lived in California in 1994, I vividly remember Republican Governor Pete Wilson pushing for Proposition 187, depriving illegal immigrants of state services amid a surging Latino population. The pro-187 argument was one of “fiscal responsibility” – why should we (read: white and patriotic) taxpayers pay for services consumed by illegals crossing our border?
I felt uncomfortable with the implicit racism; I felt uncomfortable with many Latinos serving as our waiters, domestics and farm workers, doing work that most of us privileged whites preferred not to do. I also vividly remember a one-time boss who blamed L.A.’s air pollution on Latinos because, to his thinking, not only were they flooding across the border; they were also driving cheaper, older cars which emitted more pollution. Remove Latinos, he thought, and California would go back to Beach Boys-style all-white bliss.
This Latino-immigrant bashing paralleled President Reagan’s refusal, amid talk of sin, to acknowledge AIDS, a disease devastating the gay community. Reagan’s silence on the disease lasted until the 1987, following the death of 21,000 Americans, including fellow movie star and friend Rock Hudson.
Nor did Republican homophobia end there. In 2008, the California Supreme court legalized gay marriage – only to have that ruling overridden mostly by Republican “conservatives” and their allies in the Catholic and Mormon church leadership. Once more, Proposition 8’s passage proved a short term conservative victory, but a long term danger to the party as gay voters increasingly pulled the Democratic lever.
Nor have we yet considered the 13.6% of Americans who are black – and who have been marginalized by the Republican “Southern strategy.” It was thus no surprise that, responding to attacks on “Obamacare” and decades of thinly disguised racism, NAACP delegates recently booed Mitt Romney. Similar extremist pressures have recently exploded in Islamophobia, directed at our “secret Muslim” President. Amid a steady disinformation campaign, by 2010 nearly one fifth of Americans believed Obama to be a secret Muslim, with over one third of conservative Republicans believing this falsehood – that number doubling from the previous year, according to the Pew Research Foundation.
Nor has political Islamophobia targeted only the President. Within the past two weeks, it has been directed at Huma Abedin, a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. (Interestingly, Abedin is married to former Congressman Anthony Weiner, their interreligious marriage undoubted proof of how “terrorist” Muslims are taking over the U.S. by marrying that other equally “conniving” group, the Jews. In this telling, a Muslim-Jewish alliance to subjugate God-fearing Christian Republicans seems to be developing – who’d have thunk it? Equally interestingly, Ms. Abedin is allegedly working on behalf of the conservative Muslim Brotherhood, whose ranks exclude women – including her).
Backed by four other Congressional Republicans, Rep. Michelle Bachmann, winner of the Republican Iowa straw poll for President, sent letters to no less than five federal agencies, demanding they examine how Muslims are subverting American foreign policy. Yes, Republican leaders including Sen. John McCain, have pushed back strongly. But isn’t the long term Republican trend towards exclusion?
And here is the same catch Republicans have fallen into whenever they have targeted an out of favor minority for short term political gain: the American Muslim population is growing rapidly. By 2030 – in a single generation – Muslims are projected to number 6.2 million, – or 1.7% of all Americans, according to the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life. And with those numbers, due largely to higher birth rates and high immigration from southeast Asia, come increased political clout. (By comparison, Jews now number about 2% of the population, and gays about 3%).
So with Muslims soon joining Latinos and gays, blacks and pro-choice feminists in heightened electoral clout, how will Republicans navigate their narrowing political landscape? Given their losses on so many other ethnic and social fronts, it behooves Republicans to make a successful foray in one area – perhaps by listening to their own Michael Bloomberg on gun control.
A good place to start might be to renew the ban on assault weapons.
True, a recent Gallup poll showed that only 44% of Americans wanting stricter gun control. But without restrictions, particularly on assault rifles, America will go through more tragedies like Virginia Tech and Columbine and Aurora. And once significant numbers of Americans become afraid, say, of going to the movies or going to college classes – America may well reach a tipping point, with these poll numbers also reversing. Americans will blame not only the shooters, but the cowardly political leaders who enabled them. And should Republican leaders continue to align on the “conservative” side of this social issue, they will be putting a finger in yet another GOP dike which, in time, will also crack wide open.
In the short term, fighting gun control and allowing the James Holmes of the world to murder more of us may be a winner. Long term, it will add to the shrinkage and demise of the Republican party. Do they really want to go there?By Joseph Hanania, Aslan Media Columnist