Today’s Courier Herald Column:
The Democratic National Convention is over, and Georgia’s delegates are making their way home from Charlotte. They return likely energized to support the re-election of President Obama, but to a state that is most likely going to remain solidly in Republican hands for this election, and likely the next few. Whether and when Democrats are able to be competitive relies not just on demographic shifts and failure or inaction of the Republican majorities, but on the Democrats becoming able to connect and identify with a majority of Georgians.
The Republicans march to the majority was aided by Georgians’ attitudes and values more closely mirroring that of the national party. Democrats will not be aided by this. Quite the contrary. While Georgians remain of a conservative mindset in both fiscal and social issues, the national Democratic party is trending away from these ideals.
Most of the openings Democrats will have over policy issues in Georgia could help self-identified fiscal conservatives realign their party ID. Republicans who are delivering tax cuts only to the well connected are allowing more populist minded voters to question whether current tax and appropriation policies are in the best interests of all Georgians or just the privileged few. The “no new taxes ever” pledges may eventually give Democrats who create a solid infrastructure or education investment plan to win over pragmatic minded voters who want to see specific improvements. Demographic shifts may aid these transitions as well.
Social issues, however, are likely to remain a problem that could easily delay a democratic re-emergence for several additional election cycles or more. While it is true that younger voters are significantly less likely to vote for a conservative social agenda, there are matters of degree that are not likely to be found in a majority of Georgia voters by the time the Governor’s mansion is next open in 6 years.
Voters this week saw a glimpse of true hostility toward religion in Charlotte during a vote to return a reference to God to the Democrats platform. The result of the voice vote (which appeared actually to fail) generated discernible boos. Democrats who like to smugly proclaim themselves the party of tolerance and diversity will need to come to grips with their own intolerance toward religion before they will approach statewide Georgian majorities any time soon.
It is one thing to argue for domestic partnerships and rights of same sex couples. It is quite another to equate eating a chicken biscuit from one of the state’s most beloved private employers as an act of hate because you disagree with the charitable gifts of the owner.
It is one thing to argue over what an insurance company is required to cover with regards to contraceptive and reproductive services. It is another giant step to require the Catholic Church to require them to distribute these services.
There are elements within the national Democratic party that have grown quite comfortable with being hostile to religion. As Georgia’s rural social conservative democrats have disappeared, the majority who remain align much more closely with the national party than at any point in recent memory.
Just two years ago, candidate Roy Barnes avoided President Obama during his visit to Atlanta. It was part of a time honored tradition of Georgia Dems ducking national party leaders whose images stood to the left of most Georgians.
Today, much to the chagrin of many rural and socially conservative Democrats, the state party is eager to embrace much of the national party’s talking points. While many of the party’s leaders lecture Republicans about being on the wrong side of history, Democrats actually on the ballot still understand the realities of elective office here. Barnes not only ducked Obama but also had an immigration reform plan to the right of many Republican plans in 2010. Mayor Kasim Reed remains silent on President Obama’s “evolution” on the gay marriage issue.
Georgia Democrats like to lecture Georgia Republicans on their need for ideological purity, especially on social issues. Yet these same operatives call for their peers to denounce Chick Fil A and expect full support for abortion rights – of which the newly adopted Democratic platform calls for taxpayer funding of abortion through the ninth month of pregnancy.
If Democrats want to represent the majority of Georgians, they’re going to need to understand where the majority of Georgians are on social issues. Even in Pennsylvania, a state with a significantly larger percentage of Democrats and with less social conservatives than Georgia, Rick Santorum wasn’t defeated until pro-life Bob Casey was the challenger.
Republicans, especially at the national level, often have to grapple with the internal struggle over principle versus competitiveness with respect to social issues. As Democrats eventually get closer to a majority in Georgia, they would do themselves a good service to have an honest debate over where they stand as a party, versus where the average voter stands.