Religious Liberty and Republican Opportunity

church and stateThe recent battles over religious liberty in Indiana and Arkansas demonstrate an ironic truth: that we are actually debating whether or not you can be forced to violate your faith in a country originally settled by people looking for the freedom to practice their faith.

Let that soak in for a minute.

The hysteria was truly something to behold. Liberals descended on Indiana and its politicians like flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz. Protesters stormed the state capital. Reporters ambushed flat-footed politicians and business owners. Corporations pontificated. Democrats huffed and puffed. Social media melted.

The source of all the fuss was passage of state-level versions of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, simply mandating that government must have a “compelling interest” to infringe on religion (a higher legal standard), and that it must use the “least restrictive” means possible whenever it does.

The federal version was probably the most bi-partisan, (nearly) unanimously passed law in modern American history (435-0 in the House and 97-3 in the Senate) and signed by Bill Clinton no less in 1993. Congress can’t generate that much bipartisan support for a resolution declaring water to be wet, but there it is, in all of its “hate mongering” glory.

The liberal claim is that such laws are just a tool to discriminate against gays, but the unavoidable fact is that allowing people of faith to decline to participate in something that violates their faith (like a gay wedding) in a country whose First Amendment guarantees the free exercise of religion is NOT discrimination. (And just how do you “discriminate” against an activity?)

As usual, the liberal hypocrisy was delicious. Democrat Governor Dan Malloy of Connecticut jumped to criticize and join a “boycott Indiana” movement despite having the same law in his own state. Many of the corporations who jeered the loudest do business in countries that not only lack religious freedom, but where women and homosexuals have NO rights whatsoever.

The Forces of Intolerance

Of course the media knew this, but chose to ignore it. Scalps had to be taken. The forces of “tolerance” now demand that government enforce their views on everyone else, and they eagerly engage in the public-relations lynching of anyone who disagrees. They have no “tolerance” for unconformity.

As Pat Buchanan put it years ago, “If we’re going to have tolerance in this country, then there has to be tolerance for the views of the majority”. But it’s truly amazing how far and how quickly things have degenerated. On the issue of gay marriage, we have gone from “just civil unions”, to so-called “marriage equality”, to “you WILL celebrate and serve” and “You will NOT publicly object”

Christian businesses are being sought out for legal retribution. Employees and even CEOs have lost their jobs simply because they contributed to referendums calling for the traditional definition of marriage. Individual supporters have even had their home addresses posted online to make organized harassment even easier.

It’s all straight out of Saul Alinksy’s “Rules for Radicals” liberal play-book: “Rule 12 – Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.”

Sound familiar? They’re working to isolate religious conservatives – particularly evangelical Christians – and marginalize them and make them toxic to others in order to chill public advocacy and philanthropy on their behalf. To make it difficult for them to live their faith and openly operate in polite society or even earn a living.

Republican Opportunities

You really have to wonder when Democrat leaders will get a little worried about their minions taking this whole anti-religion thing too far, considering the fact that religious Americans have been leaving their party for years (most recently including white Catholics). But if the party whose national delegates booed having a reference to God in their platform in 2012 wants to officially become the anti-religion party, Republicans should help them by reminding pro-faith Americans every chance they get.

The point is that religious liberty is an incredible political opportunity for Republicans, if we will learn how to make the most of it. Lesson one is to know how to talk about the issue. And lesson two is to actually talk about it. Often.

We need to recognize that liberals have won their major political battles by turning someone into a victim and winning the sympathy of Americans in the political mushy-middle. The media pounces, businesses cringe and politicians cave. It’s a familiar pattern. But now we have the opportunity to turn the tables and use the same tactic to great effect by framing the debate around our own victims.

Republicans should remember that polls show a clear majority (over 70% in the latest Rasmussen poll) favoring the rights of Christian business people to live out their faith in the course of their business and not be made to choose between their faith and their livelihood.

They should remember that tens of thousands of Americans responded with over $840,000 in less than 48 hours for a small pizzeria when it was threatened by the liberal grievance machine. How many politicians who trip over themselves to chase donors are paying attention?

They should remember that religious conservatives are their most loyal supporters, and that the estimated forty to fifty million unregistered and/or nonvoting evangelicals on the sidelines are the largest untapped reservoir in American politics. But they have to be engaged on an emotional level.

The Republican platform should continue to stand for traditional values and liberty, and grassroots conservatives should organize to reject the certain coming attempts to water down its support for the traditional definition of marriage. If that happens, we lose. Which is precisely why the liberal media will beat the drum for it next year

Elections are about math. They’re about addition and the leverage (or multiplication) you get when your base is fully engaged and truly energized. In 2008 and 2012 that wasn’t the case. The opportunity for Republicans in 2016 is clear. If religious liberty isn’t a political hill for Republicans to fight and win on, then no such hill exists.

***

Let’s be clear, for people of faith, “religious liberty” is quickly becoming the “OK, take the culture and the country and just leave me alone” position. It’s the last stand. There’s really nothing else to lose after that. It’s the terms of our surrender in the culture war. The place where we hope to make a stand and then grow and regroup for the future.

In a way, it’s kind of the same position that the original American pilgrims had. They gave up trying to live their faith at home, so they left home and came here. And several hundred years later, here we are, but with no “new world” to go to.

The other side will never accommodate. It’s time to fight or else.

Lessons from the Obama Backlash

nopeNow that Election Day is behind us (unless you live in Louisiana), a few lessons and observations from the Obama backlash…

Obama Was the Issue

At the risk of demonstrating a keen grasp of the obvious, Obama was THE issue in this campaign. Republican campaigns were like the gun store with the “Salesman of the Year” poster of Obama over the counter. And he was making the cash register ring.

Liberals tried to suggest that 2014 was an “election about nothing”, but that’s because it was all about their guy, his agenda and the big government that comes along with it. Obama was such an issue that many Democrat candidates wouldn’t admit to voting for him, or even that they supported him and his policies – to which Obama quickly reminded everyone that, yes they did.

Leave it to a narcissist to confirm that it was all about him.

The results speak for themselves. Democrats even lost in deep blue states like Maryland and Illinois…a few of the places where Obama actually dared to campaign. In a happy bit or irony, half of the Senate Democrats who voted for Obamacare are now gone.

If you accept (as Democrats suggested) that Obama had a mandate for “Hope and Change” after the 2008 election, you have to admit that it’s as gone as a goose in winter now.

Republicans Still Need to Define an Agenda

In 1994 Republicans successfully nationalized the off-year elections around an issues based agenda. It worked spectacularly. Then in 2010 and now they succeeded simply by “not being Obama”, which tells you something about how popular Obama is with voters.

But that won’t be enough in the next election. Democrats will continue to run away from Obama like scalded dogs because his ineptness has given the big government their agenda needs such a bad name that they will eventually need to throw him under the bus. That goes double for the next Democrat presidential nominee.

Remember, for liberals, government is never the problem. It is always that someone is just “not doing it right”, or it just needs a little more of your money. The success of their agenda always takes priority, even if that means violating politically correct “ethics” and blaming a guy who happens to be the first black president.

The best way to put forward a national governing vision is to start legislating now, not simply sit back and leave defining an agenda up to the next Republican presidential nominee.

2015 offers the GOP the perfect opportunity to use Obama as a foil to define what they are, and what Democrats are by way of their opposition. They need to demonstrate just who the problem is by piling bill after bill on Obama’s desk – including a repeal of Obamacare – and make him have to keep switching veto pens because they run out of ink.

Gridlockamageddon is Coming!

You think you’ve seen gridlock? You ain’t seen nothing yet baby. You can almost hear it now, the copious wailing and gnashing of teeth in the media and the DC political class about more gridlock and obstruction now that Republicans run both the US House and the Senate.

Even in defeat, Harry Reid set the table with his “congratulatory” statement, saying, “The message from voters is clear: they want us to work together”. Really? If voters wanted a Congress that would “work with Obama”, they must need glasses or they would have voted to put Democrats in control. Instead they voted for Republicans who made it quite clear that they opposed Obama, Obamacare and Obamanomics, and would work to rein him in.

In other words, they voted for what the media will call obstruction and gridlock.

Have you ever noticed that “gridlock” or “obstruction” is usually defined as Republicans not giving Democrats what they want? But if it was gridlock for House Republicans not to work with Senate Democrats and a Democrat President, will it be gridlock for a Democrat President not to work with a Republican House and a Republican Senate? Don’t hold your breath.

The gridlock apocalypse is upon us!

Good Candidates Matter

Much has been made by political establishment types over suggesting that Republicans did well because they kept too many kooky conservatives from being nominated this year. They say the lesson is that when they pick the candidates, Republicans will prevail.

But the fact is that good candidates usually do well (or at least better) regardless of the political environment or what they believe. Being a good candidate who can effectively communicate is divorced from “what” is being communicated, (see: Barack Obama, Bill Clinton).

Republicans fielded high-quality candidates in most races this year, and it clearly made a difference. But don’t let anyone suggest that conservatives don’t make good candidates. Just look at Joanie Ernst in Iowa, and Ben Sasse in Nebraska, both supported by Tea Party conservatives. (See also: Scott Walker, Tim Scott, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, etc.)

It’s just a fact of life that there is large group of people in politics who just want to win, and they and their money gravitate towards quality candidates who look like they can. If conservatives start spending real time focusing on identifying the best candidates to run up and down the ballot in 2016 and start coalescing around them, odds are more of those fence sitters will come along for the ride.

***

Enjoy the win…but start getting ready for the next fight.

Shutdown follies – and what Republicans should do

Congress - shutdownWhat if they threw a shutdown and nobody noticed?

Despite Obama’s best efforts and dire warnings of what would happen if Republicans didn’t give him what he wanted, 80% of Americans in the latest AP poll say they’ve felt no impact from the shutdown.

The problem Democrats have is that the shutdown only impacts a small part of the budget, since debt payments, Social Security and Medicare are all mandatory spending. That’s why Obama has been reduced to ruining family vacations by ordering the National Park Service to “close” access to otherwise open-air monuments.

Another problem is that Democrats are becoming the political equivalent of the “boy who cried wolf”. Remember the sequester hysteria less than a year ago? There was almost as much hype over it as Y2K, and yet we’re all still here.

So, after all of the dire predictions of political oblivion for Republicans if they didn’t cave in, where are we?

A higher percentage of people do say they blame the GOP for the shutdown, but not nearly as many as during the last shutdown in 1995. And the latest “generic ballot” poll from Rasmussen shows both Republicans and Democrats pulling 40% in terms of “who would you vote for” if an election were held today.

Not to be lost in the shuffle is the fact that Obama’s approval rating in the latest AP poll is down to a record low of 37%, and a majority disapprove of his performance on the budget, (you probably missed that, right?).

So yes, there’s blame to go around. No it’s not apocalyptic. And yes, it’s also hurting Democrats too – especially Obama.

2013 is nothing like 1995.

Almost twenty years ago the “Big 3” networks, The Washington Post and The New York Times had about twice the audience as they do today. All we had was Rush. Now there’s an entire constellation of conservative talk-radio hosts, along with Fox News, a thriving network of websites, social media and the Tea Party. It’s also worth pointing out that Clinton’s approval numbers stayed above 50% during the last fight, unlike Obama’s today.

In the grand scheme of things however, the government shutdown is really just a sideshow.

The big deal is the pending increase in the national debt limit, and the Democrats’ fight to keep the GOP from using it as a way to force spending cuts. Democrats have to stop this as a matter of long term strategy since these limits will be coming up pretty much annually for the rest of our lives, giving Republicans ongoing leverage over spending.

Obama has suggested that by not giving in to his demand for an unconditional debt increase, Republicans will cause Americans to “run out on our tab” at the world’s financial buffet. But, as Mark Steyn noted recently, we don’t run out on our tab, we just never pay it off – which is the reason we have to raise our debt limit about one trillion dollars every year.

The good news for Republicans is that what’s good for the country is also good for the GOP politically. Here’s a little unsolicited advice:

Keep the focus on Obama and his unwillingness to negotiate. Make him look unreasonable.

Take “default” off the table. Pass a short-term debt extension to move the focus back to the budget, Obamacare and the fight over the shutdown. This would preserve leverage to come back and take another bite out of spending later.

Focus on the failures of Obamacare. From escalating costs to jobs lost, it continues to be a ripe target. Point out that only government could spend over half a billion dollars building a website that doesn’t work. Even Wolf Blitzer is saying the administration should delay the individual mandate for a year in order to get its act together. Point out that if Obamacare is “the right thing to do”, it should also be right for members of Congress, the President and the bureaucracy.

Stick and move. It’s hard to hit a moving target, so keep passing small bills funding sympathetic pieces of government, and letting Democrats reject them. Again, make them look unreasonable.

Focus on the spending and the debt. Americans know government spends too much and a large majority actually oppose raising the debt limit. 53% want major spending cuts as part of any debt limit increase. Point out that we have increased our debt at twice the rate of growth in our economy over the last two years and have no credible plan to fix the problem.

Stick to conservative principles. The last thing Republicans need is a high profile fight where they cave in on principles at the end.

Don’t snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Strategic tips for the GOP in the debt limit fight

One of the most important elements in any type of conflict is to control the ground you fight on.  In politics, that usually means controlling the issues that will be discussed.  And for Republicans in the pending fight over the debt limit, that means taking the issue of defaulting on our debt payments off of the table and focusing on spending.

In our country’s fiscal wars there have been three major moving parts: 1) taxes, 2) spending and 3) borrowing.  Republicans don’t want tax increases and Democrats don’t want spending cuts, which left borrowing to finance the spending.  But now increasing payments on borrowing threaten to gobble future revenue for spending and mandate future taxes; which brings us the recurring battles over the debt ceiling.

Despite the tax hikes in the recent “fiscal cliff” deal, neither Obama nor any Democrats will publicly state that the rich are now “paying their fair share”.  They know that with the great unwashed, the politics of envy (AKA, jealousy) is always gold.

They also know that facing up to spending means facing up to reality, and facing reality means making choices, which will set some elements of the Democrats’ coalition at odds against each another.  If pretty much your entire political party is built out of constituent groups bought off with tax dollars, then you better keep the punch-bowl filled or the party’s over.

All of which means that this will be a fight for long-term political survival – where a lot of Republicans who supported the fiscal cliff deal (and it’s tax hike) try to get some of their anti-tax virginity back, and Democrats work to avoid cutting taxpayer subsidies to their political coalition.

Obama’s main weapon is his rhetoric.  He will attempt to control the terms of the debate to cower Republicans into keeping the spigot open by making Republicans look irresponsible for not wanting to borrow more money to pay back money we’ve already borrowed.  He will claim that Republicans are going to put the nation into default, and the media will enthusiastically carry his water.

What Republicans should do is simple:

First, have the House pass legislation directing the Treasury to pay all upcoming US debt payments via the first-fruits of all revenue.  The dirty little secret about this “default” business is that we collect more than enough revenue to pay our debts, it’s just that we spend so much more than we take in on everything else.

Second, when Reid and Obama reject option number one, have the House pass legislation authorizing the Treasury to sell bonds (raise the debt limit) for the specific amount of money relative to three-months of new debt payments.  At this point, default is no longer an issue.  Republicans will have taken action (twice now) to “pay our bills” as Obama says.  Now whether or not there is a default would lay squarely with Reid and Obama.

Third, (and in conjunction with the second item) announce that there will be no debt limit extensions for “new” spending (rather than debt payments) until Congress passes a budget.  Democrats have prevented passage of a budget for over three years because a lack of one locks in the high rates of spending growth that were part of the last budget in 2009.  They want the beast to keep growing on auto-pilot.

The argument for Republicans to make is that it is irresponsible to agree to further debt limit increases without an actual plan for how that future borrowed money would be spent.  This should be non-negotiable.  Once there is a budget, it could trigger another debt extension that would allow time for negotiations over entitlements, which are the real drivers of the debt.

Fourth, when negotiating on spending, propose something that almost eighty percent of Americans support (which is about thirty percent more than ever supported Obamacare) – across the board spending cuts.  After putting up with years of Democrats swinging the word “fair” like a club, it’s time for Republicans to do the same.  And Americans agree that “across the board” is “fair”.

Fifth, take a page from Obama’s playbook and include a demand that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the debate at hand: demand a one-year moratorium on new regulations…for the good of the economy.

The point of all of this is that it will leave Obama and the Democrats either putting us into default themselves, or agreeing to negotiate cuts in spending and give the GOP a boost on fiscal issues with the public.  This would alter the political playing field for the foreseeable future towards real reform and ground that Democrats don’t like.

By the time Obama leaves office, fifty percent of our country’s national debt from George Washington to today would have been pilled up under his administration.  That’s his legacy.

By focusing on the spending, Republicans can make him and the Democrats own it