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Extreme zeal vs. political savvy: Why Republicans are still losing

Monday, April 1, 2013 - 8:30 am

The two modern-day activist groups, Occupy Wall Street on the far left and the tea party on the far right, have to date accomplished very little real change in our government.

The tea party has fielded many candidates, and most have failed to win office. The most recent examples are Todd Akin of Missouri and our own Richard Mourdock, who made an excellent and qualified candidate. Both, however, went down in flames, cast a negative light on the Republican Party, and fostered no real change. Infamous and overzealous comments on abortion were to blame for their self-destruction.

Mitt Romney, a candidate with much less zeal toward the social issues and a moderate Republican, was forced to answer for their intense and unwavering fervor on the issue. Mitch Daniels would have preferred the Romney approach: Worry about the economy first, work out social differences later.

The failure of fringe groups like Occupy or the tea party to understand that there is a “fair-minded, independent middle” constituency is why they fail to implement any change or even get elected to office.

Tea partiers make great candidates on paper, fervent and unwavering in their beliefs, no-nonsense, religious and family oriented, highly likeable to those who agree with their views. I like tea party candidates, and usually agree with them on the issues. However, if they manage to get elected without making stark statements on abortion, they make lousy politicians. They are ineffective because they won’t budge, won’t compromise, won’t take baby steps to achieve their overall goal.

It is noble to stand firm on a belief, but in America there is an art to politics. Benjamin Franklin understood this, keeping his opinions to himself, even on secession, until the last possible moment.

In the recent movie “Lincoln,” Tommy Lee Jones portrays Thaddeus Stevens, an ardent and unwavering opponent of slavery. By the end of the movie, Stevens is depicted as understanding that in order to achieve the overall goal of outlawing slavery, he had to simply say, “I hold with equality before the law and nothing more.” Even though his true belief was that all races are equal. In essence, by taking a less zealous approach, Stevens achieved the same end.

A more recent example is Bill Clinton. Personal tendencies aside, he understood the art of politics, in his case, governing center-left in order to achieve his agenda.

Today the major issue that seems to be the “kiss of death” for Republicans is abortion. While the goal to outlaw abortion may be noble, the execution is all wrong.

I believe life begins at conception and ends at natural death. I formed this belief based on my Roman Catholic upbringing. I suspect most who are pro-life derive their beliefs similarly, from upbringing, religion or both. The First Amendment says, “No law can impede the free exercise of religion.” This should apply not just to the government but to the citizenry. Do we have the right to tell our neighbor how to worship? I think the answer is no.

When discussing political issues that will affect over 300 million people of different social, religious and cultural backgrounds, I find it prudent to remove all religious-based arguments. I find this personal policy justifiable not only because of the First Amendment, but also the Catholic saint, Thomas More. In the film depiction of the saint, he explains the primacy of “man’s law” over God’s law. When pressed to arrest a man who has broken a teaching of the Catholic Church, but not a law of England, he responds, “Go he should if he were the devil himself until he broke the law!” He continues to explain that if we eliminate every manmade law to get to the “devil,” there would be no laws left to protect us as men from other men, or “the devil” himself.

Much like sweeping tax reform, or health care reform, abortion cannot be outlawed overnight, if at all. The sloth-like speed of the system is actually a positive, set up intentionally to give issues proper review, checks, and balance. Small measures, or “baby steps,” can be taken to tighten the restrictions, and eventually achieve the same “end” that pro-life activists fight for every day. If done properly these measures can be implemented without convincing anyone that one religious belief or justification is dominant over all others.

In order to achieve some of these reforms on a national level, first, a representative must get elected. This can be done by not discussing rape and abortion as a central campaign theme. (Even if it is the candidate’s primary reason for seeking office. Unfortunately, we have bigger, non-social, issues that need our attention. Campaign on those).

Once elected, the menu of reasonable changes is extensive. We could outlaw any government funding of abortion, require all patients to see ultrasounds before undergoing the procedure and outlaw any late-term abortions. When Obamacare creates a single-payer Medicare system, we could fight for no abortions to be covered under that plan.

We could even take it a step further, and agree with President Obama that “children” should still be covered on their parents’ health plan up to age 26. But if that is the case, anyone 26 and under must get a parent’s signature before stepping foot in an abortion clinic. The art of politics in this example, is turning the president’s bad policy back around on him.

All the “baby steps” just mentioned are a means to limit and eventually outlaw abortion. They could be outlined in a campaign easily because they are not justified by a religious belief and do not sound like a fringe zealot attempting to force their views on the citizenry. Akin and Mourdock both came off as zealots, and they hurt the party.

Until the tea party (or any fringe group) takes a lesson in resolve from Thaddeus Stevens and a lesson in the art of politics from Benjamin Franklin, they will not succeed on anything on a national scale, be it tax reform, abortion, and in many cases, election to office.

Zach Bonahoom is a former Republican candidate for Fort Wayne City Clerk and host of the “Zach Bonahoom Show” Saturdays on WOWO radio.