It's hard out there for a culture warrior. Every time an opponent of same-sex marriage does an interview these days, one of the first questions is, "Isn't your side on this issue doomed to failure?" They're even getting a cold shoulder from their own allies; after years of bashing hippies and wielding "God, guns, and gays" to great electoral effect, the leadership of the GOP would rather talk about anything else. And now it's Democrats who are happy to stoke the cultural fires, secure in the knowledge that the majority is on their side.
Let it not be said that the GOP doesn't know it has a problem. As Senator Lindsay Graham said last year, "We're not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term." And in the November election, that became vividly clear. Mitt Romney lost Latino voters by 44 points, Asian-American voters by 47 points, and voters under 30 by 23 points. So in the months since, the Republicans have been racking their brains to come up with ways to appeal to voters who do not happen to be older white men.
One of the main reasons so many members of Congress become lobbyists after they leave office is that there just aren't that many high-level opportunities available to them where they can use what they learned in office. After you've spent a bunch of time learning the ins and outs of Congress, and somebody's willing to pay you half a million dollars a year or more to put that knowledge to use, it seems to make a great deal of sense. But what if at the end of your political career, you've become, to most people, a laughingstock? And what if you're not a lawyer, so you can't practice law, and you're known for being erratic, so no one would hire you to run their interest group, and in truth you really have no marketable skills at all? Then you're in a quandary, which is where Sarah Palin found herself four years ago. And you have to hand it to her: she fashioned a post-campaign career that manages to continue on no matter what setbacks she encounters, from getting her reality shows cancelled to getting dropped by Fox News.
If you want to produce change, make politicians as terrified as this sandwich. (Flickr/Sakurako Kitsa)
As the effort to enact new gun legislation hobbles along, liberals have noted over and over that in polls, 90 percent or so of the public favors universal background checks. In speaking about this yesterday, President Obama said, "Nothing is more powerful than millions of voices calling for change." Then Jonathan Bernstein explained that opinion doesn't get political results, what gets results is action. I'd take this one step farther: what gets results is not action per se, but action that produces fear. I'll explain in a moment, but here's part of Bernstein's argument:
In the 1930s and '40s, George Murphy appeared in a number of movie musicals. He later became involved in politics, first as president of the Screen Actors Guild, then as chairman of the California Republican Party, and finally as a U.S. Senator. When Murphy took office, the idea of an entertainer serving in the Senate was outlandish enough that satirist Tom Lehrer wrote a song about it. "Oh gee it's great," Lehrer sang, "at last we've got a senator who can really sing and dance!" A year later, Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California, and suddenly it wasn't so funny anymore.