I’m starting to wonder, am I becoming a social liberal? There is a growing sense that many other people are also asking themselves that question. Over time, public issues evolve and people’s attitudes change and the old labels often become obsolete.
Really, what is a liberal or a conservative? Can we continue to apply those labels to Democrats and Republicans?
Those of us over a certain age remember when the South was solid Democratic. To have imagined that Republicans would get elected in the South was so far-fetched that it never crossed our minds. Republicans were the party of Lincoln, the president who whipped the South into submission during the Civil War. After that, generations of Southerners voted Democratic — Republicans were almost non-existent.
At that time, our firm printed ballots for a lot of counties in Georgia. We always printed a few Republican ballots, just in case, but I suspect we could have not printed any and most counties wouldn’t have noticed because no Republicans existed.
And then it all changed. Within a handful of elections, the South became dominated by Republicans in public office. The old Democratic order, which had existed for over 100 years, simply faded away.
How dramatic was that? Consider that just a few decades ago, the Democratic Party was dominated by conservatives and was the party that had defended segregation in the South. Now it is the party dominated by liberal views and is where 97 percent of black voters cast their ballots. Nobody in 1965 would have predicted that.
Times do change and even the most ingrained attitudes shift. Another shift appears to be happening today, but this time within the Republican Party.
On two major social/political issues, attitudes among Republicans seem to be changing — those are gay marriage and immigration reform.
At first blush, that shift may seem to come from the butt-kicking the party got last November for the White House. While that may be part of the thinking among the party machinery, the changes seem to be more fundamental.
With immigration reform, the attitudes are moving to a softer approach. The hard-line “kick’em all out” view has lost favor over the last couple of years.
This nation isn’t going to do a Hitler-style roundup of illegal immigrants and haul them back across the Mexican border. We aren’t going to yank a child out of school who was brought here by their parents when they were babies. This nation would never accept such actions.
In a way, the heated anti-illegal immigrant rhetoric that had dominated the political discourse over the last decade backfired. The more people rallied and shouted against illegal immigrants, the more the public began to think about the issue. And many people began to look around them and realized just how ingrained these immigrants had become in their own lives. Ethically, a lot of people have decided they don’t dislike their friends and neighbors who happen to have come to this country illegally, or who overstayed their work permits so that their children could have a better life.
There are very practical aspects to the issue as well. If not for immigrants, who would pick the plants and lay the concrete in the nation? Certainly not many of those who grew up in this country and who are too lazy to do manual labor when they can live off welfare.
So a shift is happening that is leading toward some kind of eventual immigration reform coming from Congress. As many now realize, the only reason that we have “illegal” immigrants is because our own government’s immigration system is broken and flawed. Make it easy for people to come here to work and they won’t be “illegal” any longer.
For Republicans, there are political concerns as well. The party can no longer embrace the anti-immigrant rhetoric because that is driving Hispanic voters into the hands of Democrats.
The other big social issue that is shifting is the acceptance of gay marriage. Really, who cares who marries whom?
There are several parts to that issue. First, what do we mean by marriage? Is that a religious activity or a civil activity? No church would be required to marry anyone it doesn’t choose to marry, so why should the religious community really care?
The second change is the realization that gay people were born the way they are. They don’t have a choice about how they feel. Until recently, a lot of people believed that homosexuals chose that lifestyle, but that clearly isn’t the case in the majority of gay relationships.
And then there are the very real questions about legal rights in same-sex relationships. If the legal system is going to extend certain tax benefits and legal rights to heterosexual couples, how can it not also extend those same rights to gay couples? Nobody has been able to articulate a good argument for defending the current legal structure of marriage that excludes relationships other than heterosexual.
Republicans are looking at those two issues and starting to reconsider the politics involved. Democrats have done a much better job of “divide and conquer” politics. Dems have split the nation into groups, especially groups with which they can exploit a sense of victimization: Blacks, women, gays and youth. If Republicans lose the Hispanic vote again, the party will be toast on the national stage for a long time.
But these issues transcend politics. Attitudes do change with time. And while we often focus on the politics of illegal immigrants and gay marriage, those are fundamentally human issues that involve real people who for the most part are trying to live their own lives with a sense of dignity.
Ultimately, that is a powerful force to reckon with.
Mike Buffington is co-publisher of the Barrow Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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