A ‘malignant weapon’. That was the phrase used by a friend of mine — a national TV host who inclines toward Republicans but this year voted Democrat, to describe how Republicans use religion. “Why has religion made Republicans harsh. Shouldn’t it give them a soft heart?”
The congressional campaign I ran was based on the idea that the economic malaise in America was due to a values erosion. So long as we obsess over abortion, gay marriage, and contraception to the exclusion of any other values, we cannot fix our problems. I ran to start the process of replacing the austerity of some of the Christian social values, which have defined the GOP for decades, with the positive and life-affirming values of Judaism.
I also knew, from my many lectures before women’s groups, that the sexual obsession that has come to define Republican social values could cost the GOP the election. At the start of my campaign, one Republican leader told me, “Americans want to hear about the economy, not values issues.” He was right. But little did he realize that extremist social values rhetoric would wound Republicans. There is now a consensus that the GOP’s alienation of women due to the social sexual obsession, as well as the alienation of Latinos due to their position on immigration, did incalculable harm to the GOP.
Here is what confuses me about Republican Jewish donors. They give the party their money when their values are probably even more relevant at this juncture. Why do those Jews who support the party generously not clamor for a greater infusion of Jewish values that would change the conversation away from values that alienate to values that inspire?
I care about the Republican Party because of its strong emphasis on the dignity that comes from economic opportunity and self-reliance, a robust foreign policy that holds dictators accountable for slaughtering their people, its emphasis on school choice, and strong support for Israel. And anyone who cares about the party knows that it can no longer postpone a serious reexamination of its sexual values obsession. My great teacher, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, advocated a ten point plan for people to start leading more spiritual lives. Only one of those ten was about sex, namely, the laws of Jewish family purity. That’s ten percent focus on sex. But the Republican trifecta of abortion, gay marriage, and contraception, is one hundred percent about sex. How strange is that?
And for those Democrats who are gloating about the Republican loss, with all due respect, at least the Republicans are trying to highlight moral issues, even if they’re misguided. The Democrats do not offend with their values because, with the exception of economic values issues, they barely discuss the subject. Here, then, is what the GOP must do to rebuild itself.
1. Repudiate the religious extremists who are obsessed with abortion, rape, and sex. If candidates want to speak about legitimate rape or divinely-sanctioned rape, let them do so from an asylum. Not as official representatives of the Republican Party. If they want to obsess over sex and reduce all of America’s greatness to a trifecta of social sexual obsession, they can. They can create the “All-sex-all-the-time Party.” But get this conversation out of the GOP. The Republican Party represents more than opposition to abortion, gay marriage, and contraception. Judaism, for the record, allows contraception, believes that sex is for intimacy and pleasure as well as procreation, and has a far more lenient position on abortion than Catholics or Evangelicals. And since the Christian position on abortion is based on the Hebrew Bible, specifically Exodus 21:22, the time has perhaps come for Christians to look to the Jews for a different understanding of this text.
2. Preach positive inspirational values that lead to altruistic citizenry. Bring the values conversation out of the bedroom and show Americans you’re prepared to talk about values in the boardroom and the living room. Stop talking exclusively about gay marriage and focus on saving heterosexual marriage. Make marital counseling tax deductible. Pass legislation creating a year of national service so America raises generations of more altruistic youth. If the Republican argument is that Democrats are winning elections because they have become the ‘Free Stuff Party,’ then counter by making the GOP into the ‘Serve America’ party. Embrace and co-opt the JFK’s credo of asking more about what we can give to our country rather than take from it.
3. Embrace the Biblical Teaching of Loving the Stranger. No one should come into this country by breaking the law. But there might be something personally virtuous in a man or woman who steals across the Rio Grande at great risk to feed their babies and send money back to poor families. America has to stop illegal immigration. But that doesn’t mean it has to demonize illegal immigrants. We need to distinguish between those who steal into our country to blow up buildings and those who come in because they regard America as a land of opportunity. Stop ignoring the twelve million undocumented workers who form a shadow economy and who are not paying taxes while benefiting from living here. Mass deportation is unrealistic and immoral. Penalize them for having broken the law, but give them a path to remain here and contribute.
4. Focus on legal immigration from Latin American countries, as opposed to Europe. As my friend Robert Goldbaum, who was a Romney surrogate, told me, Latin American immigrants want to come to America because they love its opportunities and want to work. This is different from the entitlement-addled economies of Europe whose immigrants are used to, and expect, government programs. Latino immigrants are deeply in sync with American values of hard work and entrepreneurship. The Republican Party should be taking the lead in pushing for far higher quotas for Latino immigrants as opposed to other regions.
5. Show the black community that Republicans understand the history of adversity African-Americans have faced. There is little chance that many African-Americans will vote Republican right now. But it makes no difference. The Republican Party should undertake a grand gesture to give the lie once and for all that it is a party insensitive to black concerns. This is, after all, the party of Lincoln. The Republican house should sponsor a bill for the construction of a monument on the national mall commemorating the greatest American evil of all, namely slavery, to demonstrate Republicans are attuned to African-American history and suffering. But while we commemorate the past, we move forward to the future. The Democratic Party often takes the Black community for granted, as I saw in my own race where my challenger did not even turn up for the NAACP candidates’ forum. President Obama skipped the NAACP convention as well. Drive home Republican emphasis on school vouchers and how the Democratic Party has caved to the teacher’s unions to put teacher tenure before children’s education. In my campaigning, most African-American parents whom I met strongly supported vouchers, charter schools, and school choice.
6. Women, women, women, and more women. Destroy the myth that the Republican Party is hostile to women. According to Gallup, the 20-point gender gap in this presidential election set an all-time record. Republicans should stop obsessing on the uteruses of young women and instead pledge to reduce abortion by focusing on the Guttmacher Institute’s data that 85% of all abortions take place outside of marriage. Strengthen marriage, educate men to respect women, and you’ll automatically and significantly reduce the number of abortions. Stop making this a legal battle.
7. Have more kids. For a party that so strongly opposes abortion, we sure aren’t having enough kids. People believe the Republican Party is the rich people’s party. This is an unfair and inaccurate characterization. But what is certainly true is that while immigrant communities (most of whom vote Democrat) continue to have large families, those who are better off economically have fewer children, statistically. Stop complaining about immigrants. The more Americans the better. But the growth of the indigenous population, of people reared from birth in this great nation, is just as important.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach