Saturday, July 4, 2009

It's My Party and I'll Cry If I Want To

On Friday, July 3, 2009, AP news reported:

WASILLA, Alaska – Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin abruptly announced Friday she is resigning from office at the end of the month, a shocking move that rattled the Republican party but left open the possibility she would seek a run for the White House in 2012. [emphasis added]

This statement only confirms a sad truth that has been building for a long time: my party--the Republican party--is broken.

I have been a proud Republican all of my life. Formed in the 1850's by radical abolitionists, it is the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower, and Reagan--all men I greatly admire. I have been proud to champion its core ideals: free markets, military strength, personal freedom, fiscal responsibility, lower taxes and limited government.

In recent years, however, a rift has grown between the GOP and me. We're like roommates who started out as great friends with lots in common, doing everything together, only to end up coolly civil, each of us doing our own thing and not speaking much.

This rift isn't about how some so-called Republicans have become every bit the pork-happy spend-a-holics that their Democratic counterparts have historically been, although that pisses me off tremendously. Nor is it related to the party's apparent impotence in the face of the illegal immigration issue, although how a party that champions law and order can talk of extending "amnesty" to criminals who violate our borders is beyond me.

No, our point of contention has another very clear, identifiable source: religion. Specifically, the growing influence of religion on public--and especially Republican--policy. (My personal issues with religion, while certainly relevant to my feelings about the party, are too complex to address here. Look for that diatribe in another post.)

Sarah Palin is a perfect example of this. More specifically, the choice to bring her aboard as the Vice-Presidential candidate is a prefect example of this. John McCain was perceived as too moderate (I'm so tired of the word "maverick"), and so the party sought to "balance" the platform with someone who would cater specifically to the religious right. Self-professed "hockey mom" Sarah Palin fit the bill perfectly. In an interview with Time magazine, Palin described herself as a "Bible-believing Christian." An ardent opponent of same-sex marriage, abortion and stem-cell research, Palin's social policies read like a pamphlet from the so-called "moral majority."

These antediluvian social policies lay false claim to some higher moral authority. Rooted entirely in Bronze Age religious bias, these views are not only nonsensical and un-Constitutional, they are--in my opinion--downright immoral. The abortion debate has been beaten to death, and I have no desire to re-hash it here. You either get it or you don't. But let me address the other two positions.

There is no provision in the Constitution which denies the right of marriage to couples of the same sex, nor should there ever be. Such an Amendment--designed to specifically *take away* rights from a given group of people--would be the first of its kind, and a travesty of American justice. Taking away someone's rights based solely on who they choose to love is as abominable as taking away their rights based on their gender or skin color--a fact which is patently obvious to all except those blinded by archaic religious mores.

Regarding stem-cell research, opposition to this breakthrough technology is possibly the most self-destructive, anti-science crusade since the Inquisition. Never would I have guessed that a group of modern human beings would so vehemently reject scientific advancement with such Dark Ages zeal. From "Letter to a Christian Nation," by Sam Harris:

Here are the facts: stem-cell research is one of the most promising developments in the last century of medicine. It could offer therapeutic break-throughs for every disease or injury process that human beings suffer—for the simple reason that embryonic stem cells can become any tissue in the human body. This research may also be essential for our understanding of cancer, along with a wide variety of developmental disorders. Given these facts, it is almost impossible to exaggerate the promise of stem-cell research. It is true, of course, that research on embryonic stem cells entails the destruction of three-day-old human embryos. This is what worries you.
Let us look at the details. A three-day-old human embryo is a collection of 150 cells called a blastocyst. There are, for the sake of comparison, more than 100,000 cells in the brain of a fly. The human embryos that are destroyed in stem-cell research do not have brains, or even neurons. Consequently, there is no reason to believe they can suffer their destruction in any way at all. It is worth remembering, in this context, that when a person's brain has died, we currently deem it acceptable to harvest his organs (provided he has donated them for this purpose) and bury him in the ground. If it is acceptable to treat a person whose brain has died as something less than a human being, it should be acceptable to treat a blastocyst as such. If you are concerned about suffering in this universe, killing a fly should present you with greater moral difficulties than killing a human blastocyst.

If the influence of religious faith was restricted to a small, inconsequential minority, it would be quaint, almost amusing. But considering the enormous momentum that the religious right has gained in the last two decades, and their significant influence on Republican party social policy, they have become downright dangerous. Anytime a group starts talking about limiting the rights of others with whom they disagree, red flags should go up in everyone's mind.

The Republican party needs to disentangle itself from the clutches of the self-righteous. If the party continues to cleave to the Bronze Age social order set forth in the Bible, it runs the risk of making itself irrelevant. It will become home only to crackpots and zealots, and it will force the American people--including otherwise conservative voters like me--to find representation elsewhere.

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