Playing with fear

By Eric W. Rader

This year, the chasm between Democratic and Republican ideals is as large as it has ever been. In the race for president, the Republicans have put forward a field of candidates who are at the far right edge of the political spectrum. The four candidates remaining in the race -- Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul -- would all represent a giant step backward for women, minorities, the poor, middle-class people and most certainly LGBTs. All of these candidates have adopted positions on the issues that would reward the wealthiest in our society and marginalize almost everyone else. The candidates are all seeking to "out-conservative" each other in an effort to secure the nomination of their party.

Meanwhile, issues that should unify Americans have suddenly been turned into political footballs. The vast majority of Americans support reasonable medical services for women, including full and equal access to reproductive health options. Two weeks ago, Susan G. Komen for the Cure announced that it would withdraw its breast cancer screening grants to the Planned Parenthood Federation, because the family planning organization was under "investigation." However, this inquiry is actually a political witch-hunt being conducted by a right-wing Republican congressman who objects to Planned Parenthood's provision of abortion services. After an intense public outcry, Komen reversed its decision and announced that Planned Parenthood would not lose its existing grants and would remain eligible for future grant funding.

Michigan Senate race

The Republicans' cynical efforts to divide people is occurring right here in our own state. During last week's Super Bowl broadcast, Michigan U.S. Senate candidate Pete Hoekstra ran a racist and exploitive ad against incumbent Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow featuring a woman of Asian descent speaking in broken English. While Hoekstra and Stabenow have plenty of legitimate differences over the issues, Hoekstra used ethnic bigotry to criticize his opponent. Instead of having an honest debate, Hoekstra wants to play into the fears some people in Michigan's battered economy have regarding China.

Unfortunately, the Party of Lincoln does not have a moderate wing any more. The Democratic Party is quite diverse, and includes strongly liberal members as well as more centrist adherents. Up until about 30 years ago, the two major parties had enough sensible members that it was possible for them to compromise on issues and reach common ground. Republicans and Democrats were able to agree that politics stopped at the "water's edge," and advanced the foreign policy strategies and policies that preserved the peace (for the most part) during the 45-year Cold War. Liberal Democrats and moderate Republicans were at the forefront of the successful efforts to pass the civil rights legislation of the 1960s.

Today, Democrats and Republicans can achieve consensus on almost nothing. While usually in such stalemates both sides are at least partially at fault, today the reality is that the Republicans bear most of the blame. For many in the Republican Party today, every issue has become a litmus test for candidates. If they fail one test, they're drummed out of the party, and their opponents become mortal enemies.

In the aftermath of last week's appeals court ruling striking down an anti-gay marriage initiative in California, and Washington State's approval of equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians, Republicans will once again find an excuse to demonize LGBT citizens. This year's elections for president and Congress will set the course for this nation for the next generation, through the policies put forward by elected office holders and the judicial appointments made by the president. Those of us who care about equality need to be aware of the sharp differences between the two parties and work as hard as we can to educate our fellow citizens on what can happen if political radicals are elected to office. Reasonable people need to be part of the political process this year--the stakes have never been greater.

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