Though the Republican Party enjoys a stranglehold on Tennessee politics, it has been interesting to watch the national GOP come to the collective realization that a growing number of Americans are entirely disinterested in making the party their political home.
Since the 2012 elections the question, "How do we stay relevant?" has been one that right-wing thinkers have grappled with. Most have offered suggestions about ways to "rebrand" or "restructure messaging" to help spur Republican wins in upcoming elections. The Republican Party can do all the repackaging it wants -- but without good policy, there is no amount of image-polishing the party can do to make today's GOP more palatable.
Historians may one day look back at 2013 as a legislative watershed year in the United States. From the halls of Congress to the Supreme Court bench, decisions have been made that will set the precedent for how we live -- and what rights are enjoyed by which people -- for generations to come.
This is also a monumental time for the Party of Lincoln, for in the midst of such incredible national decision-making, the Republican Party is simultaneously being forced to look inward and wrestle with questions of self-identity. Less pertinent, then, are questions about relevance, and more important are questions addressing inconsistencies between present-day party platform and core philosophical party principles.
The historical underpinnings of the Republican Party are, in my opinion, an extremely attractive set of political beliefs. Low taxes, limited government, and a fierce protection and celebration of individual rights have an appeal that transcends generational, racial, and socioeconomic boundaries. So, the image problem the Republican Party is experiencing today is not so much about marketing as it is about the misguided pursuit of flawed policy by party leaders.
The most glaring inconsistency between principle and policy is the unwillingness of the GOP to abandon its obstructionist posture, prohibiting the passage of marriage equality legislation. Most Republicans fail to grasp that being "for" or "against" same-sex marriage misses the mark entirely. What this issue boils down to is that government should have no authority to interject itself into the marriage business at all. If the national GOP was serious about individual rights and limited government, the consensus opinion adopted into the official party platform would be that folks should be able to marry whomever they choose, regardless of gender. Personal opinion and individual rights are mutually exclusive -- yes, even when it comes to gay marriage.
To acknowledge the constitutional rights homosexuals should be able to enjoy does not necessarily mean everyone has to like the idea of marriage equality. The same constitution that grants gay rights also affords people the right to oppose gay marriage on religious grounds or feel it is an abomination to the "natural order." Whatever. What that constitution does not do, though, is give certain people the authority to enact discriminatory policies against any other people. And this is where the Republican Party is finding trouble nowadays. Blatant hypocrisy is a tough thing to sell. If the party wants to be taken seriously as defenders and promoters of small government principles, their rhetoric needs to match their voting record.
In a political world that is primarily concerned with winning the next round of elections, the rarest of birds are those who consider the long run. Sure, every election is important. But, without a wholesale return to fundamental individualist principles, the Republican Party will continue to find it increasingly difficult to compete in years to come. Good policy trumps slick packaging any day, and dismantling one of the last bastions of state-sanctioned discrimination is a great place to start.
For his work in the nonprofit sector and on area political campaigns, David Martin was the recipient of the 2013 "Civic Impact Award" by the Young Professionals Association of Chattanooga. He is also a recent graduate of Leadership Chattanooga.