Two recent expressions of right wing political thought illustrate an endemic, and I think, terminal, deficiency of the Republican Party. The first is the expensive, and appropriately ridiculed advertisement by an organization calling itself the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), and the second is the recent attempt to galvanize the Republican faithful on tax day through national demonstrations under the umbrella heading, “tea parties.” In both cases, social conservatives, the hardest core of the Republican faithful, are rallied by a political rhetoric that could be described as argumentation without argument.
The ad, using scripted “personal statements” from the mouths of actors, is content free. “There is a storm gathering and I am afraid.” “Some who advocate for same-sex marriage have taken the issue far beyond same-sex couples.” “They want to bring the issue into my life.” “My freedom will be taken away.” I’m a California doctor who must choose between my state and my job.” “I’m part of a New Jersey church group punished by the government because we can’t support same-sex marriage.” I’m a Massachusetts parent helplessly watching public schools teach my son that gay marriage is okay.” “Some who advocate for same-sex marriage have not been content with same sex couples living as they wish.” Those advocates want to change the way I live.” “I will have no choice.” “The storm is coming.”
That’s it. If you want to know what the metaphorical storm will look like, who the “some” are, what the“issue” is, what “far beyond” means, how your life will be affected by “them,” what “freedom” will be “taken away,” or what other evidence or explanation may support the general assertions, you won’t hear them because they’re not there. The “argument” is pretty simple: if you have some unexamined, inchoate concern about changes around you that make you uncomfortable, go with your gut. Be afraid.
The same vacuous rhetoric of the NOM ad could as easily apply to the tax day “tea parties,” an expression of non-specific angst. Was it about bailouts, tax policy, budget decisions, gun rights, or a desire to retreat to a mythical America enshrined in the image of a Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover? I don’t know, and more importantly, the Republican party doesn’t know either. Social conservative Republicans are lost and leaderless in a world that is passing them by.