The great divide between Republicans and Democrats results from political extremism. A generation ago, both parties agreed about the goodness of America. Today, Democrats believe that the United States is a terrible country in desperate need of reform, while Republicans believe America is a wonderful place in need of protection. Issue by issue, the extremes of our political spectrum appear as far apart as the East is from the West, and “the twain shall never meet.” It doesn’t have to be this way. It is possible that we can find and share common ground to the benefit of all. (Click on the title title above to continue if necessary.)
Most Americans are not extremists; they are, by definition, mainstream. They are most comfortable occupying the middle ground between extreme ends of an issue because most Americans are reasonable and can see both sides of an issue.
Nearly everyone hates the extremist views that divide our nation – revisionist history, critical race theory, diversity, equity, inclusion, gun control, climate change, life issues, identity politics, social media censorship, open borders and immigration, health care, explicit sex education, transgenderism, and gay marriage to name but a few. Republicans and Democrats are, in the main, on opposite ends of each of these issues. The divide can be seen here in McLean County, Illinois, where 33% of the voters claim allegiance with the conservative Republican Party and 28% with the liberal-progressive Democrat party. This means that 38% of our electorate occupies the middle ground I will label “Independent.” When party candidates cling to extreme positions on social issues, they disenfranchise Independent voters and discourage some from voting. If Republicans can find common ground with Independents, we can motivate them to vote with us to win elections because together we constitute more than two-thirds of the ballots cast.
In the 2020 presidential election, both abortion and gay rights were matters of great contention. In my last “On the Issues” op-ed (Virtue and Vice), I explained how Republicans could achieve a tolerable if not ideal, middle-of-the-road position to broker agreements about the highly contentious issue of abortion. Let’s take one aspect of the gay rights issue to see another example of how finding common ground works to the benefit of the Republican Party. Consider the question of so-called gay marriage. There is a middle ground that Republicans can suggest that would depolarize this issue and woo Independents into the Republican camp.
What are the extremes of the gay marriage issue, and what is a mainstream position that conservatives and Independents can at least tolerate, if not be happy with? On the one hand, many (certainly not all) conservative Republicans believe there is no place in our society for homosexual relationships, let alone gay marriage. As the basis of this belief, they cite several biblical passages that patently condemn all same-sex behaviors. Liberal-progressive Democrats, on the other hand, believe that everyone should have freedom of choice and should be able to marry whomever they wish.
Perhaps the most virtuous position conservative Republicans can take on this issue is to tolerate (not necessarily accept) gay marriage in the civil arena. (What religious groups do within their churches, temples, and mosques would still be up to their particular faith tradition.) Republicans would tolerate gay marriage by no longer contesting it, thus ending this aspect of our current culture war. After all, what choice do conservatives have since Congress has now codified gay marriage into law?
By continuing to contest gay marriage, conservatives make themselves out to be extremists and middle-ground voters whom Republicans hope to curry will be put off by this no-win position in the 2024 election. Let’s accept settled law for what it is; it’s civil law – not religious law – that we deal with in the civic marketplace. Instead, let’s focus our attention on combating progressives’ widely unpopular extremist ideas of sexually explicit instruction in American public schools.
Gender identity politics is a losing battle for progressives because most Independents disagree with their extremist positions. Conservatives and Independents should fight the idea that social constructs determine gender and that anyone can be any sex they want to be. The progressive claims that “men can get pregnant” or that “Tampons should be provided in boys’ restrooms” are losing propositions.
Also, how about focusing on the benefits of marriage? It’s a well-known fact that successful marriages are the single most significant predictor of financial welfare, health and longevity, social networks, and family stability. Children in two-parent households are less likely to have truancy, drug, crime, and social problems than are children living in one-parent households. Supporting stable, lifelong marriage is undoubtedly a better political stance than opposing one of its variations.
Democrats will again focus much of their 2024 platform on abortion and gay rights as they did in 2020. These issues have motivated middle-ground voters in the past, and they will do so again. Republicans must seek the support of the tolerant middle ground or continue to lose elections as they have done in the past seven of eight national elections.
Clinging to extreme positions on social issues is a sure way to doom the conservative cause. Reasonable Republicans must identify and claim the middle ground of the issues if they want to win another election. Our candidates are more likely to win when they systematically oppose unpopular ideas, support popular ideas, and tolerate unacceptable ideas. While we might find some aspects of the middle ground objectionable, we can tolerate compromise positions until something better comes along.