I’d like to take a moment to offer my thoughts and prayers in remembrance of the Republican Party (1980-2008). Of course the party lives on, in name, but the events of Nov. 4 were the final nail in the coffin of the American conservative movement as we knew it. Thirty years ago, the New Deal liberalism that had dominated politics was in its death throes amidst the de-industrialization, stagflation and foreign-policy disasters of the Carter administration. Of course, we all know what happened next: the Reagan Revolution, Morning in America, the birth of modern conservatism.
Every president from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush has governed within this modern conservative framework – even Bill Clinton, who, in some ways, was more right-wing in his policies than Republican Richard Nixon. America, on a whole, is more right-leaning than most of the other great democracies in the world. We still view universal health care, strict national gun-control and government-funded higher education with an attitude of suspicion less common in places like Canada, Britain or Scandinavia.
Did any of this change with the recent election, as even the most moderate of Republicans, albeit with a far-right running mate, lost the popular vote by some 8 million ballots and the Electoral College by more than 100, to a man with little experience, questionable associations and a political agenda that seems 40 years out of place? Whether or not this result indicates a new era of liberalism is upon us remains to be seen; I would tend to doubt it. Fifty-seven million Americans still voted for John McCain, despite his poorly managed campaign, the struggling economy and questionable wars associated with his party, and most of the major media outlets’ support going to his opponent. This would seem to indicate that conservatism is alive, though ailing.
The problem isn’t so much the ideal as it is the party. The United States is rapidly becoming less white, less Christian and less Anglophone with every election cycle, and short of sealing the borders and kicking out all the non-WASPs, this trend is not going to change anytime soon. A key to the Democrats’ success was rallying inner-city minority voters in the East and Latinos in the Southwest.
The Democratic Party first broke free of its conservative, white southern domination in the 1960s and finally purged these elements in the 1990s, and this has contributed greatly to their continued viability as a major party. It is time for the Republicans to do the same. As British conservative columnist Peter Hitchens writes, the Americans are “still a deeply conservative people.” Free markets, small government and strong national defense are ideals cherished by many Americans. Unfortunately, the Republican Party under Reagan and even more so after Newt Gingrich came to the fore in 1994, has been under the control of moral conservatives that are not accepting of all Americans. Influenced by men like Pat Buchanan and Jerry Falwell, the Republican Party has developed an image that is anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and unconcerned with problems facing minorities.
With this policy, Republicans are basically shooting themselves in the foot; there are gay men who want to grow their small business, Muslims who want to pay lower taxes, blacks who want to stop terrorism, and they would all happily vote Republican if they did not perceive the party as damning them to hell. By turning down the volume on the cultural conservatism just a bit, the GOP could bring a lot of fresh faces to the polls in 2012. Sarah Palin can talk all she wants about “real Americans,” but without expanding this narrow view of what makes up the core of our society, millions of would-be conservatives are marginalized. Here’s to hoping, for the right’s sake, that by 2012 they get back to their core economic values while expanding their base of support, even if it means sacrificing the “moral majority.” If they don’t, “Real Americans” will find themselves on an island in American politics, clutching their Bibles, guns and Reagan portraits, alone in a sea of diversity.
Muslim faith deserves recognition
I attended “The Politics of Messianism in Contemporary Iran,” a talk given by guest lecturer Hossein Kamaly, on Oct. 29. Kamaly explained that Shiite Muslims in Iran and throughout the world are currently awaiting the appearance of the 12th Imam, or Messiah, to hasten the advent of a just government and peaceful society and to fulfill the prophecies of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. He spoke about the negative impact this expectation has had on both the Iranian government and its foreign policy, and concluded that although messianism is a legitimate religious belief, societal ills cannot be healed by a theocracy. Kamaly seemed to be advocating the separation of church and state.
Although I understood, agreed with and enjoyed his talk, I was extremely disappointed by his omission of the Bahá’í Faith in Iran. Bahá’ís believe that Bahá’u’lláh is the prophecy-fulfilling Messiah for every major world religion, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. There are 350,000 Bahá’ís in Iran, comprising the largest religious minority in the country. Since the inception of the Bahá’í Faith in 1844, and with increasing fervor since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iranian Bahá’ís have been systematically tortured, killed, imprisoned and deprived of their rights to own property, marry or attend college.
As a noted scholar on Islam and Iran, I can only surmise that Kamaly’s omission was caused by his unwillingness to recognize the Bahá’í Faith as a world religion. However, despite his personal beliefs, his talk was incomplete without mention of Bahá’u’lláh, who was born in Tehran in 1817 and declared he was the Promised One in 1863.
I encourage anyone who is interested in learning more about the Bahá’í Faith to visit bahai.org or to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.