Peter Cuthbertson challenges the British media's notion that the Republican's Christian base is putting off voters.
In the New York Times, former Bush speechwriter David Frum last month played sock puppet in turn to economic conservatives, social conservatives and foreign policy conservatives, giving the perspective of each on the disappointments of the Bush Administration. Of course, the reality isn’t nearly as simple as dividing them into three discrete categories - most people on the right will sympathise with all three. But it is a piece worth reading particularly for the second perspective, an argument many British observers will never have heard.
British newspapers which aren't vehemently hostile to Republicans still tend to report on the party from one of the other two points of view. The Economist is perhaps the worst offender. Time and again it has mixed accurate accounts of how GOP support has fallen as events in Iraq turned sour with its own complaints about an overly influential religious right and about excessive government spending. Economist articles invariably conclude that when it comes to domestic policy, pork barrel spending and social conservatism are hurting the Republicans in the polls, and so they need to take a step back so that cuts in federal spending can be the priority. The casual reader, not noticing where the opinion poll data stops and the Economist's own axe-grinding begins, would come away believing this unargued position.
If Bush had in fact inflicted significant amounts of unpopular government spending on Americans, it would be a problem suspiciously easy for conservatives to solve - simply cut the spending, as they are wont to do anyway, and the electoral benefits will flow. But this is not the case. The Economist complains all the time about pork barrel spending (politicians earmarking spending for their own parts of the country) and Medicare Part D (free prescription drugs for the elderly) under President Bush. But informed fiscal conservatives should know that pork is a tiny proportion of overall spending. On the other hand, the prescription drugs plan was anything but cheap. But it was also massively popular, with opposition to it usually in the single figures. As Al Gore had similar proposals, it is difficult to see how Bush could possibly have won the 2000 election without the plan. In other words, the actual meat of the increased spending is often exactly what pulled Bush through - not what hurts the GOP in elections.