Thursday, December 18, 2008

Getting Beyond Christmas Card Politics

Being single at 39 is life's great consolation prize.

Yes, there is much freedom in such a situation, but I will stipulate that men with wives and children have more fulfilling, better if you want to be really direct, lives than mine.

The daily Christmas cards in my mailbox tell the story as the smiling faces of the progeny of a life's worth of friends greet me from behind the laminate.

At the Iowa Family Policy Center fund-raiser in Des Moines a few weeks ago, I absorbed the full effect of this as 800 people gathered to promote the family - something I don't have, at least in the traditional sense they are talking about politically with me positioned at the head of the table.

Chuck Hurley, president of the Iowa Family Policy Action Center and a leading Christian conservative voice in our state, had the crowd rolling with anecdotes about his 10 children.

"We are not only pro-life, we are prolific," Hurley said.

Near the back of the banquet hall, his whole family rose from a table at one point in his speech. It was really quite moving.

And, yes, Hurley's life is something more than what I have here.

Perhaps my station will change. Perhaps not.

I've long since reconciled a collection of decisions, some personal, many professional, that have me singing the single man's anthem on the cliff's edge of 40.

Through fate or flaw or remarkable self-awareness (some people really shouldn't be parents, as Carroll Police Chief Jeff Cayler told me the other day) many do not live the life achieved by Hurley and celebrated by his politically muscular organization.

The fresh-faced families sitting around the tables at the West Des Moines Sheraton, raising thousands of dollars, should be humbled by their good fortune.

Instead, this wing of the Republican Party uses its Christmas card-friendly families as a political bludgeon against those whose lives have taken other turns.

The message from the podium to all those not living in traditional family arrangements: Our lives are better than yours.

It may have worked for the ghosts of elections past.

But as the Republican Party hits reshuffle after a November thrashing, as it seeks to build competitive machinery for a run against the president-elect and his allies, Battlestar Barack, they need to do more than just rely on the family values angle.

First, there's an increasing number of people who just don't fit the mold.

Not all of us are going to jump to get married, either.

When I was a kid, my family would visit Grandma Burns in Emporia, Kan. At the time, one of the colleges there had been taken over by a cult - The Way. We heard tales that this cult required its followers to form male and female lines and blindly march to an altar. Members would have to marry whomever reached the altar at the same time.

One gets the sense that the Iowa Family Policy Center would have all of us living without their seal of approval similarly line up so we could join the ranks of "the married."

Now, of course, the Iowa Family Policy Center isn't going to change its agenda. Nor should it.

But what will be interesting to watch as a crowded field forms for the 2010 gubernatorial race in Iowa is how much influence Christian conservatives will have in shaping the Republican Party.

For the party to become competitive, to offer some much-needed balance to current Democratic tilt, it must move beyond this business of family values stagecraft and ugly shots at gays and tired posturing on abortion.

The GOP should look to be the party of robust businesses, small government, the party that embraces competition and the marketplace - one that, instead of spewing hate at marginalized minorities, exudes confidence in what Iowa innovators can do if only the government steps out of the way.

Democrats nationally and statewide are bound to overreach. We need competitive Republicans to pull them back.

This is about more than Iowa, too.

Just as Iowa launched the dream-filled vessel of Barack Obama into the reality of the White House, the state will help frame the future of the GOP for a generation or more in the 2012 Iowa Caucuses.

Republicans better do more than tell me their Christmas-sweatered family Sundays are richer than my TV-dinner Wednesdays.

I know that already.

(This column originally appeared in The Carroll Daily Times Herald).

1 comment:

Jane Lawson said...

I don't remember hearing about The Way. I guess I was too young and more worried about getting kicked out of The News Depot?