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Will the GOP Move to the Center?


Days after April Fools Day, we still look over our shoulders, and one political prank breathing down our necks is the “new” GOP.

President Obama’s 5-million vote victory over Republican Mitt Romney showed the country’s shifting demographics – more voters who are younger, better educated, more likely to be women, and more diverse in religion and race. That supposedly signaled to some GOP leaders that they should be less extremist and more open to the actual makeup of the nation.

So some GOP figures have claimed they’re moving toward the political center, even releasing a 100-page self-examination titled “Growth and Opportunity Project” detailing the GOP’s “narrow-minded” and “scary” image and other problems.

But – “April Fool!” the GOP as a national group of leaders is moving too little, too late. Compared to Republicans from the last several decades, today’s GOP still looks more like disgraced Sen. Joe McCarthy (whose red-baiting ruined innocents’ lives) than Dwight Eisenhower (whose GOP platform stated, “The protection of the right of workers to organize into unions and to bargain collectively is the firm and permanent policy of the Eisenhower Administration.”). Other examples of today’s wolves in shepherds’ clothing:

* “Elect me to government (which I hate).” GOP figures who loathe government continue to use its power to shaft working people who make wages so low they need Medicaid. Some GOP governors are refusing to take part in Obamacare’s arrangement to pay for new enrollees in the program for three years and 90% of the costs afterward. Notably, Texas’ Rick Perry and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker are refusing to expand medical coverage to needy citizens there.

* Dirty politics. Besides trying to rearrange Electoral College votes in swing states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania – where electoral votes could henceforth go to winners of Congressional districts gerrymandered to favor Republicans instead of today’s winner-take-all formula – the GOP backs efforts to kill key parts of the Voting Rights Act and add new state-based restrictions, all to discourage voting, a republic’s most important right.

* States rights. Apart from a weaker national presence, Republican governors and legislatures control 24 states, where measures are being proposed that range from cutting taxes on the rich at the expense of the middle class to mandating the teaching of the philosophy of "intelligent design” as science.

* Violence against women. After much wrangling, Congress this winter finally passed the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization bill, but more than 130 House Republicans voted against it. (Afterward, some, such as U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa, issued misleading press releases implying they’d voted for it; King did not.) Also, Indiana is one of nine states where GOP lawmakers are passing requirements for women to submit to invasive ultrasound procedures before they can terminate pregnancies or receive the contraceptive pill RU486. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, an ex-Congressman, was expected to sign the measure.

* What’s the matter with Kansas? Gov. Sam Brownback, an ex-U.S. Senator, is pushing an agenda drafted by the Koch brothers (based in Wichita) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Kansas’ Speaker of the House, Ray Merrick, is active with ALEC, a corporate front group behind many right-wing initiatives. Brownback eliminated Kansas’ business tax and income tax and now faces billions in new debt, which some say must be paid by increasing sales taxes, which hurts middle-class and working people.

* Hot air. Holding key seats on the House Science, Space & Technology Committee, climate-change deniers are blocking ways to address global warming. One, California Tea Party darling Dana Rohrabacher actually said that climate change could have been due to “dinosaur flatulence, y’know, or – who knows?”

* Budget battles. Federal spending is at its slowest growth rate since Eisenhower in the 1950s, and Obama has hinted that he might consider cutting Social Security and Medicare in some “grand bargain” (which understandably concerns progressives), but anti-government GOP-ers, led by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, propose the type of social safety net slashing and burning that Europe’s trying – and failing with.

Everyday Americans shouldn’t be fooled. Citizens should remain engaged and active, too. If a half dozen Senate seats change, the new-fangled GOP and old-fashioned right wing will control Capitol Hill (as well as the Supreme Court), the pretense will drop, and the rest of Obama’s administration will be blocked even more forcefully than the filibuster-happy, do-nothing Congresses of 2009-2012.  

Bill Knight’s newspaper columns are archived at

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or Western Illinois University.