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Bad omen from Iowa

By David R. Usher
web posed January 7, 2008

Mike Huckabee is understandably basking in his early victory, but facing a very tough row to hoe between now and Super Tuesday.  Barack Obama is on fire while Hillary's foot is stuck in the mire.

Notwithstanding the fact that Iowa is just the first shot in the dark, those betting on Republican futures have a serious omen to deal with:  Democratic turnout in the Iowa primary was nearly double what Republicans could muster.  On Thursday, approximately 227,000 Democrats came out, as opposed to only 120,000 Republicans – nearly a 2:1 ratio. 

In 2004, the ratio was relatively even, with 124,000 Democrats and 116,000 Republicans coming out.  In the 2000 primaries, Republicans were more motivated, with 86,000 participants to 61,000 Democrat voters.

While turnout is up on both sides of the coin, one thing is clear – Republican voters are not fired up about the offerings the party has given them to choose from.  Some major news organizations were already declaring a victory for Democrats in 2008 because of this fact.  Victories are almost always decided by party turnout.  By this early titration, Republicans may have already lost the presidency in 2008.       

I have been warning Republicans about this since 1996, when Republicans murdered welfare reform and dropped "family values" from the party theme.  In welfare reform, Republicans enacted no policy changes to impact the most important and positive goals they set out to accomplish – reducing illegitimacy and improving marriage rates and retention.  Today, illegitimacy is at record levels, marriage rates are down, and shacking-up is peaking. The conservative base is well-aware of this problem, and is still looking to the party to make the changes they promised back in 1994.

Republicans have been tone-deaf on family values since 1996, despite the fact that it was the theme that brought on the landslide of 1994.  The Republican base is not stupid.  They know things are much worse than they were in 1994, and they are not impressed by boring "God and Country economic conservative" campaigns.  The Republican base is sick and tired listening to Republican candidates mumbling requisite mantras about the "importance of marriage" with no policy or agenda to back it up.  The Republican base is morose about the Party and has no motivation to lift a finger on its behalf.

I have been perhaps the most outspoken pundit on the demise of the Republican revolution, and have explained many times why Republicans have been losing popular support since 1996.  Here we are in 2008, with a lineup of mediocre Presidential candidates, all repeating the same mistake, and not one who has even mentioned "marriage values". 

"Marriage Values" is the theme and policy structure that I have been developing for years with a number of organizations and individuals, to positively address the two points of welfare reform not handled in the 1996 welfare reforms.  "Marriage Values" is the one and only theme that will fire up the Republican base, put marriage back on the rails, and balance the budget all in one single piece of legislation. Republicans have billions of reasons to do this.  HHS is the largest and fastest-growing line item in the federal budget – at nearly $700-billion in 2006 – the expenditures doing little but entitling everything except marriage, at the direct expense of marriage, and then hiding the mess in a maze of bureaucratic programs.

Moral: The conservative base has a bottom line.  The terms of endearment are clear.  If Republicans fail to adopt "marriage values", we have nothing to support.  Electing Republicans who act exactly like Democrats on social policy is a waste of our time. 

Until this year, I have not seen any front-line pundits or policy analysts realize this political dynamic.  Finally, the truth is filtering upstairs.  Last week, David Broder correctly pointed out the engine driving Mike Huckabee's meteoric rise:

"Huckabee understands how middle-class anxiety is really lived. Democrats talk about wages. But real middle-class families have more to fear economically from divorce than from a free trade pact. A person's lifetime prospects will be threatened more by single parenting than by outsourcing. Huckabee understands that economic well-being is fused with social and moral well-being, and he talks about the inter-relationship in a way no other candidate has … A conservatism that recognizes stable families as the foundation of economic growth is not hard to imagine. A conservatism that loves capitalism but distrusts capitalists is not hard to imagine either. Adam Smith felt this way. A conservatism that pays attention to people making less than $50,000 a year is the only conservatism worth defending."

Robert Rector also illuminated the policy problem in "Poor Politics" this past August:

"If poor mothers married the fathers of their children, nearly three quarters of the nation's impoverished youth would immediately be lifted out of poverty.  Yet, although work and marriage are reliable ladders out of poverty, the welfare system perversely remains hostile to both. Major programs such as food stamps, public housing, and Medicaid continue to reward idleness and penalize marriage. If welfare could be turned around to encourage work and marriage, the nation's remaining poverty could be reduced."

But the truths have not yet impacted mainstream party politics.  Huckabee's positions on change do not yet reflect "marriage values" positions.  For example, Children's Health Insurance entitlements (SCHIP) is a just a welfare program encouraging single motherhood (in the name of children) at the expense of married families who do pay taxes. Huckabee, Hillary, and everyone else running for President supports it.

Leading party analysts feel that Republicans (who have many seats open this year) are headed for victory because voters are so disenchanted with Congress.  They are wrong.  Democrats are selling themselves as the "party of change", and Republicans are sawing the same old Jack Benny tune.  The conservative base is upset with the party, which if anything will translate into votes for Obama.

The conservative-to-mainstream Republican base needs more than pontifications about marriage  to bring about another Republican landslide. The base will yawn and find other things to do with their lives until the GOP takes action.

Of all the presidential candidates, I do regard Huckabee the most likely candidate to recognize the importance of real "marriage values" policies that can and will change America.  He is perhaps the only candidate with the political skills to sell it.   Like most "compassionate conservatives", he pursued welfare state agenda.  Now that we have "Marriage Values", with a solid set of policy reforms to achieve the two happiest parts of welfare reform, I believe he is the most likely to change course.  

If Mr. Huckabee really wants to win in 2008 he will step up to the plate and push for policies that will give the vast majority of men, women, and children what they need and want naturally.  Huckabee is facing some tough states before Super Tuesday.  If he does not do well between now and then, he is history.  But, "Marriage Values" is powerful stuff.  Any Republican candidate willing to take a little time to learn the ropes has the key to the White House.

While I do not subscribe to conspiracy theories, I must speak to the elements muzzling "Marriage Values" at the G.O.P.  Most Congressmen and Presidents are lawyers.  Trial lawyers are one of the top three campaign aggregators.  Divorce and family litigation are one of the biggest businesses trial lawyers have.  The last thing the American Bar Association wants to see is changes in federal entitlements driving predatory divorce and illegitimacy.  They hate the idea that we might start spending money expecting marital responsibility and helping spouses work through the normal problems of marriage and aging (when a spouse asks for help).  Candidates must remember that where Huckabee rose without help from the A.B.A, any candidate can win without A.B.A. donations simply by running on "Marriage Values".  

Now, I will issue two iron-clad guarantees to the Republican Party: the first Presidential candidate to run on "Marriage Values" will win the Presidency by a comfortable measure.  Congressional candidates who run on "Marriage Values" (and who know what the policies entail) will power the second (and historically the most important Republican) congressional landslide.  We might have to wait until 2016 for the Republican Party to get hungry enough to change, but if that is what it takes, we will just have to wait while Democrats continue pummeling Republicans selling the same social policies that continue scaring the Republican constituency away in droves.


David R. Usher is Senior Policy Analyst for the True Equality Network, and President of the American Coalition for Fathers and Children, Missouri Coalition.


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