Moral Majority's Legacy Still Dogs the GOP Gender Gap

BlogHer Original Post

At a party Saturday night, a well-respected and long-time fellow Republican woman tossed out a few casual "the party left me, I didn't leave the party" remarks.

Pausing for a sip, I took the chance to retort: "When did that change? I remember the days of the GOP being branded as supporting working women and reproductive rights. Think back to Bush Sr. having the nickname 'rubbers.' "

My husband jumped in and said simply, definitively: "Moral Majority."

We were in Italy when news reached us in May 2007 that Rev. Jerry Falwell had died. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I rejoiced. Not because the man died, but because I had hoped the vitriolic, hateful chokehold over my party died with him.

The slow yet damaging rise of the Moral Majority, dating back to the late 1970s, infected the Republican Party with new meanings for words: pro-family, pro-life. Falwell's credited for helping deliver evangelical voters for President Ronald Reagan's winning election in 1980; they continue to be an influential voting block today.

Falwell Teletubby
PICTURED: Feb 15, 1999 - San Diego, CA, USA - The Rev. JERRY FALWELL of The Moral Majority Coalition holds a toy Teletubbie, Tinky Winky, from a popular children's television show presented to him by a fellow preacher at a meeting of Baptist fundamentalists in San Diego. Tinky Winky in an article in a publication produced by Falwell was said to be gay and a bad influence on children. (Credit Image: © Earl Cryer/ZUMA Press)

But even Billy Graham disliked Falwell's tactics, accusing him of "sermonizing" about political issues that lacked a moral element.

Falwell demonized everyone from gays and the Teletubbies to civil rights leaders and single moms. For me, the final, bitter straw came after he spewed some nasty hateful words about the reasons behind the 9-11 attacks (I refuse to link to it).

Since his death, the GOP's wandered the woods seeking out a way to return to our core beliefs: small government, fiscal conservatism, strong defense.

But the damage done by the Falwellian years of alienating minorities and women was done, and Republicans have struggled to reach those essential voting demographics every since.

Yet, here we are in 2012, facing a widening gender gap seemingly giving President Barack Obama a distinct advantage over former Gov. Mitt Romney due to issues the GOP once stood for under the seldom-mentioned platform issue of "personal responsibility" -- contraception, family planning, reproductive rights and working moms.

Even in California, the recent state conventioneers proposed a more mainstream, progressive platform that reached out to those who, in spite of lingering "Moral Majority" sentiments, remain party faithful.

It failed.

So it leaves those of us who can not, will not leave our party to include the nuanced descriptors: "fiscally conservative, socially moderate Republican."

But I yearn to say I'm a Republican woman without being questioned why, as if all women are Democrats.

And as we're seeing across the nation, the year of the woman uprising highlights that the GOP won't escape this dogfight without change -- willingly or not.

Women voters outnumber male voters.

Yet, some of my fellow conservative ladies want to believe that it's just a blip, a phantom:

"I'm not making light of the fact that there was a hit to the party, but the collective damage was probably short term," says Linda DiVall, a Republican pollster. "Do I expect it to be a lingering problem that will hurt us in the fall? No, I don't. The focus will still be on the economy."

While Wheaton College associate professor Amy E. Black takes it one step further in a Christian Science Monitor piece, saying: "Let the Democrats waste their energies trying to woo women on 'reproductive rights.' They will shore up their base and alienate the middle. Republicans may have a hard time winning more women with proposed cuts to the social safety net, but they will resonate with almost all voters if they focus on the economy and jobs."

No disagreement from me on dollars and cents. The economy and gas prices strike hard at today's American family.

But if Republicans really believe that it's an all-head-and-no-heart game, then why did the Karl Rove strategy during President George W. Bush's re-election seemingly hinge so heavily on the divisive gay-marriage issue?

It's entirely too convenient to shove history aside when we must face up to being duped into following a dangerous path away from our politically ideological roots.

Essayist and George Mason University professor Walter E. Williams once summed up the true nature of politics beautifully: "Thus, in the task of restoring moral and constitutional government, we shouldn't focus our energies on trying to change the hearts and minds of politicians. We should try to change the hearts and minds of our fellow Americans. We must sell our fellow Americans on the idea that the legitimate and moral role of government is to protect those unalienable rights to life, liberty and property."

And so, we Americans must change the outcomes for better representation. Politicians only will follow suit as voting patterns force them to.

If that means my party must continue to flounder in denial over the brand it's created, if only to eventually right itself, I'm willing to wait out the storm.

It's worth it to me to say one day, "I'm a Republican -- period."

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Erica Holloway is a BlogHer contributing editor and principal of Galvanized Strategies, a San Diego-based public relations firm. Contact her at erica@galvanizedstrategies.com or follow her @erica_holloway.

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