He prides himself on being a Republican who can unite people, for good reason. Today both sides of the RFRA should be able to come together and join hands in acknowledging this as one of the worst op-eds ever.
How bad is it? It starts with him waxing rhapsodic about the Nixon administration, and it’s all downhill from there. It’s NYT-caliber bad (Ross Douthat excluded, of course).
If we want our party to grow and last, we must be focused on real solutions to problems Americans are facing.
We could start with infrastructure. Traffic costs our drivers over $100 billion annually. Airport delays cost another $22 billion. Or we could get to work on education. If graduation rates don’t increase, we will have a shortage of 5 million workers by 2020 — not because we lack the manpower, but because the jobs will require education that our students aren’t receiving. We could clean up our air: MIT researchers found that pollution kills more than 200,000 Americans every year — more than traffic accidents, homicides, suicides and our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. There are so many real problems that need solving…
In California, the GOP has seen the danger of focusing on the wrong issues. In 2007, Republicans made up nearly 35 percent of our registered voters. By 2009, our share dropped to 31 percent, and today, it is a measly 28 percent. That sharp drop started just after the divisive battle over Proposition 8. Maybe that’s a coincidence, but there is no question that our party is losing touch with our voters, especially with the younger ones who are growing the registration rolls…
If the Republican Party wants the next generation of voters to listen to our ideas and solutions to real problems, we must be an inclusive and open party, not a party of divisions. We must be the party of limited government, not the party that legislates love. We must be the party that stands for equality and against discrimination in any form.
Read it and you’ll see there’s no argument whatsoever on the merits of RFRA. If Schwarzenegger knows what the law says or does, he doesn’t let on, which is oddly appropriate for the way most of the public’s been debating the law. Probably he doesn’t know because he doesn’t care: Beyond the gassy assertions about how “divisive” it is, he seems to view the subject entirely in terms of whether it’s a net vote winner or loser for the GOP, and even then only whether it’s a winner or loser among young adults specifically. There’s not a whiff in the entire piece that religious liberty is a value that is or should be sufficiently important to conservatives that it’s worth losing some votes over if need be. Meanwhile, in reality there’s no good reason to think this issue is a net loser for Republicans: Polls show that most Americans are on their side of it, and since the debate over gay rights and religious accommodation is only now sharpening up in the public eye, it makes sense for conservatives to stand firm and present their case in hopes of swaying as many young voters as possible. They might fail, but if they do, remember that young adults lean left on all sorts of issues; if the party needs to remake itself to win them, it had better be prepared to go Democratic on a lot more than pizzas for gay weddings.
And again, we’re not arguing over the highest marginal tax rate here. This is religious liberty at stake. The cavalier attitude that Schwarzenegger takes in treating this as some routine matter of transactional politics, with the GOP expected to give way in the name of moving on to “more important” stuff, is amazing.
Also amazing: Schwarzenegger strongly implies that the GOP is the motive force behind this debate rather than the reactive agent. The left has spent the last 10 years pushing to legalize gay marriage in the courts, through legislative action, and via popular referenda. They’ve run social cons off the field; in three months, the Supreme Court will finalize their victory by making SSM a constitutionally protected practice coast to coast. All of the things listed by Schwarzenegger in the excerpt –infrastructure, education, the environment — have been subordinated to the cause of gay marriage consistently by gay-rights activists and sporadically by the broader Democratic Party. RFRA is nothing more than a last gasp by conservatives to protect the right of religious business owners not to be forced into participating in a gay marriage ceremony themselves. And yet here’s Arnold blaming the right for lifting a finger on its own behalf to try to make the left’s victory slightly less total instead of blaming the left for having pursued this issue to the point where we’re now actually debating, amid news of a nuclear deal with Shiite fanatics, whether running your own business in America should require you if asked to put on a happy face and help celebrate a gay wedding. Even his opening invocation of Nixon, who “talked about freedom, getting the government off our backs and giving the people room to grow” as Schwarzenegger remembers it, adds to the absurdity. How do you think Richard Nixon, of all people, would feel about gay marriage in all 50 states with no right of private establishments to refuse state-imposed conscription into a ceremony?
If you want to argue seriously against RFRA, here’s your argument. Gay rights and religious liberty both deserve protection. Ideally if a gay couple is refused service for their wedding by a Christian business there’ll be another business nearby that’ll be happy to serve them instead. But if not, the goal of keeping public accommodations available to the entire public should trump the business owner’s right to refuse service to a protected class because of who they are, even in the limited circumstance of a wedding ceremony. The business owner has the right to go to church whenever he wants, to preach the Good News whenever he wants, to make his storefront as Christian as he wants, but when it comes to service, treating straight and gay weddings equally for commercial purposes is as much a part of the cost of doing business as taxes are. That’s not the position I hold personally, but at least it takes the stakes of the RFRA debate seriously instead of the flip, smug schmuckery about “teachable moments” that Schwarzenegger stoops to here.