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GOP agents of intolerance
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A group of rich Republicans is raising money to support same-sex marriage. By doing so, they reveal a fundamental split in conservative ranks between two very different philosophies.
On one side are Western or frontier conservatives, who truly believe in small government and individual choice. On the other are Southern or evangelical conservatives, who think government should be used to enforce moral values and determine personal decisions.
One key supporter of gay marriage is Paul E. Singer, a billionaire hedge fund manager who has contributed heavily to many conservative causes. He's a Jewish guy from New Jersey, not a Westerner, but he also has a gay son who is married to his partner. And when it comes to social issues, Singer identifies with the pragmatic, live-and-let-live tradition of the frontier.
Singer represents a long and distinguished tradition that once flourished in the Republican Party. Barry Goldwater, dubbed "Mr. Conservative" when he ran for president on the GOP ticket in 1964, exemplified that tradition by supporting Planned Parenthood and backing a woman's right to manage her own reproductive system. The organization even gives an annual award named for Goldwater, who represented Arizona in the U.S. Senate for more than 30 years and died in 1998.
With the movement of Southern states into the Republican Party -- a trend that started, ironically, with Goldwater's campaign of 1964 -- the Goldwater version of conservatism has been eclipsed by what might be called the Helms version: a philosophy advanced by Jesse Helms, the late senator from North Carolina, and fundamentalist preachers like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.
It is a philosophy inspired more by religion than experience, by preachers more than ranchers, by following rules rather than solving problems. At its core, that philosophy says: There's a right way and a wrong way to live, and government should regulate private behavior on social issues like abortion, marriage and prayer.
Republican pollster Frank Luntz offered a glimpse into the struggle splintering the GOP when he spoke recently at the University of Pennsylvania.
Luntz thought he was speaking off the record, but a student recorded his candid observations and leaked them to Mother Jones magazine. Radio hosts -- he specifically mentioned Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin -- "get great ratings, and they drive the message, and it's really problematic," said Luntz.
What Luntz understands is radio hosts do not have the best interests of the Republican Party at heart. What they care about is "great ratings," and to get them, they have to emphasize divisions and exploit grievances. Compromises don't sell on talk radio; only conflict and anger do.
Steve and Cokie Roberts can be contacted by email at stevecokie@gmail.com.