This week I felt a shift. I’ve felt them before and then seen a return to the status quo. In the past, I thought the shift was toward either a more conservative or more progressive perspective by the American public. I felt it after Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 and I felt it after the Republican wave in 1994.
This time, though, seems different. I don’t think that the country is any more or less progressive. I think the country is seeing the Republican Party in a different light.
In North Carolina, the Republican Party and their allies have totally botched the response to the Moral Monday protests. They should have kept their mouths shut and hoped people quit paying attention. But they just couldn’t help themselves. Pat McCrory called them “outside agitators,” Sen. Thom Goolsby called them “angry, aged former hippies” and Civitas published the names, addresses, employers and mug shots of protesters.
Well, simple research proved McCrory wrong, photos of preachers and the diverse crowd of protesters made Goolsby a liar and everybody thought Civitas was trying to bully and intimidate people into giving up their First Amendment rights to free speech. Instead of defining the protesters, they defined themselves as narrow-minded, mean-spirited bullies with little regard for the truth. The result was the largest crowd yet this past Monday evening.
In Texas, a similar dynamic unfolded during a special session of the legislature. The Texas Senate brought up a draconian anti-abortion bill that would have closed the vast majority of clinics in the state. Wendy Davis, with the support of her Democratic allies, filibustered the bill.
During the 11-hour stint, throughout which Davis had to stand and could not even lean on her desk, the GOP leadership tried to kill her effort using procedural measures including penalizing her for getting assistance with a back brace from one of her colleagues. Social media turned the filibuster into a national event with more than 180,000 streaming the session live (including my wife) and many more following on Twitter. The 50-year-old Davis, who was raised in poverty and was a single mom at 19, became an overnight hero, while the Republican leaders looked mean and petty.
Finally, when the Supreme Court gutted the Defense of Marriage Act and upheld a lower-court decision invalidating California’s Prop. 8 ban on gay marriage, Republicans couldn’t contain their disappointment. Instead of remaining quiet, a parade of members of Congress went on television to say how sorry they are that gay people are finally beginning to be treated like straight ones.
The shift I’ve felt is not toward the Democratic Party or progressive ideals. It’s away from a Republican Party that’s mean and vindictive. As a nation, we don’t see ourselves as small and narrow-minded. We see ourselves as open and free. While we might regularly register our disapproval of government, at some level we recognize that our elected officials are a reflection of who we are. I think it just dawned on us that we don’t like what we’ve seen in the mirror.