One of the very few issues that is shifting somewhat quickly is gay marriage. If trends continue, we'll have a supermajority of the American people supporting gay marriage in the next decade or two. But while the public is moving in that direction, the Republican party is getting even more extreme. Not only are they against gay marriage, a position that just recently became the minority, but a growing number of them are for pushing for an amendment to the constitution to define marriage as being between a man and a woman.
A distinction is important here. The issue of gay marriage isn't merely one of for or against. Even among those who are against gay marriage, there is a whole range of positions, and a disturbing number of Republican candidates are taking a position that could hardly be more extreme.
There are some who don't think the term marriage should be used for gay unions, but are okay with gay couples receiving the same rights. They are just uncomfortable with the term, and come to the side of equality when you label them civil unions or domestic partnerships. There are others who are against giving all of the same rights to gay couples that married couples enjoy, but want to give them some of the rights, such as visitation rights in the hospital and transfer of property if one dies.
There are still more who are against giving gay couples anything resembling marriage rights, but think that the issue is one far too personal for the federal government to decide. Two of the presidential candidates on stage for the GOP's first 2012 presidential debate, Herman Cain and Ron Paul, have taken this position.
Then there are those who think this is such a fundamental issue facing our country, that it should be enshrined in our constitution. This textbook extremism came from the rest of those on stage—Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum.
This is just the latest example of how the GOP is willing to toss out long held fundamental beliefs, in this case federalism and states rights, to feed their populist religious base, while ignoring their supposed commitment to state's rights they use as an excuse to be against liberal federal action on a whole slew of issues.
This isn't merely a conservative problem though. The most recent example of the same on the left is how their commendable commitment to being against regressive taxation goes out the window when you begin talking about gasoline or carbon taxes.
You can't be both. You're either for federalism, or for shoving right-wing social policy down the throats of all of the states. You're either against taxes that harm lower income people far more than higher income brackets, or you're for making cleaner energy more competitive through making fossil fuels artificially more expensive, rather than just sticking to subsidies.
This disconnect illustrates ideological splits within both parties' coalitions, and how politicians try to get support from the various factions within their party's tent by trying to play both sides. They get away with it because people don't pay attention closely enough, and even if they do notice, they hate the opposition so much that they look the other way. Left or right, we can do better.
Solomon Kleinsmith is a nonprofit worker, serial social entrepreneur and strident centrist independent blogger from Omaha, Nebraska. His website, Rise of the Center, is the fastest growing blog targeting centrist independents and moderates.