Taking the Ball From the GOP

04/09/2015 04:59 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

The right's overreach exposes its losing game.

Republicans had a bad week last week. When not failing in their effort to sabotage nuclear nonproliferation negotiations, they were denouncing the Indiana and Arkansas legislatures for undermining their so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Acts by adding clarifying language. Retail giant Walmart was instrumental in pressuring Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson to demand a fix to that state's RFRA.

The only homophobes who had a good week were the owners of Memories Pizza, who received over $800,000 in donations what may have been a right-wing media scam that hailed them as Christian martyrs for refusing to fill the previously unknown demand for pizza at gay weddings.

Demonstrating the leadership of the private sector, openly gay Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote in The Washington Post on March 29 that discrimination is bad for business. He added, "As a child, I was baptized in a Baptist church, and faith has always been an important part of my life. I was never taught, nor do I believe, that religion should be used as an excuse to discriminate."

The right turned its wrath on Cook. Presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina, the fired Hewlett Packard executive who it seems mistook her golden parachute for a testimonial letter, called Cook a hypocrite for doing business in oppressive countries. Bob Witeck, a consultant who worked with Walmart to improve its LGBT-inclusive practices, crisply replied, "As Americans, it is past time we put our own house in order before we try to fix other societies."

Mike Huckabee, another presidential hopeful, accused American companies of caving in to "the militant gay community" and added, "There's been more pressure this week to put sanctions on Indiana than Iran." Doesn't that sound awfully militant? He pretends that straight people have a monopoly on faith, and that LGBT equality would lead to apocalyptic ruin; which is strange, considering that apocalyptic ruin is what he and his friends appear to seek in the Middle East.

There was not enough popcorn to fully enjoy neo-isolationist Pat Buchanan's takedown of Fox News host Sean Hannity for opposing the preliminary Iran deal. Hannity, like Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, talks as if President Obama wants to give the Iranians nukes, not keep nukes from them. Netanyahu insists that he is only against a bad deal. The trouble is that his attacks on the deal began before a deal existed. Buchanan called Hannity "hysterical." Fox host Bill O'Reilly, in a welcome surprise, cautioned that the alternative to a deal is world war.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) said gays should be grateful that we are not put to death here as in Iran. Sorry, but we've set our sights a bit higher. His comment recalls the argument that gays do not face marriage discrimination because we can marry someone of the opposite sex, similar to an argument made 50 years ago in defense of anti-miscegenation laws.

Never before has Republican flailing been on such vivid display, nor has the right's disconnect from mainstream American opinion been more glaring. We should seize the moment and make the GOP pay a heavy price.

Most states still lack comprehensive laws prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination. Anti-transgender "potty panic" bills have been introduced in Florida, Texas, Arizona and Nevada; one recently failed in Kentucky. Attacks on reproductive choice are relentless, yet have not stirred corporate protest. If one wedge fails, the right tries another. We must build and rebuild coalitions that teach respect and stigmatize know-nothingism.

It is exhausting dealing with the far right's fountain of dangerous nonsense. They flirt with treason to thwart our president's peace efforts; they itch to start another war, learning nothing from their past adventures and neglecting the soldiers maimed in them; they stir hatred and fear to distract us from their assault on the middle class; and they cry victim the moment anyone stands up to their bullying of everyone who doesn't look and think like them. We should say this, but also convey a vision of America based on equal rights and cooperation, not paranoia.

I am a liberal. Too often, our side fights on conservatives' turf, tacitly accepting their false framing of the issues and playing defense. It is time for us to take the ball.

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Blade and Bay Windows.