03/31/2013 09:50 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

BOTH SIDES NOW : Can the GOP Change on Gays and Guns? Not This Week

By Mark Green

Host: Why focus again on the GOP? For better or worse, the in-power party speaks essentially through one voice -- POTUS 44 -- while the out-party has many tongues vying to articulate a national message for Congress and for 2014/2016. It's good to be King... but in terms of policy, strategy and power, Republicans are now faaar more interesting.


While "Both Sides Now" is usually chromosomally XX-rated, this one is our first-ever all-male program. In honor of the topic, we three agree to call it our Same-Sex Show.

*On the RNC's "Autopsy." Chairman Reince Priebus prominently released his party's "Autopsy" (why moniker implying corpse instead of something more Luntzian?) on what went wrong in 2012. With polling showing party in worst shape in couple of decades -- with a net-negative of 20 points -- something's gotta give for it to become the majority.

Our panelists concur the GOP gets more points for candor than analysis. Frum concludes that the party has to do better with voter-contact, social media, and advertising "but the reason why Republicans are in trouble is that it lacked an economic message for the middle class." Ron mocks the emphasis of tactics over content: "it's not just how you say something but what you say... the party's coming apart at the seams because of policies that are ugly and divisive and that sell fear and ignorance."

Back to David: exactly how does the GOP party avoid looking like "wacko birds" (McCain's phrase) when those who talk the loudest -- the Bachmanns, Pauls, Cruzs -- become the unwelcoming face of the party? Frum agrees that "voters are calling for bread but getting stones" from the first two but cautions that Cruz is shrewdly running for the vacant post of leader of the Right, like "Taft, Goldwater and Reagan before him."

Host: Recall how in 60s/70s Democrats were tattooed by Nixonites as outside the mainstream by standing for "acid, abortion and amnesty"... and then blue-collar Catholics -- later called "Reagan Democrats" -- shifted the axis of political power. Now the shoe's on the other foot with hard-right voices on rape, culture and immigration tainting the GOP brand. A generation of impressionable young and Latino voters are starting a mass exodus unless something changes.

*GOP and Gays: From Harvey Milk to "Skim Milk." Justices Alito and Scalia wonder why the Court might sanction something newer than "cell phones" -- and exactly "when did it become unconstitutional to prohibit gays from marrying?" Answered counsel Ted Olson arguing for marriage equality, when science showed that it was innate, like race or gender; Ron thinks it always was unconstitutional "but the Court is only now realizing it." (To Jon Stewart, you needn't have to "beta test" the proposition that separate-but-equal here is a bad idea or what Justice Ginsberg now famously called marriage and "skim milk" marriage.)

David has different views about DOMA and Prop 8: he thinks that it's unworkable to treat federal benefits differently in same-sex marriage states and violates assumptions of interstate "full-faith-and-credit"... but also worries it would risk a culture-war backlash if the High Court imposed one national standard in the Prop 8 case. Ron pounces: but since there's no shown harm from gay marriages, how can the Court justify discrimination any more than against interracial couples in the 1967 Loving case?

David intellectually agrees but believes it to be far preferable to allow states to democratically decide rules of marriage which would create "a more enduring consensus." Question: why take this different approach than Loving? Answer: because civil rights after a murderous Civil War and decades of segregation in one lagging region make it a more singular issue.

We listen to a conservative schism: Mike Huckabee predicts that if his party relents on opposing gay marriage, a lot of its evangelical base will be leaving it; yet Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh argue that gays are legally winning the argument and equal marriage is inevitable. Question: since many young voters now are not entering it, is it possible that a Republican aspirant in 2016 can say a version of this to the party's Evangelical base: "Hey, let's focus on middle class jobs and national security rather than who people choose to marry because that's that the business of government." Says David, "the party not only can, it has to in order to survive."

Host: As for Justices Alito and Scalia, same-sex partners have been around for several thousand years pre-cell phone, millennia that included polygamy, slavery and ownership of women; and it betrays their result-oriented approach to imply that discrimination should continue because maybe, someday, there will be a study indicating some harm -- is the American Association for Pediatrics not good enough for them? As for the right time to invoke the promise of Equal Protection, the chant of minorities in the '60s works as well today for those protesting Gay Jim Crow: "What do we want? Freedom... When do we want it? Now."

How did opinion change so rapidly from 2-1 against to 2-1 in favor in less than a decade? Ron stresses that no one can show any harm from expanding marriage to the LGBT community. What also contributed to the shift was Harvey Milk's 1970s strategy of urging others to come out to convince people that their gay nephews and neighbors deserved equal rights. Think of a courageous afew, then millions, standing up and saying of their sexual orientation, "I am Spartacus."

Nate Silver predicts that 40 states by 2012 will allow it since 81 percent of those under 30 now are in favor. So from the prism of an RNC seeking to modernize and win, the party should pray that the Court strikes down Prop 8 on constitutional grounds because that would take it off the national agenda rather than continuing a state-by-state, year-after-year battle that reminds younger voters which party favors equality and liberty and which party doesn't.

*GOP and Guns: After Newtown. We listen to Senator Cruz lecture Senator Feinstein about, in his view, the close parallel between the First and Second Amendments. Says Ron, "Why do people keep calling this person intelligent?", noting that even the First Amendment has exceptions such as libel and fire-in-a-crowded-theater.

Then from the other side, we listen to Obama's emotional plea not to forget Sandy Hook and Bloomberg's explanation why his $12 million ad campaign will hold swing senators accountable. Reagan likes the president's unusually personal, passionate, "all-in" approach which could make the difference legislatively... and, although Wayne LaPierre said that Bloomberg "can't buy America!" (NYC, maybe), until the law changes, Ron's ok with the multi-billionaire mayor spending so much money to help even the NRA's playing field.

While Frum thinks that swing members will indeed now fear both the NRA and Bloomberg, Obama's proposals might not make much of a difference. Instead, he proposes a non-legislative plan B for the President: order the Surgeon General to investigate how much more likely homeowners die when they have guns than when they don't and encourage the Senate Judiciary Committee to study why the gun industry isn't offering safer guns like the biometric ones that can shoot only if their owners are holding them. The NRA can't stop publicity that the chance of dying at home is eight times greater if you keep a gun there (because of accidents, suicides, children) and 10,000 people have been killed with guns since Newtown, a lot more than knives.

Host: Does Cruz not know that a) the first words of his revered amendment are "a well-regulated militia" and that b) there was no right to own guns for our first couple hundred years... until the 5-4 Heller decision ruled that the Amendment guaranteed a right to a handgun for safety but not more dangerous weapons. Of course he knows that. But why not imply that guns are as inviolate as speech when you're running to be the leader of the far Right? Bad law, good politics... for him. But when the Senate votes either on the Obama-Reid bill or the Paul-Cruz filibuster, it may not help when the GOP sticks to its guns while 90 percent want comprehensive background checks and 70 percent limits on magazine clips.

*On North Korea and North Dakota. Ron thinks that Obama and Kerry need "ice-water in their veins" when dealing with bluffing North Koreans. "It's different when you want and when you have nuclear weapons. When you have them, you can't go around threatening a 'Lake of Fire.' David suggests that it might be moral and cost-effective to simply buy off their top 50 leaders rather than continue to tolerate such nuclear brinksmanship.

Speaking of bluffing, North Dakota's new law that basically bans abortions after six weeks will be struck down as inconsistent with Roe v. Wade, concludes Ron. David thinks that Roe was wrongly decided and, as noted above in the equal marriage context, prefers that such decisions should be made democratically at the state level.

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now.

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