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They're Blowing It Again

The Republicans have a grand opportunity to woo a vital constituency, valued both because of their numbers as well as their potential as contributors. But the Grand Old Party is blowing it badly. Once again.
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A little known fact is that back in the early days of the New Deal, many liberals opposed what the Roosevelt administration was doing to deal with the Depression. It was not that they embraced greater capitalism; rather, they feared the expansion of the federal government. Their frame of reference was the dismal twenties, when the Feds had pursued repressive policies, and liberals dreaded their continuation. To these stalwarts, the epitome of federal activism could be summed up in one word: Prohibition.

Misguided as these sentiments were -- these folks misunderstood the progressive nature of Roosevelt's changes -- they provided an opening for Republicans to garner their votes, their money, and their endorsements. But the GOP let that opportunity slip by. They have another one right now, and for different reasons, they're blowing it again.

I'm not talking about how the Republicans are losing badly among women, Hispanics, Asians. Those trends are well documented and much discussed. But the GOP is also failing to exploit a possible turnaround among the high tech crowd.

The logic here is clear. The liberal ideal is often based on the notion of a mixed society. Big, activist government has a role -- limited, not all embracing socialism -- in American life. Since the days of the Progressive movement and Teddy Roosevelt, it has been seen as a counterweight to big business, and as protector of the common good, the true representative of our community.

But the tech world does not see big government that way. To their members, big government is an intrusive force, limiting the freedom that has made their sector so important to the future of the world and to the U.S. economy, and also so exciting. Look at their adamant opposition to efforts to regulate or tax the web, their devotion to the idea that tech must be kept free from government interference of any kind. Another example would be their outspoken response to the NSA's corrupting data, corrupting their work, their industry. Like the liberals of the twenties with Prohibition, to the tech crowd of today, the National Security Administration is Exhibit A on why big government is bad.

All of which makes them ripe for the picking by the Republicans, especially the libertarian strand represented by Rand Paul. And turnout at GOP events in Silicon Valley is on the rise. But the big change hasn't occurred yet, and probably won't, although they'll make a dent in the Democrat's voting totals.

There are a number of barriers to the Republicans plucking this ripe fruit. Top of the list is their anti-science attitude in general. Over and over, the Republicans have rejected scientific evidence, making them, as Bobby Jindal put it, "the stupid party." That doesn't help them in a community of tech nerds.

There are a number of prime concerns here. Climate change leads the list. Widely accepted as fact among techies, Republicans reject it and even worse, loudly campaign on their opposition to it, their disbelief in these ideas, and their refusal to pass laws to do anything about it.

Even more damaging is their refusal to promote renewable energy. Alternative energy programs like wind and especially solar power are among the hottest ideas in tech circles, as evidenced, not just by blog discussion points, but by all the start up companies, the rich investment, and the growing employment in this area. Meanwhile, the Republican's national leader after November may well be Mitch McConnell, aging spokesman for King Coal and adamant opponent of anyone and anything that would limit its domain, or as some folks refer to it, the future.

After that, throw in the Republicans' stance on gay marriage and gay rights. If you talk to my students, tech or otherwise, these are no longer issues. Being LGBT is no more a concern than being Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim. Or Wiccan. But at the recent Value Voters Summit in Washington, for social conservatives, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul were featured speakers. Chris Christie and Jeb Bush, possible contenders for the Republican nomination, however, were not even invited. As one of the Summit's leaders dryly put it, "They weren't on the top of the list."

The Republicans have a grand opportunity to woo a vital constituency, valued both because of their numbers as well as their potential as contributors. But the Grand Old Party is blowing it badly. Once again.

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