It’s not just the name of a band: it could also become the name of the current battle of ideas taking place between Utah Senator Chris Buttars and Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr over the extremely sensitive issue of gay rights. Both Republicans, both leading a state known for its conservatism, those two benchmen could possibly be the best public representation of the socio-political divide within the GOP.

Chris Buttars, political Grinch

Chris Buttars, political Grinch

A little background story: 67 years old Chris Buttars has decided to stand by Bigotry, firmly holding its hand and never letting it go. Hardly has a senator provoked that much ire among his peers: he was removed last week from two committees (chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Judicial Confirmation Committee). Publicly speaking on the matter whilst a previously signed agreement bid him not to, his position of leadership was thus compromised. Not one to hide his contempt for minorities behind a meter-thick layer of political correctness, Buttars compared the gay community to radical islamists and calling them “the greatest threat to America”. It is now easy to understand how this constitutes a violation of a silence agreement.  It’s not a whisper – more like a rebel yell. Buttars retaliated on the GOP blog by reassuring his anti-gay fellows that “this action will not discourage me from defending marriage from an increasingly vocal and radical segment of the homosexual community”. Breathe a sigh of relief, Utah, an increasingly vocal and radical segment of the GOP now takes the stage.

The story reads like a Greek tragedy. Enters side stage, 49 years old Jon Huntsman Jr, pushing personal conviction aside and standing with ideology, that of Progress. Voicing his support to Equality Utah, which had tried to breed a ‘Common Ground Initiative’ bill in favor of same-sex civil unions, Huntsman, whose career did not always include the gay segment of the population, expressed the opinion that equality is a concept going far beyond the issue of gay rights. It encompasses a political and social discipline that should not be restricted. Talking to Towleroad, a pro-gay online magazine, Huntsman declared: “I’ve always been in favor of greater equality. […] I’ve always thought that we were a little bit behind in terms of equality for people born under the same constitution.” Summoning the Founding Fathers may have been fashionable lately (from their alleged understanding of “natural born citizens” to the possible amendment of the Constitution regarding gay marriage), but at least Huntsman is doing it for a positive and noble cause. Equality takes center stage.

This division of equality versus security, of conservatism for the sake of it versus progress for the unavoidability of it is a chorus we’ve grown accustomed to since the presidential campaign. The schism endured by the GOP and temporarily poorly mended by the choice of Sarah Palin as vice-president was just as efficient as like a band-aid over a wide and deep wound. The influx of Republican thinkers such as Caroline Kennedy towards Obama’s camp must have seriously stung. Propulsed by the unforeseeable success of Prop 8, Republicans are made aware of their precarious position: a terrible recession engineered by an irresponsible economic policy is feeling a little too heavy a cross to bear. Displacing the fight on the quicksand territory of social issues is the only possible way for them to survive and reassemble their disseminated flock through the next four years.  Are those the first signs of secession? Are we witnessing an incurable auto-immune disease within the seemingly unbreakable foundations of the Republican Party? Taking a closer look at the rhetoric employed by Utah’s leaders, reconciliation appears a long way away.

Jon Huntsman, Jr: Christmas, everyday.

Jon Huntsman, Jr: Christmas, everyday.

“In recent years, registering opposition to the homosexual agenda has become almost impossible. Political correctness has replaced open and energetic debate. Those who dare to disagree with the homosexual agenda are labeled ‘haters,’ and ‘bigots,’ and are censured by their peers”, complains Buttars, obviously peeved by the alleged restriction imposed on his freedom of speech. Opposition to the “homosexual agenda” does not constitute debate, it constitutes repression. It appears to Buttars that censorship and approval swung their axe the other way, and his side of the spectrum was asked to walk on the scaffold. Adding to this dumbfounded paranoia comes the media-based conspiracy theory already denounced by Sarah Palin, that we little folks have been brainwashed by the liberal, mainstream press and television telling us the difference between right from wrong, a privilege until then reserved to Republicans. “Increasingly, individuals with conservative beliefs are targeted by a left-leaning media that uses their position of public trust as a bully pulpit. This pattern of intimidation suppresses free speech.” Intimidation? Bullying? Censorship? Those are very strong words to be used by someone who declared that a considerable fringe of his own fellow American brethrens were a “threat” to this great nation. Are we talking about creating a second, lower class of citizens?

Huntsman Jr. believes that a generational overhaul is in order. Unafraid by the bold move he made comparing the GOP to the UK conservatives, the “Tories”,  he qualified them as an “angry bunch of narrow-minded people”. It does ring a bell. There shall be no more talk of aggression and retaliation, of conspiracy and lack of compromise. For Huntsman, the divide in the GOP is not due to a fundamental crisis in ideology, it’s not the moral downfall of November, it’s not due to the GOP’s expenses during the campaign; this shipwreck is not imputable to Bush’s mistakes either. It’s a question of renewal and of transmittable knowledge. “[The Tories] started branching out through, maybe, taking a second look at the issues of the day, much like we’re going to have to do for the Republican Party, to reconnect with the youth, to reconnect with people of color, to reconnect with different geographies that we have lost.” It may hit a severely sore spot, but there is no denying that John McCain failed to approach and connect with the young graduates, the young professionals, a generation with a distant memory of Bill Clinton yet still bruised by eight years under Walker Bush. Appealing to the paragons of virtue and morals that war veterans and so-called “Joe-the-Plumbers” represented for America, the GOP blatantly ignored and scorned the population which represents the biggest demographic yet: that of change, people facing decision-making on a daily basis, at the crossroads of their lives, in need of a practical and non-judgemental guidance. People that have been hurt or misrepresented in the past, people that would need more leeway, who refuse to be addressed in a condescending manner. People who have been patronized and refused entry to their professional and personal dreams. This is the button Barack Obama pressed constantly during the campaign, that sealed his victory. If Joe Biden can bridge that generational gap, sure Buttars can.

Only the future will tell whether Huntsman could lead the way towards a Republican Party willing to drop the Great Old Party banner and reform its non-sequitur ways. Buttars’ discourse, complete with factual innacuracy and flawed logic, could never appeal to a broader audience in 2009. It may have saved California, Florida and Arizona from the wrath of the Mormon God, but even this is not enough to answer the real, and realistic, issues faced by the American people today. It may not have been the case in the past, but this just came in – young people do exercize their right to vote. They do so eagerly, with the promise of being heard and taken into consideration. Young people do try to insert themselves into adulthood and face their responsabilities, the consequences of their actions, and the respect they owe to their elders. Ideals and ideologies are contagious and can spread like wildfire. This is especially true of liberty. Let’s hope that Huntsman has a plan and the necessary followers to carry his vision a little further and restore a sensible quality of discourse to the Republican Party so we can finally engage into a real and consequential debate.

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