Over the past few years, divisive battles over issues like abortion, birth control, LGBTQ rights and other social issues have tarnished the Republican Party’s image in the eyes of the public. It is clear that if the Republicans want to maintain control in the state of Michigan in 2014, they will need to revisit problematic social policies that evidence a widening distance between political action and the common will of constituents. Taking notice, even the most established Republicans are calling for change on social issues.

Betsy DeVos — former Republican National Committeewoman and wife of Dick DeVos, who unsuccessfully ran for governor of Michigan in 2006 — made news Jan. 19 for her statements criticizing the party. DeVos’ remarks were a response to a series of embarrassing comments by Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema. Agema publicly supported Russia’s anti-gay policies and a law that would prohibit adults from talking about homosexuality in front of minors. He also made comments that were offensive to Muslims. Considering that Agema helps run the Republican Party, DeVos’ concerns are more than justified.

Similarly offensive and poorly worded comments have popped up at various times throughout the last two years. Republican Senatorial candidate Todd Akin of Missouri commented that pregnancy from “legitimate rape” is rare because the body can “shut that whole thing down.” In 2005, Richard Black, a Republican in the Virginia state Senate and a candidate for Congress, stated that he didn’t understand “how on earth you could validly get a conviction of a husband-wife rape when they’re living together, sleeping in the same bed, she’s in a nightie …” … Um, what?

These kinds of remarks isolate the party from potential supporters, excluding several groups who may otherwise vote red. While ridiculous and offensive in their own right, these bizarre statements represent a much larger problem for the Republican Party. Problems come in the form of resulting bad press, of the negative attention that it brings to people politically connected to those who make the gaffs, of donations drying up as people realize what an uphill battle any sort of campaign might turn out to be. But most importantly, the problem is the policy itself. Comments from leaders like Agema, Akin and Black are merely symptoms of a party that permits deep-seated intolerance at its highest levels, and simply changing rhetoric isn’t going to solve the problem. Republicans need to update their antiquated platform if they are going to retain control in the future.

Certain social policies, such as legislative ideas aimed at limiting gay marriage, abortions and access to birth control are problematic for the voters that these policies directly harm, offend or inconvenience. It’s a turn-off to others who view these matters to be private. Whom to marry or how to plan a family are not things that should be codified into law, and they aren’t political issues. They are medical, ethical and religious decisions that people should make alone or with whomever they feel should be consulted. The discussion of these issues belongs in personal conversation, not necessarily on televised debate.

When politicians attempt to take choice away, the effect is rather offensive. It suggests that private citizens can’t morally regulate their own sex lives and that politicians can do it better. It’s problematic for Republicans — whether or not they support these policies — because people view them and the extremists (like Agema and Black) in a similar light. The Republican Party can best serve its candidates and supporters by adopting more neutral social policies that respect individuals’ own values.

As far as I can tell, most of the Republicans running aren’t trying to push such agendas anyway. They may hold such views, but these views may not be their primary focus. Actually, many seem interested in doing what Republicans do well — running small-ish governments with a relatively balanced budget and maintaining a strong economy. American government needs those kinds of people to keep it up and running. Unfortunately, these candidates’ intentions don’t always matter — the words and policies of the extreme affect the entire party. Many people have a hard time trusting candidates from an organization that allows men like Agema to rise to the top. The connection is there, and to an extent it should be.

Hopefully — for the sake of the Republican Party — DeVos’ comments represent introspection by the establishment that will lead to real change. That change should come in the form of an updated platform that affords more respect to women, LGBTQ individuals and other groups that the party’s policies have traditionally marginalized.

Victoria Noble is an LSA freshman and senior editorial page editor.

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