William F. B. O'Reilly is a Republican consultant.
Two notable things happened for the Republican Party this week: Barack Obama's surefire magic spell -- his class-war oratory -- failed to intoxicate the masses for the first time in a long time; then a group of progressive Republicans publicly asserted itself in favor of gay marriage.
There is hope for our two-party republic.
We begin with the president.
March 1 arrived and hysteria did not sweep the nation, as planned, over the 2 percent sequester cuts that will pare government spending over the next year by $11 billion less than Americans spent on beer in 2011.
It wasn't for lack of trying on the president's part. The man with the velvet tongue hit every alarm note in his repertoire, and the public shrugged. The only thing the president got from his rhetorical antics was a fight with Nixon-slayer Bob Woodward, arguably the best-known print journalist in America, who called Obama out for his dangerous hyperbole.
It wasn't supposed to go that way for the 44th president.
The enduring question for the nation now is how much credibility Obama lost in the sequester fight. Is this a temporary setback, or is he now the man who cried greedy millionaire one too many times? If it's the latter, serious discussions over entitlement reforms -- which Republicans have long hoped for -- could actually become a reality in the next round of budget fights, which will begin almost immediately.
That would be a big deal.
But on Thursday, an even more significant thing happened for the GOP. It was the day that more than 100 prominent Republicans filed an amicus brief in a Supreme Court case arguing that gay Americans have a Constitutional right to marry. Republican signers of the document include two sitting members of Congress, four former governors, and top officials from the Bush and Reagan Administrations -- and Clint Eastwood to boot.
One of those signers, former Utah governor, U.S. ambassador to China and presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, penned a piece in The American Conservative to coincide with the news. It was titled, "Marriage Equality is a Conservative Cause."
Ambassador Huntsman was dead wrong in that assertion -- but therein lies the good and operative news for the Republican Party.
Marriage equality is not a conservative cause. Far from it; conservatives oppose radical changes like same-sex marriage by definition. As Abraham Lincoln put it, "Conservatism is the tried and true over the new and untested."
But not all Republicans are conservatives, and the amicus brief before the Supreme Court reminded the American voting public of that fact. It can only help to broaden the base of a Republican Party that has been visibly shrinking in recent years, particularly in the northeast.
It may come as a shock to many, but the Republican Party has never been ideologically monolithic. Anyone who watched the infighting between "radical Republicans" and "conservative Republicans" in the movie "Lincoln" should know that.
But taunts of "RINO!"(Republican in name only) have been sufficiently cast upon Republican moderates, progressives and libertarians in recent years that they've been driven underground -- or out of the party entirely in some cases. Those aspersions were cast, ironically, by historically challenged conservatives clueless about the underpinnings of their own political party, which is supposed to stand for equal rights under the law. What they should be shouting instead "CINO" -- conservative in name only.
This brief suggests that some muzzled voices are now willing to come out and fight again, to reassert a strain of Republicanism that freed millions of African-American slaves a century and a half ago. That's a wonderful thing for the long-term health of the Republican Party, no matter which side of the gay marriage issue you're on. It cracks open the tent just enough for former refugees to take a peek back inside, and God knows they are needed.
Others should speak up before that tent flap shuts again.
William F. B. O'Reilly is a Newsday columnist and a Republican political consultant.