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Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Future of the Republican Party - Too Socially Conservative or Not Socially Conservative Enough

Lately a bunch of articles have been making the rounds blaming McCain's defeat on social conservatives who had "hijacked the party."

One of the more famous such articles comes from one Paul Hsieh who claimed that McCain had lost his vote because of the social conservative agenda.

I want to let them know that they lost the vote of many former supporters (including myself) because they have chosen to embrace the Religious Right. I voted Republican in 1996, 2000, and 2004. I believe in limited government, individual rights, free market capitalism, a strong national defense, and the right to keep and bear arms - positions that one normally associates with Republicans. But I didn't vote for a single Republican in 2008. I've become increasingly alienated by the Republicans" embrace of the religious "social conservative" agenda, including attempts to ban abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and gay marriage.

Now if we are to take Paul at face value, than he could vote for George W. Bush but simply couldn't vote for McCain because of the "social conservative agenda." Naturally this is the kind of absurdity that leads most people to laugh at loud. George W. Bush was the emblematic candidate of social conservative positions at least on paper, by contrast McCain downplayed social conservativism and so did much of the party.

Former mediocre New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman meanwhile has co-authored a Wall Street Journal article claiming much the same thing, namely that social conservatives have taken the party hostage.

Our central thesis was simple: The Republican Party had been taken hostage by "social fundamentalists," the people who base their votes on such social issues as abortion, gay rights and stem cell research. Unless the GOP freed itself from their grip, we argued, it would so alienate itself from the broad center of the American electorate that it would become increasingly marginalized and find itself out of power.

The problem with all of these arguments is that McCain was the most liberal Republican Presidential nominee in decades. He certainly didn't run with a social conservative platform front and center. A hard core challenge to Obama on abortion and gay rights might have had unpredictable results, but it's not the route that McCain took.

If Hsieh and Whitman are not satisfied with McCain, who would they be satisfied with as the Republican nominee? Hillary Clinton or Obama? It's far more plausible to argue that the lack of social conservativism did McCain in, than the other way around. But in this election the big issues for most voters were the economy and a dissatisfaction with Republicans, one that was rooted in the usual frustration with incumbents when things aren't going well.

Protecting traditional values is however a solid issue that continues to reasonate with large numbers of voters on both sides of the aisle. Hsieh and Whitman claim that Republicans lost the middle over social issues, but even Obama voters have demonstrated a tendency to fall more on the dreaded social conservative side of the aisle, as witnessed in California.

By contrast the sort of voter for whom support for gay marriage, abortion or evolution are do or die issues, is rarely the sort of voter who would consider voting Republican in the first place, absent a truly dire situation. That is not to say that the party should seek the furthest extreme or make them primary campaign issues in national elections, but soft-pedaling them only results in rejection by both sides... as the 2008 election demonstrated.

Social conservativism is not the problem, but neither is it the solution in and of itself. The average American will not go to the polls primarily on social issues. Social conservativism can only be part of a larger conservative worldview, one that stands for reducing government and increasing personal and commercial liberty and protecting authentic Constitutional rights at the expense of group rights produced by judicial activism.

I am not a social conservative, because I differ religiously on the fine points of a variety of issues including when abortion should be legal to protect the mother, and politically because I believe that the Federal government is a very poor tool for promoting conservative values and a very good tool for promoting liberal ones.

After multiple Presidents, the Department of Education, the NEA and any number of departments and institutions continue to promote a liberal agenda. Which means that the right solution is to dismantle the Federal government's ability to promote any values and reduce its local influence, rather than to try and use it to legislate social policy. Kicking social issues back to the states will allow Red States to be Red States and Blue States to be Blue States, which is as it should be in a democracy. Communities have the right to decide their own values and identity and people should have the right to choose a place to live that mirrors those values.

However even the Federal government can serve a valuable purpose by protecting against liberal attempts to write their own social agenda, one alien to most Americans into law. And that is in line with Conservative values. Innovations such as gay marriage or a constitutional right to abortion should be protected against, and the Federal government can fight judicial activism and resist the liberal Jihad against traditional American values.

Liberalism has succeeded in framing the debate as taking place between Tolerance and Intolerance. But the issue is not a matter of tolerance. It is a matter of respect for the values of the Constitution and the Republic and that of the average American citizen.

The entire Liberal notion of rights protection depends on extending the power of government over persons and institutions. The Conservative idea of rights protection must be to reduce the power of government over persons and institutions. And in doing so we will automatically negative the base and source of Liberal power.

The greatest Liberal fear is of Americans deciding for themselves what they want, not "special groups" deciding it, but ordinary citizens on a state by state and community by community basis. Their hardly hidden contempt for the average American, a creature they wish to displace through immigration and economic turmoil, when they aren't trying suppress, silence and brainwash him tells us they know as well as we do what the overall outcome would be, if their social policies were put to such a test. And even if they didn't, they have lost enough social referendums to draw them a map.

That then will become the true Conservative challenge in 2010 and 2012, to take Federal power only to give it up, by dismantling much of it, as they should have done in 2000, instead of using it as a great bipartisan pork barrel and a never ending source of new agencies and restrictions.

A new Contract with America, one that will commit to small government, individual freedom and state rights can satisfy both social conservatives and even the Hsiehs and Whitmans as well as appealing to the swing voter in the middle.


  1. McCain stands for nothing. His campaign could not have been anymore empty if it tried and I believe it did try to be just that.
    I don't think he cared if he was elected or not..or maybe he was also eager for Obama to win and so stood around twiddling his thumbs.

  2. Liked this article Sultan. I think Rush Limbaugh said it best when he was asked a question concerning McCain's concession speech. Rush said "concession speech, his whole campaign has been a concession speech".

  3. unfortunately there's some truth to that, though Rush was understandably cheerleading mccain during the campaign

  4. Paul Hsieh sounds like a card carrying liberal Democrat if you ask me. But I do understand what he means when he writes about being turned off by the Religious Right. They do tend to come across as cold, controlling and rigid when it comes to abortion and other issues.

    A more libertarian-like approach as you suggested could very well have appealed to swing voters.

    Sad to say it but the next Republican presidential candidate must be a better public speaker than McCain was. You can have the best speech writer working for you but if the delivery is too mild the candidate will come across as weak and yes, making concessions.

    Remember how Sarah Palin energized the party with her first speech? That's what McCain needing to do in the debates. He almost seemed ashamed to raise his voice or interrupt Obama aka Bam Bam (my new nickname for him. Yeah, I know the "bam" in Obama is pronounced differently than the Bam in Bam Bam but Obama's speaking does have a Bam Bam Rubble quality. Bam on this issue. Bam on that issue. Bam. Bam. Bam Bam Bam!

    Short, snappy, loud and clear.

  5. He's a Randian objectivist which is an odd enough category.

    Yes you needed a candidate who talked directly to the public, instead of trying to be everyone's friend

  6. This is excellent. You've got a great attitude, and I wish LGF and David Frum and Brooks and O'Rourke and a number of others would share it. This is not the time to be yelling about social conservatives being a detriment.

    I do want to add that there are a few very feeble social conservative attempts to kick out anyone even seeming liberal. I don't like that much either, but it has been the whining about social conservatives that has gotten the press.

    My own thoughts on where the Republican party has to go are here: What can we reasonably expect from partisanship?



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