In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on!


Friday, December 19, 2008

Is it Really Wise for the Republican Party to Jettison "Social Conservatism"?

As I observed in my last post, the existence of an effective (yet loyal) opposition to the Democrat party over the next four years depends heavily on what direction the Republican Party takes going forward. Of course, the country's best interests are more important than any one party's, and at least theoretically, these could be served even if the Republican Party dissolved or split into two or more new parties--IF some other entity or coalition, or even enlightened Democrats, were able to restrain implementation of the most radical and revolutionary initiatives being advanced by the Democrats' "progressive" wing. But history shows that the prevailing party, whether Democrat or Republican, usually overreaches when its opposition is weak. Given the agenda advanced by the Democrat left, such a scenario could be disastrous for American society and the Western world. Hence, more than ever, we need a Republican Party with a clear and compelling vision of the way America ought to be, a coherent program for achieving it, a message that speaks persuasively of that vision and program for all good Americans, and principled, appealing leaders who can deliver that message effectively. Almost everyone of Republican bent agrees on that, but there is currently sharp disagreement among them as to what the party's vision and message should be.

The division seems to be between those who want a Republican platform committed to the protection of traditional values and institutions (e.g., heterosexual marriage and the nuclear family; opposition to gay marriage; a pro-life stance in the abortion controversy; no federal funding of embryonic stem cell research; opposition to euthanasia; freedom of religious expression in public forums)--a concise and persuasive definition of this approach can be read here--and those who believe that this "social conservative" agenda alienates a majority of Americans and cost the Republican party the 2008 Presidential election. The latter group, which has been variously labeled "fiscal conservatives," "libertarians," or (self-servingly) "moderates," favors a Republican agenda without an emphasis on social values, focusing on smaller government, lower taxation, and less public spending (Republicans generally seem to agree on the need for a strong military and law enforcement, though differences about illegal immigration may cut across even "social" and "fiscal" conservative groupings). Among the prominent exponents of this view are California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, creatures of Hollywood and Washington, D.C., respectively. What strikes me about these and other supporters of a "values-free" Republican platform is their contempt toward small-town morality and its defenders, especially Gov. Sarah Palin, and their revulsion at the idea that religious faith should have any role in public life.

The depth of their disdain suggests that these watered-down Republicans have more in common with the liberal/radical elites currently driving the Democratic Party than they do with the Republican rank and file, most of whom have never seen Beverly Hills or Georgetown and have no stake in the culture that dominates those places. As a prominent radio commentator has observed, the driving force in the lives of high-profile "moderate" Republicans like Schwarzenegger and Powell is the need for continued recognition and influence, which they stand to lose if the media/academic/political establishments of which they're a part were displaced by a movement driven by common people and based on a value system dramatically different from their own. Moreover, while "moderates" say that the Republican Party should abandon its "polarizing" and "divisive" ideology and reach out to blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities, this appeal is not based on any principle or real understanding of such people, but rather on stereotyped ideas about what is and isn't important to them. The implication is that traditional values and institutions are not important to them at all.

Nothing could be further from the truth. One of the most important results of the November 2008 elections nationwide was repudiation of the drive to legitimize same-sex marriage in several states, including California, Florida, and Arizona, all of which were electoral victories for the Democratic Party. According to a poll conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California, 57 percent of nonwhite voters and 61 percent of Latinos cast a "yes" vote for that state's Proposition 8 constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. It has been suggested that such results reflect moral values derived from the deeply-rooted religious culture of these communities, and a greater interest in good jobs and good schools than in overturning society's most fundamental institutions. It would seem that, far from alienating minorities, the Republican Party's long-standing defense of traditional values shows great potential appeal within communities that, in November 2008, otherwise voted overwhelmingly for the Democratic presidential nominee. This seems a far more fertile ground for the party to cultivate than a thin slice of values-neutral "moderates" who are more apt to be swayed by unpredictable, short-term developments in any particular election. Appealing to the moral foundation in minority communities would also go much further to broaden the party's base than trying to target a haphazard, shifting collection of people defined primarily by their lack of firm principles or commitments.

As the recent presidential primaries and election demonstrate, people are moved by a compelling vision and a strong message--about things at the core of their way of life--far more than they are by appeals to cold pragmatism or the details of particular policies and programs. Sarah Palin's tremendous appeal to the conservative grassroots was her (and her family's) embodiment of such a vision--moral values, strong families, hard work, personal responsibility, resilience, optimism, and a passionate love of this country and all its blessings. That's a message that resonates in the hearts and minds of all true Americans, of all backgrounds and races. Only the narrowness and ineptitude of the "moderate" McCain campaign (playing into the hands of a shamelessly hostile mass media) prevented the full flowering of a vision and message that could have drawn voters everywhere to the Republican Party like a magnet. If the Party is to have a future it must cultivate that vision and hone that message, and carry them to Americans of every hue and station. If it does--and only a values-based platform will enable that to happen--the Party will be ready to stand with the common people of America to defend the things they hold most dear.

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