Streetcar Line

Social Conservatism: Winning Right

No reason to be embarrassed -- a plurality if not a majority of Americans support its positions.

By 2.24.12

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Now let us speak of "social issues." Now let us show how extreme and antediluvian we are. Now let us be horribly insensitive. Now let us give "the vapors" to the coastal elites. Now let us drive the establishment media batty.

Now let us win an election while sticking to our well-considered principles.

In fact, now let us win an election because we stick to our well-considered principles. And then watch the heathens howl.

Okay, we should take back the word "heathens." That was just puckish alliteration. But the rest of the above litany should stand. The howling "elites" can bay at the moon all they want. We're right substantively, and we're right politically. Social conservatism is a winning philosophy.

Majorities of Americans (or in some polls, clear pluralities) call themselves "pro-life." Every state that has held a referendum on recognizing homosexual relationships as "marriages" has voted not to do so (or, more precisely, has voted to define marriage as being only between a man and woman). Wholesome movies regularly do better at the box office than sleazy ones do. Americans prefer being "tough on crime" to being lenient. Americans tend to like local control of schools, parental involvement and choice in education, and traditional curricula. Far more Americans feel strongly in favor of gun rights than in favor of gun control. Americans treasure families and neighborhoods, and oppose governmental intrusions into them. We don't like governmental racial preferences. We are deeply patriotic. We far prefer conservative judges to liberal ones. And we still are a faithful people, with churches and belief in God a very important part of most of our lives.

Also, we know deep down in our cores that candidates who draw a connection between family breakdown and out-of-wedlock births, on one hand, and cultural and economic ills like crime, delinquency, and lack of economic mobility, on the other, are absolutely right. Statistically, the case in favor of this argument is irrefutable. Psychologically, we know it is right. And we've known it is right for nearly half a century. We didn't even need a "conservative" to make that case for it; we relied, quite correctly, on the social-science findings of the politically liberal (or center-leftist) Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Finally, we believe with every fiber of our beings that voluntary associations, churches, and local associations are better at ameliorating social ills than are governments, especially the federal government. When we talk about cultural values and social concerns, we usually do not do so because we want government to impose our values on others through government programs; instead, we either want government to get out of the way of these intermediary institutions (or of the family), or else we want the government to do no more than make it easier for those institutions to act.

About the only issue on which we would indeed have government "interfere" is on abortion -- but that's only if one accepts the liberal line that it is only the mother's interest, not the child's, which is being interfered with. "Choice" is fine, of course, unless the choice involves taking a human life.

On one level, there is a simple and straightforward logic to protecting the child. If governments exist for no other reason, they exist to protect the innocent from external, physical harm. If the child in the womb is human (which, of course, it is, scientifically speaking), and if it is life (again, by definition it is), then it is irrefutably human life. The only questions involve concepts such as "viability," "ensoulment," and the value of human life at a pre-born stage. Those who want to forbid abortion are doing no less than protecting human life from what they regard as murder -- a job (stopping murder) which is a moral imperative for every legitimate government that ever existed.

Now this does not mean that the sympathies of pro-lifers can't be with the mothers affected. In fact, it is far easier to sympathize with the mother than with the less-than-physically developed, certainly not intellectually or emotionally developed (to say the least), accumulation of living tissue fully dependent for sustenance on the mother inside which it grows. And the mothers deserve our sympathies. The very trajectory of their lives is at issue. They have a right to be scared. They have a right to have doubts. More than that, they may well have legitimate moral concerns of their own. Not all mothers considering abortion are morally serious, but some are. It's just that their moral system of values puts more emphasis on quality of life than on "mere" existence of human life. That value system might itself be seen as immoral, but it is not an unserious or unconsidered position.

All of which is why the issue of abortion is so difficult -- and why the various positions on it merit more respect from all other positions, for all other positions, than just about any issue in the public realm today. It also means that it is incumbent on pro-lifers to do whatever is in our power to treat both mother and child humanely and to help ensure the best pre-natal care and the best post-birth opportunities for both of them. It would do pro-lifers good for us to express these concerns more openly, and to act in accord with them.

One big problem, though, is that the establishment media tends to show far less respect for us than we do for the mothers. Our entirely valid moral concerns are pilloried, belittled, and even treated as if those concerns are flat-out hateful. The "elites" often show no moral reflection at all, but rather a sneering and sometimes vicious set of double standards.

Newt Gingrich was absolutely right, indeed profoundly so, in Tuesday night's debate when he said this:

"I just want to point out, you did not once in the 2008 campaign, not once did anybody in the elite media ask why Barack Obama voted in favor of legalizing infanticide. OK? So let's be clear here. If we're going to have a debate about who the extremist is on these issues, it is President Obama who, as a state senator, voted to protect doctors who killed babies who survived the abortion. It is not the Republicans."

The lack of media attention to this bizarre and lonely "stand" of Obama's speaks volumes about media values. It makes the establishment media into moral reprobates for refusing even to understand that this is, or should be, an area of controversy.

Nonetheless, the lefty media has a big and powerful megaphone that is good at drowning us out. That's why it is admirable that Rick Santorum has never backed off from a discussion of social issues. He knows his words will be distorted, taken out of context, and harshly criticized by the media minions of the Left. Yet very little of what he says is, in full context, the slightest bit objectionable or "extreme."

Moreover, if the economy continues to improve, even slowly, so that its weakness no longer hobbles Barack Obama's re-election campaign, then conservatives need a presidential candidate who is willing to champion these issues and our values, and who knows how to turn his championing of them into votes. They are, after all, majority- or plurality-positions that we hold.

Some of us have usually been more squeamish than not about social issues. (For decades, I always mildly agreed with "socio-cons" but was driven far more by economics and defense needs than by social issues; and indeed as a college freshman I had the temerity to tell a conservative-movement leader that I agreed with Barry Goldwater that Jerry Falwell's moral hectoring merited a good "kick in the a$$" -- even though I supported Falwell's basic positions.) Some of us (myself included) would still prefer to talk about free-market economics and the virtues of limiting government. But none of us should fail to rise to the defense of our social-issue positions, because the only way we lose on them politically is if we act embarrassed by them and thus give credence to the leftist attacks.

It is the left that wants government to co-opt, or steamroll over, the mediating institutions we hold dear. It is they who seek to impose their values on us by force of law (and thus by force of the gun, wielded by the jailer) -- not we who seek to impose our values on them. Leave our families and churches and voluntary associations alone, and we'll all be fine no matter how the less-socially-conservative people want to conduct their own private affairs. Even if we are of the evangelizing (small "e") persuasion, our bailiwick is moral suasion in the open public square, not coercion. If this makes the leftists howl -- so what? While they are howling, we'll defeat them, fair and square.

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About the Author
Quin Hillyer is a senior editor of The American Spectator and a senior fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom. Follow him on Twitter @QuinHillyer.