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Social Conservatives' Self-Defeating CPAC Strategy

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

On the heels of an extensive victory at the ballot box in November, conservatives can’t stay united past January. National-virtue social conservatives’ eruption at the organizers of CPAC over their accommodation of a gay-advocacy group was inevitable. And so these social conservatives continue their longstanding pursuit of ineffective strategies to achieve their goals.

Here’s why.

Many social conservatives dedicate themselves to national-virtue issues. Like liberal virtue-politicians, they want Washington to be in the virtue business. For example, such conservatives pursue family-friendly legislation and federal support of faith-based initiatives. Simultaneously, liberals pursue compulsory sex-education for six-year-olds and banning the ordinary light bulb.

So, these social conservatives believe their task is to win national battles for their virtues, to be implemented by Washington.

This despite that fact that the U.S. Constitution never empowered the federal government to define and enforce the personal virtues of Americans—quite the opposite, the Bill of Rights reserves personal virtue to Americans themselves and their local governances. This is particularly true of religious liberty, which jealously encompasses personal virtues.

This despite the fact that, for Christian social conservatives seeking righteousness for America, the Bible teaches that righteousness is only through Christ. Pursuing “national righteousness” through legalistic “better behavior”? That is a deeply inadequate rendering of the Good News of Jesus Christ and has helped forge a deeply damaging caricature of authentic Christianity. No, the route to true righteousness is making disciples of Jesus, one-by-one.

The truth is that social conservatives’ political successes nationally have been dwarfed by the successes of their adversaries. The social conservatives’ fund-raising letters say as much, constantly spreading the alarm of the never-ending successes of liberal secularists.

Social conservatives should have adopted the position decades ago that Washington should never be involved in virtue cram-downs of any profile (theirs or others’) and should have fought for freedom from Washington’s relentless efforts to define and deliver its vision of “virtues.”

Instead, national-virtue social conservatives have implicitly agreed to escalate every personal virtue issue to Washington, to be defined and enforced by the most powerful government in history—a federal government clearly hostile to traditional values. That strategy will consistently backfire. Washington has responded as all self-perpetuating, omnivorous federal governments do, taking every opportunity to install fake “virtues” and reduce freedom for 300 million Americans. Compulsory health care, anyone?

Much better for social conservatives to have adopted the Constitution-honoring “freedom nationally, virtue locally” political strategy.

But, because national-virtue social conservatives do not pursue “virtue locally and freedom nationally,” they deem the gay lobby at the national level a threat. It necessarily follows, then, that gays cannot possibly be allies with social conservatives at the national level in the pursuit of common freedom for all, while the two groups would then clash at the state or local level. No, once you determine that your task is to force 300 million Americans into conformity to your specific set of virtues, then your allies, including possible allies for the preservation of freedom, shrink to your small group of fellow-travelers.

If only this were a new thing. The self-defeating strategy of national-virtue social conservatives has been in place for decades. Have their efforts made our nation more virtuous? More free? No, the often-unintended fruit of their decades-long efforts is bitter—if not to them, then to many others who work alongside them.

The only strategic antidote, the only way to thwart a big government dedicated to enforcing its version of “virtues”—the only way for social conservatism to truly prevail—is “freedom nationally, virtue locally.”

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