Finding a Future For Social Conservatives

Carol Platt Liebau
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Posted: May 11, 2009 10:08 PM
Writing today in Real Clear Politics, David Paul Kuhn discusses the extent to which social conservatives feel scapegoated by the GOP, despite the fact that they are actually one of the most loyal parts of the party.

Obviously, scapegoating has gone on -- both within the party, and most predictably, from those outside it who fear and/or hate the values (and the virtues) for which social conservatives stand.

Sometimes, of course, the scapegoating of social conservatives by other parts of the coalition is just a means by which some Republicans think they can buy some temporary popularity (or "strange new respect") from the "cool kids club" in the media.  And that's despicable.

But despite being a social conservative myself,  I can also see that there are some Republicans who agree (or at least sympathize)  with the social conservative agenda but who are striving to rehabilitate the GOP's image.  They are undertaking this task while much of the press and the culture  (and, of course, their Democrat brethren) are slavering to paint the party as gay-hating, race-baiting, woman-hating neanderthals because of opposition to gay marriage, affirmative action, and abortion-on-demand.  

That's not an easy obstacle to overcome, so these people start thinking that perhaps "downplaying" the social conservatism -- that they  may even share -- is the way to go.  They're wrong, of course; how does it make sense to jettison half your coalition to try to  win over a few finger-in-the-wind moderates? Even so, one can understand how they got there.

What makes rehabilitating the GOP so tough, of course, is that -- especially for the young -- political parties are more about identification than they are about policy.  Especially now, with a hipper-than-thou president, it's cooler than cool to be a Democrat.  Tolerant, enlightened, peace-loving, compassionate, dontcha know?
 
In contrast, especially to young people, the GOP seems like a stern parent, referencing self-restraint, fiscal prudence, ugly truths like "being nice to 'the world' doesn't mean 'the world' will be nice back," and self-help capitalism rather than government-funded "help" for everyone.  And certainly to a young person, social conservatives seem like the least "hip" and "fun" of all. 

It's no easy matter to make social conservatism cool.  Perhaps it's even impossible.  But social conservatives also have to be looking at how we can improve our game even as one hopes that GOP leaders will realize the party is doomed to failure without them.

Perhaps it's time that social conservatives acknowledge that, without jettisoning our values, we have to find a way of communicating them that helps people understand why those who hold them do so for reasons other than being simply "mean" or non-"inclusive."  Too often, I think, we simply assume that a whole generation understands the underpinnings of the various debates -- when that's actually not the case.   What's more, in framing our  communications, it's important to remember that arguments solely from religious authority can't be used -- because religion is an authority many simply disregard.

Some of this problem will be solved eventually, if there ever again emerges a leader who himself (or herself) is so appealing that he (or she) de-stigmatizes social conservatism.  Like Ronald Reagan did.

But it's tough.  Since at least the '60's, the left has basked in the mantle of "coolness."  Maybe, in the end, it's time to start subjecting the left to a good dose of gentle but pointed ridicule, and point out how empty and pretentious all the left wing claims to "coolness" and compassion alike really are.  

Think it can't be done?  Ha.  There's plenty to ridicule about even the Obamessiah himself -- the alleged quintessence of coolness.  And if you don't believe me, just ask TOTUS.