The Case for Social Conservatism

by Sal on November 14, 2008

in Culture,Politics

As is typical when Republicans lose, a debate is occurring in the GOP and the Conservative Movement over the role of social conservatism in the party.  There are those that think, incorrectly, that social conservatism is a drag on the party.  The arguments include the idea that a majority of people in this country are pro-choice, the young support gay marriage, etc.  The problem with these arguments is that they are simplistic and incorrect.  They are based on polls that can be made to say anything that the pollster wants them to say.

For example, on Abortion, when the question is asked about the legal issue of abortion (legal in all cases, most cases, illegal in most cases, illegal in all cases) those favoring the legal options narrowly edge out those favoring the illegal options 49%-47% (within the margin of error).  Yet when the question is asked differently, regarding specific questions on when abortion should be limited the results are quite striking.  While a clear majority feel that abortion should be legal if there is danger to the mother’s life, and in cases of rape and incest, most feel that it should be illegal for unwanted pregnancies.  There is room for persuasion on the abortion issue and other social issues, but the proper case has to be made.  We have used the same arguments against abortion for 30 years, and they have become so repetitive that most people have tuned them out.

One argument on abortion that I find persuasive to people, even people who consider themselves pro-choice (although not militantly so) is the democratic argument.  Roe V. Wade was a court decision in which five unelected judges decided that a right to abortion existed in the Constitution where none can be found.  The argument can be made persuasively that this decision has taken the freedom of people to democratically elect officials to choose their laws.  I often argue that the argument over abortion should be in the democratic arena of ideas, not in the courts.  If Roe V. Wade were overturned tomorrow, it would not change the legality of abortion.  What would happen is that the practice would return to the states, where each state could debate and decide the issue.  At that point, the fight to save the unborn would not be over, but it would be on a more even playing field.

There is also the fallacy that if the Republican Party would just give up its social conservatism, moderates and Democrats would flock to the party.  While it may be true that some people would be more apt to vote Republican if the social conservatism wasn’t there, what this argument forgets is that a large percentage of the GOP base is socially conservative, and is dedicated to that position.  By dropping social conservatism, the base of the party would be depressed, causing a large chunk of the electorate to stay home or support a third party candidate.

This argument is often quite persuasive with people because it makes common sense, even to those who really don’t have an appreciation for the horrible practice that is abortion.  It shows how the GOP can tailor its message without giving up its core principles.  The GOP should remain a socially conservative party, not because it is necessarily the most politically expedient thing to do, but because it is the right thing to do.

One of John McCain’s more famous lines during the campaign is that he would rather lose an election than lose a war.  I would rather lose an election than lose our principles.  Yet we don’t have to.  Social conservatism is a battle that can be one, with good arguments and logical persuasion in the arena of ideas.  The battles have to be fought strategically, however, and we have to realize that it is not an all-or-nothing fight, and that incremental battles towards the ultimate goal may be our best chance.  In any case, abortion and traditional marriage are not problems for the GOP, they can in fact lead to electoral victory.

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