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The Problem With Social Conservatives

by @ 3:38 pm on December 2, 2008. Filed under Politics, Religion, Republicans

In a column meant to rebut the assertions of Kathleen Parker, Jeffrey Hart, and others who have said in the weeks since Election Day that the Republican Party needed to distance itself from the Religious Right to survive, Rod Dreher ends up making Parker’s and Hart’s point for them:

Today, the greatest threats to conservative interests come not from the Soviet Union or high taxes, but from too much individual freedom. Look around you: Americans have been poor stewards of our economic liberty, owing to cultural values that celebrate unfettered materialism. Our families and communities have fragmented, in part because we have embraced an ethic of extreme individualism. Climate change and a peak in oil production threaten our future because we have been irresponsible caretakers of the natural world and its resources. At best, the religious right stood ineffectively against these trends. At worst, we preached them, mistaking consumerism for conservatism.

All political problems, traditional conservatism teaches, are ultimately religious problems because they result from disordered souls. In the era now dawning, Americans will learn again to live within limits — and together. Religious conservatives are philosophically positioned to lead the way, but we can’t do it by pouring new wine into old skins.

We’re going to have to learn to think and talk in terms — and not overtly religious ones — of building up civil society and its mediating institutions.

Dreher’s argument is essentially identical to the one that Mike Huckabee made back in May when he said that the greatest threat to the Republican Party lied in libertarians who refused to tow the social conservative line.

Leaving the merits, of Dreher’s argument aside for a second, though, does anyone really think that the Republican Party will succeed electorally if it becomes a party that believes in telling people that they have too much freedom and need to be told by the government what is “good” for them, and what isn’t ?

Yea, I don’t either, and the recent election provides ample evidence to back that up:

[V]oters ages 18 to 29, almost one-fifth of the electorate, went better than 2-to-1 for Obama.

Here, too, the trends in the past couple of elections have been all Democratic. Some of that is because there are more minorities among younger voters; some of it is the lousy economy, and some the opposition to the Iraq War.

But interviews and survey data suggest that another reason is tolerance, and the feeling that on matters like gay rights and race relations, Republicans are out of step. Most young people have no trouble with gay relationships.

Cultural conservatives celebrated that three states, California, Arizona and Florida, voted last month to ban gay marriage. They will learn these were pyrrhic victories much like the anti-immigration measure California Republicans rode to electoral success in 1994, where they won an election and lost a generation.

This can be seen quite plainly in the vote on California’s Proposition 8, where the 18-29 year old cohort voted overwhelmingly against the effort to reimpose a ban on same-sex marriage.

Dreher’s column will no doubt be a rallying cry for those who agree with him, but if the GOP follows his advice they’re unlikely to find much electoral success outside of Utah, Oklahoma, and Alabama.

H/T: James Joyner and Dennis Sanders

One Response to “The Problem With Social Conservatives”

  1. [...] Some other reactions to Dreher’s column: James Joyner, Dennis Sanders, Doug Mataconis, Andrew [...]

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