Dear Conservatives, Stop Micromanaging Morality

David Edwards and Andrew McLemore write at Raw Story:

The Republican brand is still alive and well, Rep. Mike Pence said on Fox News Sunday.

When asked by Chris Wallace what “conservative solutions” the GOP would bring to their current minority-party status, Pence said social issues like “the sanctity of marriage” will remain the backbone of the Republican platform.

“You build those conservative solutions, Chris, on the same time-honored principles of limited government, a belief in free markets, in the sanctity of life, the sanctity of marriage,” Pence said.

Conservatives need to think long and hard about the inherent contradiction in “limited government” and “the sanctity of life, the sanctity of marriage.” Making government the “morality police” is not “limited government.”

Of course, the truth is that conservatives really don’t want limited government. They want to limit the scope of government to carry out programs they don’t like, of course, but they are always in favor of expanding the scope of government to carry out programs they do like. They want little government when it comes to, say, Medicare, but BIG GOVERNMENT when it comes to warrantless surveillance. They want little government to enforce equal rights protections, but BIG GOVERNMENT to enforce immigration laws. They want little government to rebuild New Orleans, but BIG GOVERNMENT to wage war against whichever foreign dictator has pissed them off.

So, truth be told, they aren’t against BIG GOVERNMENT. They are just against government doing anything that might smack of progressivism. And whatever government is doing, whether they approve or not, they don’t want to pay for it. Tax revenues are supposed to fall out of the sky, somehow.

But let’s take baby steps, shall we? The truth is, even some righties are beginning to realize the Reagan coalition needs an overhaul. In a much-discussed article, David Frum argues (in effect) that the Republican base is shrinking, and if the GOP doesn’t adjust to demographic realities it will go the way of the dodo.

The base is almost entirely white, almost entirely resident in the middle of the country, moderately affluent, middle-aged and older, more male than female, with some college education but not a college degree. Think of Joe the Plumber and you see the core of the Republican party.


Joe has not changed much over the past two decades or so. But the country has. The Hispanic population of the United States has almost doubled since 1990. The proportion of white Americans with a college degree has jumped from 22% in 1990 to almost 28 ½% .

I feel compelled to point out that shipping manufacturing jobs overseas didn’t do much to grow the number of “Joes” in America.

College-educated Americans have come to believe that their money is safe with Democrats – but that their values are under threat from Republicans. And there are more and more of these college-educated Americans all the time.

So the question for the GOP is: Will it pursue them? To do so will involve painful change, on issues ranging from the environment to abortion. And it will involve potentially even more painful changes of style and tone: toward a future that is less overtly religious, less negligent with policy, and less polarizing on social issues. That’s a future that leaves little room for Sarah Palin – but the only hope for a Republican recovery.

As I see it, Republicans wedge-issued themselves into a corner. A large majority of Americans want to keep abortion legal, at least in some circumstances. Hard attitudes against homosexuality are softening, especially among young people.

In another much-discussed article, P.J. O’Rourke wrote,

Take just one example of our unconserved tendency to poke our noses into other people’s business: abortion. Democracy–be it howsoever conservative–is a manifestation of the will of the people. We may argue with the people as a man may argue with his wife, but in the end we must submit to the fact of being married. Get a pro-life friend drunk to the truth-telling stage and ask him what happens if his 14-year-old gets knocked up. What if it’s rape? Some people truly have the courage of their convictions. I don’t know if I’m one of them. I might kill the baby. I will kill the boy. …

… If the citizenry insists that abortion remain legal–and, in a passive and conflicted way, the citizenry seems to be doing so–then give the issue a rest. …The law cannot be made identical with morality. Scan the list of the Ten Commandments and see how many could be enforced even by Rudy Giuliani.

Both Frum and O’Rourke say a lot of things I think are idiocy, but at least they are facing up to the reality of social conservatism — that on a national level it hurts the Republican brand more than it helps. I’ve already explained why the anti-abortion movement is now a clear liability to Republicans. Being against same-sex marriage may not be a clear liability yet, but demography — younger people are much more accepting of homosexuality than older — says it will become so in the future.

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