Social Conservatism a Winning Formula for GOP
James Taranto writes in The Wall Street Journal:
If you're a Republican in New York or another big city, you may be anxious or even terrified at the prospect that Rick Santorum, the supposedly unelectable social conservative, may win the GOP presidential nomination. Jeffrey Bell would like to set your mind at ease.(emphasis added)
Social conservatism, Mr. Bell argues in his forthcoming book, "The Case for Polarized Politics," has a winning track record for the GOP. "Social issues were nonexistent in the period 1932 to 1964," he observes. "The Republican Party won two presidential elections out of nine, and they had the Congress for all of four years in that entire period. . . . When social issues came into the mix—I would date it from the 1968 election . . . the Republican Party won seven out of 11 presidential elections."
In Mr. Bell's telling, social conservatism is both relatively new and uniquely American, and it is a response to aggression, not an initiation of it. The left has had "its center of gravity in social issues" since the French Revolution, he says. "Yes, the left at that time, with people like Robespierre, was interested in overthrowing the monarchy and the French aristocracy. But they were even more vehemently in favor of bringing down institutions like the family and organized religion. In that regard, the left has never changed. . . . I think we've had a good illustration of it in the last month or so."
He means the ObamaCare mandate that religious institutions must provide employee insurance for contraceptive services, including abortifacient drugs and sterilization procedures, even if doing so would violate their moral teachings. "You would think that once the economy started looking a little better, Obama would want to take a bow . . . but instead all of a sudden you have this contraception flap. From what I can find out about it, it wasn't a miscalculation. They knew that the Catholic Church and other believers were going to push back against this thing. . . . They were determined to push it through, because it's their irreplaceable ideological core. . . . The left keeps putting these issues into the mix, and they do it very deliberately, and I think they do it as a matter of principle."
The roots of social conservatism, he maintains, lie in the American Revolution. "Nature's God is the only authority cited in the Declaration of Independence. . . . The usual [assumption] is, the U.S. has social conservatism because it's more religious. . . . My feeling is that the very founding of the country is the natural law, which is God-given, but it isn't particular to any one religion. . . . If you believe that rights are unalienable and that they come from God, the odds are that you're a social conservative."
"I think the tea party is an ally of social conservatism, because it also seems to go back to that idea in the Founding. . . . The tea party brings absolute values, normative values, to a whole set of issues where they really weren't present, namely economics and the size of government." Another commonality is that both arose in reaction to an aggressive left.
The populist nature of social conservatism perplexes liberals, who think less-affluent Americans ought to side with the party of statist economics. The libertarian social scientist Charles Murray presents a more sophisticated variant of the puzzle in his new book, "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010." Mr. Murray shows that upper-middle-class Americans lead far more conservative lives than the less affluent do, by such measures as marriage, illegitimacy, churchgoing and crime.
Yet Mr. Bell notes that social conservatism is largely a working-class phenomenon: "Middle America does have more children than elite America, and they vote socially conservative, even though they might not necessarily be behaving that way in their personal life. They may be overwhelmed by the sexual revolution and its cultural impacts."
Even without immediate gains among minority voters, Mr. Bell sees social issues as the path to a GOP majority in 2012. They account for the George W. Bush-era red-blue divide, which Mr. Bell says endures—and, he adds, red has the advantage: "There was one state in 2000 that Bush carried that I would say was socially left of center, and that was New Hampshire," the only state that flipped to John Kerry four years later. "By 2004, every state—all 31 states that Bush carried—were socially conservative states." Those states now have 292 electoral votes, with 270 sufficient for a majority.
By contrast, not all the Kerry states are socially liberal. "The swing vote in the Midwest is socially conservative and less conservative economically," Mr. Bell says, so that "social conservatism is more likely to be helpful than economic conservatism."
Among states that last voted Republican in 1988 or earlier, he classifies two, Michigan and Pennsylvania, as socially conservative, and two more, Minnesota and Wisconsin, as "mildly" so. That adds up to 35 states, with 348 electoral votes, in which social conservatism is an advantage...
Mr. Santorum is the most consistent and unapologetic social conservative in the race, but Mr. Bell rejects the common claim that he places too strong an emphasis on social issues: "I think that's unfair to Santorum. He goes out of his way to say that he has an economic platform, he isn't just about social issues."
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