So when I was last here, I suggested that conservatives should not believe that the sky is falling. Since then, I have completed Sean Trende's fascinating book, The Lost Majority. Trende argues that political coalitions are inherently unstable - they require bringing together incompatible groups - and that there are no permanent victories in politics. He does a nice job of illustrating how narrow the Democratic coalition is (you can say the same thing about the GOP) and the closeness of three of our last four elections along with the dramatic swings in the midterms (compare 2006 with 2010) bears that out.
But to say that things are not awful for conservatives is not to say
that they are just fine. Reexamination is in order. The Democrats did
not turn things around until they addressed their weaknesses. Bill
Clinton was a New Democrat - one who learned to adopt his party's
traditional commitment to larger government to reflect current political
reality. This entailed some substantive changes - ending welfare as we
knew it and pursuing a more assertive foreign policy - and some
repackaging of what were essentially the same positions - abortion
should be safe, legal and rare.
I can think of three things that conservatives need to think hard
about. But we should begin with a caveat. The party who loses an
election should be loathe to take advice from the partisans of the
winners. They don't really wish you well.
So I am not quite ready to get on board with all those well meaning
folks on the left who think that the Republicans should throw the social
conservatives under the bus. While Republicans cannot abandon their
commitment to traditional values, they must understand that many people
have a more nuanced view of how those values are lived and that too much
of GOP rhetoric seems to ignore that. I don't believe that the GOP
should cease being a pro-life party but it cannot appear to be
censorious or extreme. One of the most effective things that the
pro-life movement ever did was run the ads of women explaining how they
came to be opposed to abortion. The ads treated women as moral agents
and not subjects to be controlled.
There is a sense in which the Republicans got a raw deal this
election cycle. Rick Santorum, Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin were not
nominees for national office. But the Democrats did a masterful - if
nasty and misleading - job of using them to taint the GOP brand. This
didn't move a lot of votes but it moved some. In close elections, every
The Democrats strove mightily to create issues
that did not exist. Republicans were not proposing to outlaw
contraceptions and the notion that they would become "unaffordable"
unless religious dissenters were forced to pay for them was a nifty bit
Yet Republicans let them get away with it. They
have, I think, spent so much time talking to social conservatives that
many have forgotten how to talk about social issues in a way that
doesn't assume the conclusion. Too many conservatives have forgotten how to address these issues with persuasion and not condemnation and condescension. They have forgotten the humility and kindness which is also a religious value.
is a great irony here. Republicans are castigated by the left for
insisting on tradiitonal values but, as Charles Murray demonstrated in
his recent book, Coming Apart, the upper middle class members
on the left recognize how important those values are to well being and
live their lives accordingly.
Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin