Conservative or Republican? Where We Go From Here

Conservative or Republican? Where We Go From Here November 9, 2012

The Republican party is at a crossroads right now. They can choose to respond to Obama’s victory in one of two ways: Move (even more) to the left in a desperate bid to appear more moderate and therefore more “electable” (supposedly), or stand their ground. Actually, I suppose there is a third option, which would be to retrace their steps and move back to the right, but wait, wait, I think I see a pig flying!
Unfortunately, I think what we can look for is the former, because history tends to repeat itself, and this is the pattern we’ve seen over and over again ever since Clinton. Denny Burk, it turns out, shares my opinion, and he has a real “Amen” post on this topic that includes a warning for social conservatives: We may one day need to acknowledge that we didn’t leave the Republican party. They left us. I quote:

The traditional Republican coalition of social, fiscal, and foreign policy conservatives may be about to shift. We may very well be approaching an era in which no major political party supports the sanctity of marriage. And it may not be too long before the GOP jettisons life too.
All of this means that Evangelicals who care about life, marriage, and religious liberty are going to sound more and more like the voice of one crying in the wilderness. We may find ourselves maintaining our cause with no major political party representing that cause. The pressure will grow for us to abandon what the Bible says about protecting life and marriage, but we cannot and must not budge. We will have to be the loyal opposition to a president who in every way has been wrong on these issues. And we may have to be the loyal opposition to another political party poised to embrace gay marriage rights.

In contrast, I found Michael Gerson’s “aftermath advice for Republicans” op-ed distinctly unhelpful, uninformed, and shallow. I’m puzzled that Burk actually appears to be an enthusiastic fan of Gerson’s and even linked this very article, since I think Burk himself is a much clearer thinker on these matters. I’m not going to discuss all the ways in which Gerson is wrong-headed and uninformed, but I want to zero in on the last two paragraphs:

Republican adjustments to cultural trends, particularly among millennials, will be difficult — although candidates could start by being unambiguous in their condemnations of rape. In fact, the tone taken by most Republicans on cultural issues has shifted considerably over the past several years. The pro-life movement has become more realistic and incremental. Republican opposition to gay marriage is increasingly falling back to the defense of institutional religious freedom. With nearly 50 percent of Romney’s support coming from religious conservatives, there is no rational strategy that employs them as a political foil. But it is more advisable than ever to make public arguments about morality in aspirational rather than judgmental ways.
The Romney campaign was a vast machine with one moving part, its economic critique. The next Republican campaign will need to be capable of complex adjustments of ideology, policy and rhetoric. And it will need one more thing: a candidate with a genuine, creative passion for inclusion.

Hoo boy, where to start? I suppose I’ll begin at the beginning, with the asinine nod to the Akin skerfuffle and the more minor Mourdock moment. It’s frankly pretty arrogant, condescending and just plain dumb to somehow imply that either of these men “left it ambiguous” as to whether they condemn rape. Of course the left took it that way because they take every word that proceedeth out of a conservative mouth as prima facie bigoted and ill-intentioned. I would have hoped Gerson might be better than that. A vain hope. My reaction to this, surprisingly, is almost identical to that of Newt Gingrich, a man with some significant moral failings who nevertheless has proved more than once that he has his head screwed on straight. In an interview where he was questioned specifically about Mourdock, Gingrich basically said, look, Mourdock condemns rape, we all condemn rape, every decent American I know condemns rape. So can we just accept that as the unarguable point it should be and move on to the substance of what he said?

Sadly, at least with Akin (not so much Mourdock), the Republican party unanimously threw him under the bus, showing that they really didn’t care if that seat remained in Democrat hands as long as they kept their “moderate” reputation in the eyes of the left, whom it’s pointless to try to please anyway. And look what happened—a race that nobody would have called for the Democrat candidate ended up being carried by her, comfortably. To the Republican party I say: Nice work. I guess we now know where your priorities lie.
So there’s that, which ties in to the comment about becoming “realistic” and “incremental” in the pro-life movement. What exactly is Gerson saying, that Republicans should support the three exceptions, across the board?
Moving on to the gay issue, Gerson implies that Republicans should, essentially, adopt a purely defensive posture. Don’t push back, don’t make actively negative comments about gay marriage, don’t make actively negative comments about homosexuality, instead do it like this: “ALL we want is…” This is emphatically NOT what Republicans need. It is in fact the LAST thing they need if they want to keep any semblance of a backbone in the party. What we really need is someone with Gingrich’s bulldog-style, no prisoners taken approach to vital issues minus the lack of personal moral scruples. Though I admit that in hindsight Santorum looks pretty good. Anyway, presumably Gerson has no problem with civil unions, but these have also proven to be a disastrous move forward for the gay agenda in terms of the normalization of homosexuality in America and the rights granted to such “couples.”
Gerson does bring himself to admit that perhaps it’s not wisest to antagonize the one base that overwhelmingly votes Republican (no DUH), but waves this aside with some mumbo-jumbo boiling down to the effect that he’s sure the Republicans would figure it out. Somehow. And the main thing to remember is to be very, very nice. Of course, the whole article is absolutely pointless because he still hasn’t got the memo that the Republicans could sell their very soul and the rest of the country would still pull the lever for the Democrat.
In other words, Michael Gerson doesn’t have the faintest idea what he’s talking about, and I’m sorry that people are taking what he has to say here with any degree of seriousness. I think despite Burk’s inexplicable attraction to Gerson, he himself got it exactly right. Increasingly, we should prepare to identify as conservative, not Republican. Whatever “strategic” moves they choose to make, we need to stay exactly where we are even if we eventually realize we’re all by our little lonesome.
So circle the wagons, light a fire, bring a few marshmallows, and keep your guns clean. Come what may, the world will know that we shall not be moved.

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  • Lydia

    “Aspirational rather than judgemental ways.” Hmmm. How about this: “I think we should _aspire_ to have a country in which children are not murdered en masse.” Oh, guess that isn’t what he has in mind. “Let’s _aspire_ to a country that isn’t saturated in sex and in which horrible perversions are not normalized. Let’s _aspire_ not to live in Sodom and Gomorrah.” Oh, guess that isn’t what he’s looking for either.
    Guess I’m having some difficulty with this “aspirational rather than judgmental” stuff. Maybe we shouldn’t bother with it. 🙂

  • Here’s the deal: Gerson was a speech-writer and advisor to President Bush. He is also (supposedly) against a total reversion to Christian leftism a la Jim Wallis. Therefore, some Christian conservatives believe they must nod significantly whenever he writes a new op-ed.
    Admittedly, I did enjoy his scathing critique of Obama’s empty 9/11 anniversary speech this year. But other times, like here, I think he misses the mark.

  • Lydia

    Ah, well, as far as I’m concerned, his having been a speech-writer and adviser to President Bush (II) raises more red flags than it lowers. Not that I would swear never to like anything that such an adviser wrote. Just that I would be reading closely before praising it. In this case, he’s being foolish.
    Since when have pro-lifers _not_ been taking an incremental approach, for example? Since a _whole_ a lot longer than the “last several years.” As usual, he lacks the mental sharpness to distinguish our saying, “We would be willing to support, say, a state law that included exceptions for rape and incest, if Roe v. Wade were overturned and if such a law were the best law we could get passed” from our saying, “Hey, we’re just ducky with the rape and incest exceptions. We _support_ those exceptions. Women in those cases _ought_ to be able to get an abortion.”
    The majority of pro-lifers have been saying the former forever. For as long as I’ve known anything about the pro-life movement. Decades and decades. Hey, the Roman Catholic Church even has official statements about why that is okay! We’ve *thought that one through*, Mr. Gerson.
    What we’re now being pressured to say is the latter. And that’s being falsely advertised as “the incremental approach.” I just hope not too many people fall for it.

  • Lydia

    Sorry, misworded: I meant that pro-lifers _have_ been taking an incremental approach for decades, not that they haven’t.

  • In my humble and very distant “irish” opinion, the Republican part missed the boat by squeezing out Ron Paul. In early polls, in a head to head, Ron Paul was the ONLY Republican Candidate that could have beaten Obama.
    Ron Paul’s message of liberty would not have been popular however and it was painfully obvious that the mainstream media just blanked him out.
    As for the future……fasten your seat belts!!

  • I think you’ve raised the Ron Paul option before. Though I sympathize with some aspects of libertarianism, I have some problems with Paul as a candidate (perhaps, your opinion being self-admittedly distant and Irish, you weren’t aware of some of them).
    1. He’s stubbornly moronic when it comes to foreign policy. Granted, both Republicans and Democrats suffer from misconceptions when it comes to war and dealing with foreign threats, but Paul was basically saying “Threat? What threat?” Much like Dinesh D’Souza and other popular conservatives, Paul refuses to acknowledge the clear and present danger that is the Muslim jihad. Many “Paulites” are “Truthers,” meaning they think 9/11 was an inside job. While Paul himself hasn’t come out and said he thinks that, he didn’t seem to mind reaching out to that particular fringe group.
    2. In the primaries, he lambasted other Republicans like Santorum who were more socially conservative than he is.
    3. Although in the past he built up a reputation as a principled man who wouldn’t bend with changing opinion, the past couple years have proven him to be exactly that type. I’m very disappointed with how he’s shifted his positions in order to appear cool and attract his own personal cult following (and it is like a cult over here). It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

  • Lydia

    Strategically, there was also no way in Hades that R.P. could have won. Not even remotely close. His supporters are enthusiastic to the point of being creepily fervent, but they are a smaller minority even than American social conservatives, and the latter group wasn’t enough to win the election for Romney, though most of them voted for him. R.P. is a fringe phenomenon. Some of the reasons for his being considered fringe or weird are legitimate (people are legitimately outraged by the bizarre comments he has made about 9/11 being an understandable response by terrorists because there are American troops present in Saudi Arabia), and some are less legitimate (people think he’s crazy to advocate the gold standard, while I think that’s not so crazy). But regardless of the reasons for his fringe status, I suspect that no one would be more astonished than R.P. if he ever won the presidency! Romney had some chance, though I always was sure that Obama would win. But R.P. had _no_ chance.