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No Country for Old Social Conservatives?

By Devi R. Nair

On Nov. 7, 2012, Barack Obama was reelected as President of the United States.  For many hopeful Republicans, that same night marked an arguably bigger event—Mitt Romney lost. After months of parading around the ideal moderate-conservative candidate, pundits on the right were shocked by the final outcome. Staunch fiscal conservatives believe the Republican Party’s inability to shift with modern social trends was the reason for the loss, while others claimed it was Romney’s moderate stance on social issues that forced millions of Republicans to not even show up on voting day.

I believe both sides are right.

Modern social conservatism has been branded by its reactionary positions to the hyper-sexualized revolution of the 1960s. The movement has become too narrowly defined and has greatly divided the Republican Party between those who are too afraid to defend those positions and those who fervently support them at all costs. Not to diminish the importance of various positions held on the two most controversial issues associated with social conservatism—abortion and same-sex marriage—but these issues have pigeonholed the Republican Party in a very vulnerable, defensive position. While the party platform does not need to necessarily abandon these ideas, the party must shift its focus. Rather than promoting social conservatism as a force resistant to change, Republicans need to boldly propose forward-moving ideas that emphatically promote traditional values

Social conservatism is at the heart of the Republican movement. Though fiscal conservatives and libertarians are ready to do away with social conservatives and their seemingly aggressive stances on particular issues, the principles of those groups present an incomplete solution when not embracing their inherent roots in social conservatism. Central to Republican ideology is the belief that government should be limited in both size and influence. But a party cannot push for a society of individuals free from excessive government without helping them build the necessary societal support systems around them.

In the past, these support systems used to be validated from social values that easily resonated with the majority of Americans. However, we are currently living in an America in which 25 percent of children are being raised in single-parent households, 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, and only 60 percent of Americans self-identify as “religious.” We are fortunate to live in a country where we are free to believe, say, and do as we please. Yet without support, this has translated into the abandonment and sometimes purposeful rejection of the traditional ideas that helped build this nation. We ignore the free and willing strength of the people—grounded in various forms of faith in civil society, families, and God—that was once crucial in guiding our intrinsic American values.

The leadership of the Republican Party either thinks that the values of community strength are already implied or is otherwise too afraid to appear “backward” in its societal beliefs. Either way, the public is not getting the whole message. Today, the general population has a sense of distrust toward establishments such as marriage, family, and religious groups, as there is no voice to protect the permanency of these institutions. This is what the Republican Party needs to do. It should look at the general public and see this clearly identifiable void of strength in the social sphere. As such, it should give Americans viable solutions and policies that will restore trust in these communities.

Alexis de Tocqueville said, “I cannot help fearing that men may reach a point where they look on…every social advance as a first step toward revolution, and they may absolutely refuse to move at all.” Understandably, I think many would argue that this quote represents everything that appears so wrong with what has been considered as today’s social conservative movement. But if the Republican Party can revert to original, more-generalized forms of true social conservatism, the different factions of the Party can reunite in positively initiating and inspiring the American public. No longer can the Republican Party, or the nation, afford to let social conservatism—real social conservatism—be seen as dead weight holding Americans back. Social conservatism as a greater fundamental ideology needs to be redefined, emphasized, and embraced. It is an affirmative reminder of the true potential and greatness of the American people. The people are ready, and all we need now is a strong Republican Party to lead the way.

Devi R. Nair ’16 lives in Weld Hall.

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