Compassionate Conservatism

Social Conservatives: We Need You!

At the end of the Tim Montgomerie post below, I mentioned another lesson I drew from Tim's writing. It's this:

The lesson drawn by many leading conservatives from the 2012 defeat is the need to evolve in a more consistently libertarian direction. (George Will may be the outstanding example here.)

This lesson contains some wisdom, if it implies for example a shift toward more culturally modern attitudes to sexuality: gays should be able to live unafraid and unashamed, using birth control does not make a woman a slut, etc. etc. etc.

BUT - and it's a big but - while it was cultural reaction that cost the GOP the Indiana and Missouri Senate seats, the presidential election was lost because of the irrelevance of the GOP's economic message. The destructive mindset that divided American society between makers and takers; that ridiculed the contributions of 47% of the nation; that denigrated as lazy and idle those Americans who were cast out of work and upon food stamps by the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression - that mindset originated in the party's libertarian wing, not its social conservative wing.

Of all party groups, it has been the social conservatives who have been most alert to the economic travails of the middle class. The only 2012 candidate willing to acknowledge the facts about America's poor upward mobility was Rick Santorum. In 2008, it was Mike Huckabee who noted the stagnation of middle-class incomes. And among journalists, people like Ross Douthat, Reihan Salam, Rod Dreher and Ramesh Ponnuru have been much more accurate in their assessments than, say, Larry Kudlow or the fellows of the American Enterprise Institute.

The working politician who has done more than any other in the English-speaking world to draw new voters to conservatism - Canada's Jason Kenney - emerges from a Catholic pro-life cultural milieu. In Britain, it is devout Christians Tim Montgomerie and former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith who have led the discussion on exclusion and poverty.

If social conservatives can shift away from the urge to ban and condemn, and instead think more about how to support and encourage, they can be a rich source of inspiration for the larger conservative world and the Republican party in the years ahead, as conservatives and Republicans face the challenge: how can the party regain its historic role as the champion of the American middle class?