Wednesday, February 23, 2011

An Open Letter to Social Conservatives

News has it that the Obama Administration will no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Obama has already helped to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell" policy, which barred openly gay or lesbian people from serving in the U.S. military. As a social conservative, I don’t agree with any of this, but I understand that many people, especially in the Democratic base, are delighted by these decisions. But what about the other sectors of the Democratic base? What about workers? Where is the big jobs bill? Where is the modern WPA? Where is the tough financial regulation? Where are the efforts to at least renegotiate NAFTA?

The reality in America is that our elite class does not care much about defending social traditionalism. The Republicans will put up some kind of a fight over Obama’s actions regarding DOMA, but it probably won’t amount to much in practical terms. A good portion of the GOP’s “Tea Party” base is not even interested in social/cultural issues. They are more worried about economic issues like government spending and union contracts. By and large, the American elite supports social liberalism and economic neoliberalism. The fusionists can write all the weepy books about family values and the free market fitting together like a horse and carriage, but those who are awake recognize that the GOP uses social/cultural issues to whip up some parts of its base during election time, and then once in office, fights hard for plutocracy. For the last thirty years, the Democrats have been playing the same game, only with their economically populist voters. Democratic politicians on the campaign trail will speak eloquently about “Two Americas” or “Benedict Arnold Corporations” but will also support plutocracy when they get into office, although perhaps not as zealously as the Republicans. 

It is very likely that we are looking at a future where the population is ruled by a permanent oligarchy that exercises a soft form of consumer totalitarianism. You can get married to practically anybody you want, have all kinds of stimulating entertainment at your fingertips, and have some basic level of animal comfort, just as long as you don’t particularly care about challenging the economic order. 

Giuseppe Dossetti warned Italy’s Christian Democrats that consumerism, not communism, would destroy Christian Italy. Dossetti turned out to be correct, not just about Italy but about the entire West. For too long, social conservatives have been stuck in the Cold War mentality that sees everything as a titanic struggle between Christianity and atheistic communism. Now that communism has been defeated, social conservatives have found out that the system they have spent decades defending has always been the secret enemy. Trying to return to a laissez-faire golden age, however, is not the answer. Social liberalism is really the byproduct of modern economic development. Bringing the First World’s population down to Third World standards of living via fanatical free market policies in the hope that it will “toughen” people up and return us to an age of puritanical morality is both wrongheaded and cruel. 

Instead, social conservatives need to develop a unified worldview that promotes socially conservative goals while also respecting pluralism and democracy. It may be true that we cannot turn the clock back on some issues. However, there are ways to win some victories even if we cannot get everything we want. To a certain extent, this reality is what drives me to push the economic issues so hard. I hope I am wrong, but it may be true that social conservatism is likely to see many more defeats in the First World, at least in the short term. Voting for mainstream conservative parties does not seem to halt the progress of social liberalism, but it certainly advances the cause of economic neoliberalism. Essentially, this is a lose-lose scenario. 

By focusing on destroying the individualistic, materialistic, and utilitarian foundations of economic liberalism, social conservatives can then make the case that without some respect for social traditionalism we will have a repeat of the hippies-turned-yuppies debacle of the late 20th Century. At the very least, we will have helped working-class families obtain the economic base to allow them to hopefully cultivate a private traditionalism. And that would be a significant victory all by itself.


  1. A primary challenge to Obama from someone like Marcy Kaptur, including a serious attempt to reach out to paleocons on matters of common interest, is urgently necessary. As is action in your own city, to ensure that the egregious Rahm Emanuel is not renominated.

  2. Hi Mr. Lindsay,

    I agree with you, Obama needs a primary challenge from someone like Marcy Kaptur. I was perhaps a bit intemperate in this piece, as it is indeed true that much of the population is still socially conservative on a number of issues.

    As for Chicago, Rahm Emanuel won largely because so many people stayed home, perhaps because they thought that Rahm would steamroll everyone else because of his huge war chest. People can say what they want about the old Chicago Machine, but it was deeply involved in the city's neighborhoods, and the people of the city were deeply involved in politics as well.

    Unfortunately, some very real cases of corruption helped to smear a system that had plenty of good points, including supporting high-wage municipal employment, higher on average than the much larger and wealthier New York City, at least under Mayor Richard J. Daley, the father of the outgoing mayor. Now Chicagoans are very cynical about politics, although perhaps they have good reason to be.