Being the party at prayer, without alienating the prayerless

This weblog has been around for 4+ years now. It started as a way to give voice to people who lean Right who are not necessarily libertarian. America’s conservative party, the Republicans, have lost their second presidential election in a row to a definitively liberal candidate. Whether America is a “center-right” country, center-right politics are having difficulties at the national level. A primary problem seems to be that the Republican party has to account for the reality that religious social conservatives are a necessary part of their coalition, but they need to expand the tent out toward more secular and socially moderate voters. The gay marriage debate is to some extent a signpost for the general conundrum; how to hold onto to the base, while attracting converts.

There are no easy answers here. The substantive issue is fundamentally tricky, because many social conservatives have strong principles in particular domains which brook little margin for compromise. On the other hand there are many younger and secular individuals whose aversion to the Republican party and conservative politics seems to be one of identity, not issue. The simple and clear message of liberty, order, and security, should have broad appeal. Unfortunately though the Republican brand in the minds of many has become exclusively identified with religious social conservatives, even though in terms of policy I would argue this component of the coalition receives by and large lip service.

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32 Responses to Being the party at prayer, without alienating the prayerless

  1. John says:

    “even though in terms of policy I would argue this component of the coalition receives by and large lip service”

    True. Although economic and national security conservatives have won some substantial victories in the past generation, things look pretty bad from a religious social conservative point of view. Abortion is still legal, gay marriage is sweeping the country, churchgoing is down, marriage is down, there is no prayer in schools and things are worse by almost any socially conservative standard than they were 60 years ago.

    I’m guessing that this decline will continue, despite the greater fecundity of the religious. One possibility is that the GOP remains socially conservative in nonreligious aspects (against gun control, for capital punishment, against affirmative action) but no longer pays attention to the issues most salient to the religious right. The other possibility, the scary one, is that conservatism is doomed as a political force without the Christians.

  2. Without religious conservatives (not just Christians or evangelical Protestants, btw), the conservative movement is doomed. Full stop.

    Part of the problem is precisely what John observed — religious and social conservatives have gotten very little from the GOP since moving into the Republican camp in 1980. Most of them that come out of the Catholic and mainline Protestant traditions held their noses at the economic program that free marketers embraced because they understood that trade-offs for being part of a coalition were necessary, but they wanted respect and they expected that their high-priority demands (first regarding abortion, more recently regarding marriage) would be acted on. When the GOP made good on that deal (1980, 1984, 1988, 2004), social & religious conservatives backed the party and its national nominee. When the GOP waffled on core religious & social conservative issues (1976, 1992 with the demonization of Pat Buchanan within the party after the party convention, for example, 1996), enough religious & social conservatives pealed off to help the Democrats in key states.

    That’s the key to understanding the bind that Mr. Hume points out. For many religious and social conservatives, there is definitely a lack of trust in the GOP leadership — a sense that they love the r&s conservatives when it comes time to vote for tax cuts, but when it comes time to fight on the issues that r&s conservatives really care about…well, you can hear crickets from the Establishment. That makes it even harder to get concessions from the r&s conservatives. If they don’t trust the leadership, deals become almost impossible.

    And what deal, realistically, could the Establishment provide to r&s conservatives to justify something like accepting abortion on demand or same-sex marriage? What other issue could the Establishment give to r&s conservatives that would make up for losing on those kind of core issues? As the Democrats moved to the center during Clinton administration, the administration made it up to the rank & file lefties by going hard core on abortion rights. Obama has made a similar shift regarding gay rights. But what similar thing could the GOP Establishment do for r&s conservatives?

    I could imagine one kind of deal, but it would be a hard sell for the Establishment — basically trading one of the hot button issues for the other. Give up the fight against SSM in exchange for buy-in from all wings of the party on reversing Roe and moving in a pro-life direction. Or visa versa. But in order for that to work, there would have to be authentic buy-in from everybody. And that doesn’t appear likely to me at this point. Absent something like that, which would be remarkably painful for everybody involved, I think Hume’s dilemma remains.

  3. cynthia curran says:

    Republicans do very well in rural areas where one doesn’t need a big safety net from the government as much even in Texas where they do good they do poorly in the heavily hispanic areas near the border which are pretty poor and need that safety net or in the big cities like Austin, Houston, and Dallas. In rural areas its cheaper so actually you can have low paying jobs without having welfare where as in big cities or suburban areas in states like New York or California you can’t do this. For example, Los Angeles in 1972 was a purple county but since most of its growth the past 30 years is Hispanic its become heavily blue. Hispanics are behind whites in income and even some asian gorups have higher poverty rates than whites like Chinese, Koreans, and Flipinos. So, the 47 percent didn’t help in the rust belt where people depend more upon the government than they do in some rural areas.

  4. cynthia curran says:

    Agree, there, the social conservatives that Republicans do are Tea Party folks which are mainly very middle class or even upper middle class few are below the poverty level. They also tend to be older and no longer have kids in schools. Republicans do better with marriage couples but less so with marrried couples with young kids since Rpeublicans favor cutting school budgets and going to more home school or vouchers. This is what Rick Peery recently did in Texas.

  5. Susan says:

    It seems an insoluble problem. If you read the comments at any social conservative website, there’s an unwillingness to compromise on any social/religious issue. No currently serving politician or candidate is acceptable unless he or she is 100% in conformity with the so-cons’ views. The only public figure they deem acceptable is Sarah Palin, who clearly has no intention of running for office, and if she did, would lose in an epic landslide.

  6. Susan, ask yourself though what kind of similiar compromise that secular/socially liberal Republicans would be willing to make that would be equivalent to what social conservatives are being pushed toward within the GOP? So, the tables were turned and the secular/socially liberal folks are now being pressured to give up something that is at the core not only of their political views, but of their entire worldviews — and they are being asked to embrace policies that they honestly belief would be disastrous public policy. Can you think of any?

    How about this? From henceforth, all conservatives/Republicans/libertarians of all stripes will not only tolerate but celebrate teaching 6 day young earth creationism in science classes all through the educational system — from kindergarten through graduate school/medical school. The new policy position embraced by everybody on the right is that anytime there’s a hint of biology addressed, it is done so through the prism of 6 day young earth creationism. No “guided evolution,” no “intelligent design” — nope, it’s the full Monty. And it has to be celebrated, not just tolerated or put up with the way people put up with going to the DMV. Private schools, of course, don’t have to follow this new rule, but if the school receives government support in the form of student loans for example, they will have to at least fairly and neutrally present the 6 day young earth creationist perspective in all science classes dealing with biology.

    And there is universal buy-in on the Right, including from writers on this very blog. So, John Derbyshire starts writing columns about how man and the dinosaurs co-existed. Heather MacDonald writes about how we need to open up to interpretive perspectives from the Bible when talking about biology. Etc. In other words, they have to lie about what they actually believe and embrace something that they think is both false and positively harmful to the quest for human knowledge and social harmony.

    Within the Right-ward political coalition, that is the closest thing I can think of to the sort of “compromise” that the social conservatives are being asked to make. And even that isn’t really analogous…

  7. Now ask yourself, what do you think the response of secular/socially liberal folks would be to such a deal? Wouldn’t it be, “thanks but no thanks.” Or rather I imagine it would be to quote a line from a recent movie, “Argo ___ yourself. If that what it means to be a Republican, then I’m not going to be a Republican. I’ll go be a Democrat or an independent or I’ll join a third party.”

    Also remember that for a note insignificant number of social conservatives, they already have tenuous links to the GOP to begin with. They do “swing” vote — particularly among Catholic social conservatives. Most of them have already left one political party (the Democrats) over social issues before, or have memories of mom & dad or grandma & grandpa talking about the trauma of not considering themselves Democrats anymore — so they have some familiarity with using the Argo line on a political party.

  8. David Hume says:

    i think we need to step back and make this discussion somewhat more narrow. from what i know the issue with *young* voters isn’t abortion or capital punishment, but gay marriage. it isn’t social liberalism broadly construed. rather, it’s the perception that rick santorum and todd aiken are the ‘face of the party.’ this isn’t really true. i’d argue economic conservatives are in the driver’s seat now. but that’s not how upper middle class people on the coasts who might find some aspects of the republican agenda appealing (especially economic ones, but also pro-capital punishment and law and order and anti-affirmative action) perceive it. this doesn’t mean that stylistic shifts are going to radically transform the republican base. but elections are won on the margins.

  9. Susan says:

    Yes. That’s it indeed, Razib. Akin, Santorum, and Mourdock became, in the public mind, representatives of the typical Republican/conservative rather than being the outliers they are. Elizabeth Warren used this argument very successfully against Scott Brown in her senate campaign. The day after Akin made his monumentally stupid comments, Warren was out there declaiming that Brown was a right-wing extremist in the mold of Todd Akin. It wasn’t true, of course, by a long shot, but…Warren won the election anyway.

    The current perception of the Republican Party is that its overriding concern is making sure everyone has no sex life.

  10. Susan says:

    Mark, if you’re saying that compromise would be possible, I don’t think that’s true, on the basis of what I’ve seen and read. Yes, secular conservatives could agree to make (or try to make) the teaching of YEC mandatory in public schools, but that wouldn’t inspire the so-cons to make any concessions in return. If the most important issues to someone are ending abortion now and permanently outlawing same-sex marriage, he or she isn’t going to bend on either issue. They just don’t believe that issues of national security or the economy are nearly as important as restoring the U.S. to its “roots” as a God-fearing Christian nation.

    If I misunderstood your posts, my apologies.

  11. Clark says:

    The religious right largely does receive lip service on issues except maintaining the status quo on abortion. I think even many who are skeptical of most of the symbolic issues social conservatives care about (gay marriage, etc.) would not want to liberalize abortion. However I think most (including many otherwise social conservatives) are uncomfortable making abortion laws tighter. (i.e. abandoning rape/incest rules)

    The thing is I think most social conservatives primarily are concerned with the symbolic issues so lip service generally satisfies them. The problem is that some of the changes from social conservative mainstream are also highly symbolic for everyone else. (i.e. view of gay marriage for under 40 crowd where it’s seen as symbolic of violating human rights) I don’t see how GOP can maneuver here. All attempts to move social conservative into the background have failed in the past. Bush managed purely because he strongly embraced symbolic issues (i.e. conversion story etc.) and because 9/11 was everyone’s focus. Best solution is to argue gay marriage is a symbolic issue to move groups towards religious issues (whether true or not). That’s a hard sell although some in Evangelical wing are already trying it.

  12. Susan, I wasn’t proposing an actual compromise with my creationism hypothetical — that was just a thought experiment to try to get folks on the more secular/socially liberal side of things to grasp something of the nature of the “compromise” that is being asked of social conservatives in these discussions.

    I think that the idea that social conservatism is just window dressing to get the rubes to vote GOP is wrong. If one looks at the states, social conservatism tends to do quite well. North Dakota just passed a strong restriction on abortion rights, and laws defending the traditional definition of marriage are still overwhelmingly the norm in the States.

  13. cynthia curran says:

    If Social conservatisum is that popular why did Romeny lost inthe rustbelt, Oh, Wi and so forth. Social conservatives are too much interested in the aboriton issue rather than immirgation which has caused a demograhic shift against Republicans. In fact a certain group of social conservatives pushed the legalization of Hispanics who are one of the most liberal groups on eocnomic since they have low incomes with above average children which means free and reduce lunch programs even if the parents are illegal and more welfare goodies if they are not.

  14. cynthia curran says:

    The problem is the Democratic Party doesn’t appeal to Whites in the South and for Pat Buchanan he is very anti-free trade which goes against people like Santorim and he is anti-war, the paleo-cons social cosnervatives and the mainstream social consevatives don’t get along. Worst is the Tea Party which is pushing Raul Paul who should do state rights on the abortion issue, should go against illegal immirgantion. He wants to legalized millions for guestworkers. The beef the border talk means nothing if you are going to let employers hire illegal immirgants without a e-verify sysstem. The guy is a real joke but Republicans and libertarians love him.

  15. Polichinello says:

    …but they need to expand the tent out toward more secular and socially moderate voters.

    Translation: They need to increase their share of the white vote even higher. Don’t worry. The Democrats will eventually do that for them.

    I’d be more focused on making a case for the “Secular Right” than for “Secular Republicans.”

  16. cynthia curran says:

    Pat Buchnan complains about the lost of factory work. Factory work is not all high paying. The best are if you are skilled, a machinists or welder or draftsmen, a lot of lower skilled factory work in the states is done by immirgants not native born. Oh was even using illegal immirgant to assemble things. In California a want ad staated to have a superversior that knew English and Spanish. Granted, the factory work works full time and has overtime which means its prefer at the job at walmart but how manufactoring states don’t have the highest income or the lowest poverty rates anymore. For example, Alaska is at 66,000 and Texas which does more manufactoring its average income is about 50,000. Poverty rate is lower in high unemployment Nevada than Texas but also lower poverty rate. Nevada is a service state that before the recession was outperforming in income and poverty rates lower than states that manufactor things like Oh or Michigan. Conservatives should not be so against wages rising in the service sector.

  17. Polichinello says:

    For example, Alaska is at 66,000 and Texas which does more manufactoring its average income is about 50,000.

    Have you factored in the cost of living? Alaska is rather odd place, being very remote. It’s quite expensive to live there, and it has a great deal of natural resources, so it’s easy to make big money off of resource extraction.

    The best are if you are skilled, a machinists or welder or draftsmen, a lot of lower skilled factory work in the states is done by immirgants not native born.

    Well, what used to happen is that you would start in a factory as an assembler, then work your way up to machinist or welder. Now assembler positions have become an end.

    OTOH, assembly work isn’t necessarily the simple repetition it used to be. Assemblers in auto transplant factories have to be quite skilled technicians these days. It’s not just turning nuts and bolts anymore.

  18. David Hume says:

    They need to increase their share of the white vote even higher.

    sure. also asians…but 1) they’re even MORE secular (if not necessarily dyed-in-the-wool liberal) 2) small in numbers outside of a few states like california

  19. What do you mean by “Asians”? That’s like saying “Hispanics” — it doesn’t take into account that there are variations within that ethnic category. I live in Spokane, Washington, and here with have four primary “Asian” groups: Japanese-Americans (been here for generations), Koreans, Vietnamese and Filipinos. Plus we have Pacific Islanders as well (Hawaiians, Chammorros, etc.). Protestants are very strongly represented among the Japanese and Koreans, and the Vietnamese and Filipinos are all overwhelmingly Catholic. Among the Pacific Islanders, the Chammorros are almost all Catholic. Now, these folks may not be particularly conservative or right-wing, but that isn’t because they are repelled by Christianity.

  20. cynthia curran says:

    Ilm saying that there are a lot of low paying factory work. For example, the garment indsutry is now overseas. La had thousands of illegal immirgants doing sewing and Food processing doesn’t require a lot of skills since in the LA-Orange most employees are Hispanic immirgants. I work in a call center and our job can be harder than a lot of factory work since you have to put up with lots of upset customers and go thru several screens in the computer. Try having a illegal immirgant or someone who barely speaks english do a call center job. Granted, India doess but the US Public complains and the call is transferred, on the other hand you can manufactor a lot of cars in Mexico.

  21. cynthia curran says:

    Also, even if cost of living of Alaska and Nevada are factored in they still have lower poverty than Texas and most of the South. Texas has too many hispanics and the south too many blacks which bring their poverty averages up, if Texas was a white state it would have low poverty since white poverty is 8 percent versus 24 percent.

  22. Polichinello says:

    sure. also asians…but 1) they’re even MORE secular (if not necessarily dyed-in-the-wool liberal) 2) small in numbers outside of a few states like california

    My point is that the GOP wins white voters–young and old–and have been doing so by generally bigger margins, and given Democratic predilections, they’ll continue to do so, secular issues notwithstanding. If Asians do turn, it won’t be for “secular” reasons, but because they feel the pinch of the more vibrant among us. It’s more tribal than generational.

  23. cynthia curran says:

    sure. also asians…but 1) they’re even MORE secular (if not necessarily dyed-in-the-wool liberal) 2) small in numbers outside of a few states like california The most conservative or moderate Asians of any number are in Orange County Ca which is over 500,000. The silly Republican Party because Hispanics have more babies is pushing for the Hisapnics there instead of trying to get back Asian vote since they once had it since OC’s biggest Asian group is Vietnamise. In fact Irvine voted less for Obama than Santa Ana which is almost all Hispanic but the pushed for the Republican Party is Hispanics.

  24. cynthia curran says:

    Well, the problem with the Republican Party is the Grover Norquist theory or Walmart thinking which is low wages and low taxes, it usually works in the south since housing is cheaper but not in other places as mention back in 1968 San Diego was probably more conservative than many counties in Texas but what happen housing got expensive but republicans still like to keep wages low by supporting guestworker progams outside of farmwork and a handful of others immirgants compete against the native born. In fact the construcation work pays similar to the factory work and the more skilled jobs pay better as they do in factory but George W Bush supported flooding construcation with a lot of Hispanic immirgants to drive down wages. On the trade he supported driving jobs to China or Mexico but then on the other hand some Asian or European countries located some countries here. Finally, the Republican Party is very anti-union. A lot of whites during the Reagan era supported Reagan since they work in aerospace which was one of the better paying factory jobs but also supported a hawkish foreign policy since their livehood depended upon that foreign policy. That’s how Reagan would California and Washington and even New York.

  25. cynthia curran says:

    I mean the Asian or European companies located some work here.

  26. cynthia curran says:

    Republicans in Rick Perry’s Texas should go against the guestworker schemes or be easy on the copanies that hire illlegal immirgants. Most liberals would not have been able to be critical of Texas if it was 10 percent more white for example white poverty in Texas is lower than New York about 8 percent in Texas versus 10 precent in New York but Perry didn’t force e-verify on the construcation industry which uses a lot of illegal immirgants since wages are about 11 per hr for Hispanics which are 60 percent of Construcation workers versus about 15 or 16 per hr for whites in the industry. Granted, Lamar Smith wants e-verify and Ted Cruz doesn’t seem to be against it but many politicans such as Rick Perry lipservice and Jerry Patterson who wants a vast guestworker program to vastly increases Hispancs for low skilled jobs and some asians and Asians for high skilled work are driving down the average income of Texas which is at 49,995 and lower than Arizona which has higher white poverty around 10 percent but is slightly less Hispanic and less black, 11 percent black for Texas vesus 3 percent for Arizona. Arizona average income is 50,000.

  27. Susan says:

    In a related matter, this past Monday two North Carolina Republican state legislators filed a bill that would enable North Carolina to adopt a “state” religion, although what that religion would be was not specified. (I assume it would be one of the Protestant denominations.) Isn’t that unconstitutional in and of itself?

    It’s worth noting that the North Carolina state constitution also prohibits anyone who does not believe in God from holding office. But this is unenforceable because of a 1961 Supreme Court decision, the name of which escapes me at the moment.

  28. Narr says:

    Anent the NC follies, a lot of state constitutions of the early amd mid-19th centuries had a similar proviso. Tennessee’s had language TTE that no person who denied the existence of God and a future state of rewards and punishments could hold an office of trust in the state government. IIRC, it ALSO barred clergymen from elective office.

    I’d be OK with North Carolina’s amnedment as long as they gave us that old time religion: Marduk and Enlil!

  29. Don Kenner (@DonKenner) says:

    Wow. I thought this website was for people who embrace free markets, fiscal prudence, and personal responsibility, but are not religious (and therefore do not want the right to tell others what to do). I had no idea it was a site for people who “lean right but aren’t libertarian.” Aren’t most people who lean right not libertarian? Most Republicans are certainly not libertarian, measured by either what they say or what they do.

    If you are not a social conservative; if you don’t believe in some divine right to govern other people’s bodies or their bedrooms; and if you embrace free markets and personal liberty, aren’t you somewhat libertarian by default? Maybe not of the Rothbard I’ll-print-my-own-money-to-pay-for-my-meth variety, but certainly in the libertarian camp. Even on issues such as border enforcement, abortion, and national defense many self-described libertarians adopt more “conservative” opinions.

    It just seems odd: a website for right-leaning folks who aren’t libertarians. That suggests that right-libertarians dominate some significant portion of the political sphere.

    We don’t. I wish to God we did. We don’t even dominate in the libertarian camp. Once a millenium, like Haley’s comet, we make a splash (Rand Paul did it recently). We’ll do it again in a hundred years.

  30. Walter Olson says:

    The exact quote above was, “people who lean Right who are not *necessarily* libertarian.” For the record, I am a founder/contributor who would describe myself as libertarian, while some others would not so describe themselves. Thus “not necessarily” seems exactly accurate to me.

  31. Don Kenner (@DonKenner) says:

    That’s fair. I should’ve read the quote more carefully. But it still strikes me as odd. I remember when the site started (I’ve read it from day one). It certainly seemed to be a site for people who lean right but are decidedly not religious. I would’ve thought that a more accurate description.

    It’s a minor thing. I like the site, whatever it’s reason for being. Oddly, I tend to come here after reading Hit and Run, Reason magazine’s blog, which is good but tends to tilt left in its libertarianism. I’ve always thought this site a nice antidote for some of the sillier things on that (admittedly thoughtful) site.

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