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November 11, 2008

The Perpetual Fight: Social Conservatives vs. Libertarians

Some initial thoughts at the corner.

Some on both sides of this debate seem a bit taken with improbable assumptions.

Libertarians/social liberals sometimes insist that all we need to do is ditch the values program of the conservative agenda and then we start winning. This is asserted time and time again, even when, say, Prop 8 wins in socially-liberal California. Oddly, it is asserted that running on a plank that commands 53% support even in a socially-liberal state is a losing proposition.

I'm going to single out Ryan Sager as Johnny Nonsensical One-Note on this point, because he keeps writing the same column over and over, with the same massive hole in logic that is never filled.

It's clear that Ryan Sager is a libertarian/social liberal -- he never tires of informing us so -- and it is therefore quite clear that he'd prefer a dream party that perfectly tracked his own policy impulses. What he always seeks to prove, however, and always fails at so doing, is that it is electorally plausible to follow his prescriptions.

Apparently the GOP can rebuild its popularity first and foremost by exchanging a position that commands 53% of support from even a socially-liberal state for one that commands 47%.

Usually it is suggested that "we are losing the youth vote," which fails to note that 1) we have always lost the youth vote, and 2) the youth vote becomes less and less liberal as it ceases to be the youth vote. Even if we assume this youth-vote-committed-to-gay-marriage is a long-term and irreversible trend -- that is to say, that these young gay marriage enthusiasts will continue being just as enthusiastic about gay marriage even as they age -- it's utterly unclear why we should abandon a plank that commands 53% support in the here and now and jump on a bandwagon that will command 55% support 20 years from now.

Can't we wait until it's a majority position before embracing it, Ryan?

I guess we can't. Gotta get on that train before all the seats are taken.

On the other side -- and I'll only hit this briefly, as every two years social cons hear plenty about how awful they are; they hardly need more of this when Ryan Sager is cranking out the same column every other week -- is that social cons often mistake their dominance in conservative circles for dominance in the broader public. And that their agenda, while attracting an awful lot of votes, also loses a lot of votes. In the net, it gains more votes than it loses -- but calibration is needed to ensure it gets enough net votes that it can actually ever become part of a governing platform.

One terrible thing is the loss of all "RINOs" from the Northeast and Northwest. I'm as annoyed by RINOs as the next guy, but there are RINOs and there are RINOs. Christopher Shays was a RINO -- but a good one, because there was no conceivable way to have anything but a RINO representing his district, other than a liberal Democrat. In such situations, RINOs should be celebrated. A Republican In Name Only is a preferable solution to Not Even a Republican in Name Only.

On the other hand, there are people like Elizabeth Dole who had significant freedom to pursue a conservative agenda, if she so chose, but consistently chose not to. She had to be bullied, for example, into voting against amnesty and for drilling, positions that found favor with 70% or so of the national electorate and undoubtedly even more in conservative-tilting North Carolina. I suppose I'd rather have a RINO than a Democrat in conservative-leaning states, but I am flabbergasted that we keep having only this choice.

We have few RINOs left at all, and we'll miss them. It's too late now to say "Support RINOs in liberal-leaning states; they're the best we can hope for," but it's something to keep in mind next cycle, I suppose. We'll have to put up moderate candidates to even have a shot at some of the swing districts Democrats have lately swept us in. It's important to remember politics is the art of the possible.

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posted by Ace at 02:51 PM

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