The constant bashing of social conservatives from the Left is a tiresome saw. This type of rhetoric suggests that social conservatism has no place in American politics. But the Left has only its own excesses to blame for the rise of social conservatism as a political force.
This NRO interview by Kathryn Jean Lopez of Mark Stricherz is fascinating. Social conservatives didn’t suddenly spring up from nowhere. They have always been an important constituency in America. Critics love to claim that they are little more than the racists of the Old South with a new mask, but in fact, social conservatives were responsible for the demise of the “peculiar institution” of slavery.
Until fairly recent history, social conservatives were fairly well spread between both major political parties. But that changed beginning in 1969 when a new coalition that included feminist activists began to take control of the Democratic Party’s presidential wing. Stricherz says, “If the national parties in the late 1960s and early ‘70s had stayed the same, feminists likely would have aligned with the Republican party, which seemed to be their natural home.”
But “a group of New Politics leaders used a reform commission, which was chaired by Senator George McGovern, to hijack the national party.” The group was able to get the delegate selection process changed to wrench power away from party bosses. One of the provisions they enacted was to require that delegations be made up 50-50 of males and females. The newly formed National Women’s Political Caucus “told their members to run as Democratic delegates.”
As radical feminists gained power in Democratic Party presidential politics, they made it clear that their number one issue was “the legalization of abortion.” They proved that they expected “the party to muzzle those who disagreed with them.” Marginalized social conservatives started fleeing the party in droves over the next few years. Not only did the hard uncompromising stance of abortion advocates turn the Democratic Party more to the left, the incoming social conservatives turned the Republican Party more to the right. This situation both necessitated and enabled the formation of political power groups based specifically on social conservatism.
Today it is possible to vie for the GOP presidential nomination with something less than a pro-life stance. However, it is not possible to seriously seek the Democratic presidential nomination without subscribing to unrestricted abortion on demand. Stricherz explains why this is bad for Democrats. Like it or not, there are a lot of socially conservative American voters, even in the Democratic Party. But when it comes to presidential elections, most of these people end up voting for the candidate that is most socially conservative.
This, claims Stricherz, is why Democrats have lost six out of the past nine presidential elections, and why “only one Democratic candidate” during that time “has received more than half of the popular vote.” He suggests that there can be bigger issues that trump the candidates’ social stances, such as having a foreign war going down the tubes. But in the absence of such issues, the most socially conservative candidate has the edge.
If both parties nominate social liberals, the GOP’s edge in the presidential election will vanish. Stricherz says that it is only a matter of time before the current power brokers in Democratic presidential politics are toppled by another power group. It’s happened time after time, and it will happen again. “The obvious candidate,” says Stricherz “is Hispanic Catholics.” But before they can rise to the occasion they must “develop a leadership class, a political elite of lawyers and businessmen.”
Hispanic Catholics are far more socially conservative than the current Democratic power brokers. We may yet see the day that the Democrats will nominate a socially conservative presidential candidate. If both parties had pro-life candidates, contends Stricherz, the national debate would move from “whether unborn infants deserve legal protection” to “which protections should be enacted and whether government should spend money to help save unborn children and their mothers.”
Republicans would lose their edge in presidential elections. The fit for social conservatives in the GOP hasn’t been that comfortable for any of the party’s factions. If the Democratic Party were to become less hostile to social conservatives, some would no longer feel bound to the GOP and would wander over to the Democrats. Some groups that are now in the Democratic Party might wander to the other side as well. Once again, the entire face of American politics would change. I wonder if this would result in less inter-party hostility.