Have Social Conservatives Sold Out?
If the Barry Goldwater-Ronald Reagan legacy embodies what most observers think of as traditional, small-government conservatism, there have always been those on the right who stress character and morality first. I too am socially conservative, in that I believe human life is sacred, societal health is dependent on the health of the family and our religious traditions and heritage should be observed, protected and even promoted. I actually believe having a small or limited government would naturally promote all of these things.
That said, when Bill Clinton was conservatives’ main target, the most vicious criticisms focused on the president’s sex scandal with Monica Lewinsky. My problems with Clinton were primarily the same problems I would later have with George W. Bush and Barack Obama — big government, big spending, porous borders and unnecessary wars. But for virtually all conservatives and especially social conservatives, Clinton’s sex scandals were a rallying point during the late 1990s.
President George H.W. Bush’s drug czar, Bill Bennett, constantly hammered the notion that America was “defining deviancy down” by being too accepting of Clinton’s shenanigans, or as he wrote in 1998:
It is said that private character has virtually no impact on governing character; that what matters above all is a healthy economy; that moral authority is defined solely by how well a president deals with public policy matters; that America needs to become more European (read: more “sophisticated”) in its attitude toward sex; that lies about sex, even under oath, don’t really matter; that we shouldn’t be judgmental …
If these arguments take root in American soil, if they become the coin of the public realm, we will have validated them, and we will come to rue the day we did. These arguments define us down; they assume a lower common denominator of behavior and leadership … we will have committed an unthinking act of moral and intellectual disarmament. In the realm of American ideals and the great tradition of public debate, the high ground will have been lost … In that sense, then, the arguments invoked by Bill Clinton and his defenders represent an assault on American ideals …
As noted, I’ve made a small career out of pointing out supposed conservative Republicans’ political deficiencies. This is often a thankless task. I’ve learned that if voters like a candidate’s personality or speaking ability — or really dislike the alternative candidate — they’re generally willing to forgive just about anything. For example, in 2009 and 2010 the tea party’s prime issues were opposing TARP and Obamacare. Now, most polling shows the tea party’s support is split primarily between two Republican presidential candidates who supported TARP and a government healthcare plan that Obama considers the blueprint for his own. In their zeal to defeat Obama, many Republicans don’t seem to mind electing a GOP version of him. Personality trumps policy; partisanship trumps principle.
Unfortunately, this is nothing new.
But what is new is what social conservatives are now willing to accept in their determination to defeat Obama. When a thrice-married Newt Gingrich, already an admitted adulterer, is accused by his second wife of asking for an open marriage — and this becomes a positive electoral advantage — the right has entered new and unchartered territory. Social conservatives were always the first to declare Clinton the “philanderer-in-chief.” Many of them now strongly support a known philanderer.