Freedom Discussions

Hot Button

by Alan Pell Crawford, Sam Adams Alliance

For a certain flavor of Republican, signs of an improving economy—well-grounded or not—are terrible news. The better things get, the worse their prospects in November seem to be.

That’s why those whose most urgent priority is removing President Obama and putting someone else (anyone else) in the White House have decided in recent days to emphasize “social issues.”
Gay marriage, for example, got big play at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), and its sponsors received considerable attention for uninviting GOProud, an organization of conservative gays and lesbians that in 2011 was allowed to take part.

There are at least three good reasons emphasizing issues that divide Americans in this way is so discouraging.


First, the decision byCPAC organizers, like most appeals to hot button issues, represents a misunderstanding of the state of American society. We are nowhere near as extreme in our attitudes as those who would stoke the fires of mutual opposition would have us believe.

Consider this. Stephen Richer of Forbes, who interviewed some 75 young people attending CPAC, found that a great majority of them disagreed with the organizers’ decision to exclude GOProud. Even grass-roots conservative activists, it would appear, have a more subtle and shaded view of such questions than their own self-selected leaders understand, or care to understand.

Second, choosing to take this path is solely utilitarian, which would in itself seem a betrayal of conservative virtues. Those who support it admit as much. Kimberly Atkins of The Boston Herald, for example, has seized on the administration’s dustup with the Catholic Bishops to announce that the “social issues are back—with a vengeance.” This, she thinks, is good because talking about them, rather than the nation’s financial problems, “could give candidates in the Bay State and nationwide a crucial tool during election season should the economy continue to improve.”

Third, emphasizing social issues involves a further misunderstanding of conservatism. Conservatives today too often stress only one aspect of their tradition, which is individualism—and a radical individualism at that. They do so at the expense of the other aspect of their tradition, which can be described as communitarian.

They seem to forget that power of the state is to be restrained not just so individuals can do whatever they choose, and in this case they too often mean only those individuals whose values are those of the rest of the culture. (Minorities, apparently, must fend for themselves.)

But the power of the state is also to be restrained so healthy communities can thrive. That means reasonably harmonious neighborhoods where people are not peeping into each others’ windows or are at each others’ throats. Stoking the fires of the social issues makes such a society almost impossible, which seems a high price for winning the White House.