Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The poison pill of social conservatism

I haven’t said much about the primary campaign for the Republican nomination for POTUS.  Not because I haven’t paid attention to it, but because there has been little for me to say.  Unless the GOP runs a completely insane moron like Ron Paul, I will vote for the GOP candidate over Barack Obama.  As a general rule, I don’t think any of the existing GOP candidates, again except for Ron Paul, are evil or destructive to the point where they can’t be trusted with running the country.  That doesn’t mean the Republican candidates are beyond objection.  In fact, there is plenty to which to object in every one of them.  This election is too important to make the perfect the enemy of the good.  We can’t afford another four years of Obama.

But now the GOP is down to three presidential candidates – Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.  (I don’t count Ron Paul., because 1. he’s unelectable and B. if he is the GOP candidate, the GOP will have ceased to exist as a political party.)  And so the objections of the GOP faithful will become less important and the objections of the great political middle will become more important.

Which brings me to “social conservatism.”

Right now, Rick Santorum is the only Republican candidate who is hitting social issues hard.  He is everything you would expect a social conservative to be – anti-abortion, anti-gay, pro-“family” (whatever that means).  He touts his socially conservative positions to support his contention that he is the only “real” conservative in the presidential race.

But one can be a conservative without being a social conservative.  In fact, some could argue that conservatism and social conservatism, though they share a word, are mutually exclusive.  Conservatism is supposed to be about freedom, but just about every position taken by social conservatives and supporters of “traditional” values or “family” values seeks to restrict freedom.  “Social conservatism” seeks to impose certain values on society every bit as much as leftists seek, the only difference is whose ox is being gored. 

The big difference is in public perception, not because of anything the major media is doing, but because of the social conservatives themselves.  While leftists seek to restrict freedom through arcane regulations and nebulous penumbras of court rulings, social conservatives seek to restrict freedom in ways people can see.  SoCons come off like the town in Footloose, and very, very few people want to live in the town in Footloose.

Case in point: divorce.  Which goes hand-in-hand with one of the biggest hot-button issues among SoCons today: gay marriage. 

I have yet to see a coherent, practical argument against gay marriage.  If the individual religions don’t want to marry gays, that’s up to them.  But the government is not a religion (except among leftists) and should not be able to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.  Gay marriage hurts absolutely no one, and it benefits homosexual couples inasmuch as they will be able to get the legal protections that heterosexual couples have (i.e. intestacy, hospital visitation rights, insurance, etc.)

But the SoCons go apoplectic at the thought of gay marriage.  Their biggest objection seems to be “It cheapens the sanctity of marriage.”  Whatever that means. 

Advocates of gay marriage then fall into the trap of pointing out that heterosexual couples have “cheapened: marriage already: look at the rates of divorce!

And the SoCons response? "Well, we shouldn’t have divorce."

Aye, that is a major, major problem. 

While I do not agree with the feminist criticism of marriage as a male-dominated institution created for the oppression of women, I can understand it.  For eons, marriage was between one man and one woman – with the man in control.  Whether it was in ancient Greece, ancient Rome, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance or the Modern Period, the men (with a relatively few exceptions like Hatshepsut, Cleopatra, Zenobia, Jeanne d’Arc, Elizabeth I, etc.)  ran things – the men worked, the men earned the money, the men ran the money, the men went to war, the men decided when to go to war.  The only power women consistently had was sexual – and marriage limited that power.  In fact, marriage, as it used to be interpreted, effectively surrendered that power to the husband, whether the wife wanted to or not.

This is why, as much as conservatives don’t like it, the sexual revolution was indeed about power.  Women taking charge over their own bodies.  Many conservatives don’t like the “sexualization” of popular culture.  They don’t like promiscuity,  They don’t like women in miniskirts with plunging necklines.  I don’t care for promiscuity myself, but when for thousands of years the only power women had was restricted, that when they finally have the freedom they want to show that they have that power is completely understandable.

With the husband in control financially and socially, the wife was left with very few options if the marriage went bad.  If it was abusive (physically, mentally or emotionally) or if it was just plain loveless.  She was trapped.

Interior (The Rape) by Edgar Degas (c. 1868-1869).  A very enigmatic painting.  Appears to show a disheveled  woman turned away as if she has just been hit.  The woman is dressed in white.  An opened suitcase emits an unnatural light.   To the right in the dark stands a menacing-looking man blocking the only way out, the door, which is also barred behind him.  My own interpretation: a wife is trying to leave an abusive marriage, only to be blocked by her angry, possessive husband.  For thousands of years before divorce became accepted, many, many wives were forced to sacrifice themselves to such conditions to preserve the "sanctity" of marriage.
That's just fine with some SoCons.  Most, however, make exceptions in their anti-divorce crusade for cases of abuse.  Instead, these people rail against "no-fault" divorce.

Except, a marriage can fail without physical abuse.  In fact, the most common forms of abuse are mental and emotional but those same forms of abuse are also the most abstract and subjective, as well as the most difficult to prove.  No-fault divorce is the way to solve such legal and moral conundrums.

But that's bad, according to SoCons.  "You get one marriage.  If it sucks, tough.  You shoulda thought of that before you got married."

And they wonder why people get married later and later, if at all. 

But such ham-handed, one-size-fits-all positions of social conservatism don't end there.  "Marriage is all about having children," SoCons say.  "Homosexuals can't conceive children with each other, therefore they shouldn't have marriage."

Except, marriage is not all about having children.  I've lost track of the number of couples I know who do not want children.  Others are not medically capable of having children.  Marriage is supposed to be about love and partnership.

That "partnership" facet seems to elude SoCons as well.  Many feel that the man is supposed to be "head" of the marriage.  Unfortunately, the Bible (whether Catholic or King James), written at a time of male dominance, gives certain support to that argument.  Taking the Bible in historical context, however, removes that argument entirely, along with the other biblical arguments sucha s the one against homosexuality.  The Bible was written at a time when it was necessary to procreate to increase the population of Christians and Jews.  Anything that did not further that end, such as homosexuality, was frowned upon.  Now, no such population increase is necessary.

A corollary of the partnership feature also helps destroy the strawman argument created by SoCons against gay marriage: that it will create a slippery slope ending in polygamy and bestiality.  Partnership principles take care of that quite nicely.  A partnership (or at least a marriage partnership) is supposed to be equal.  A husband and wife are equal.  Two male life partners can be equal.  A man and two wives cannot be equal and in fact are per se unequal.  A man and a goat cannot be equal.

Having been in the performing arts (trumpet and ballet) for so long, I know more than a few members of the homosexual community.  Aside from carrying on certain conduct that has a high "Ick Factor" (which is probably the biggest obstacle for the homosexual community to overcome in removing the prejudices against it) but does not affect me in the slightest, they are no different from me.  There is no reason for them to be denied the rights I have.

I also know more than a few people who are divorced.  I would imagine just about every one of us knows of someone who is divorced.  I can't imagine keeping them in an unhappy or abusive marriage just for the sake of "protecting the sanctity" of marriage.  Such marriages merit no such protection.

I could go on, but you get the point.  The positions taken by SoCons could potentially hurt many, many people I know.  On a very, very personal basis.

Now, imagine how many voters are in that position.  The electorate may be generally conservative on fiscal and security issues.  I know that I am primarily a security conservative.  (Well beyond security conservative, actually ...).  But the voters do not want to live in the town in Footloose.

Do you see why they are scared of social conservatives?

The Republican Party should not be forcing voters to accept, along with all the undoubtedly good things that come from removal of Obama from office, living in the town from Footloose.  Getting rid of Obama is too important to risk losing the election because moderates are scared of the social conservatism that can easily and visibly impact their everyday lives.

Mitch Daniels said it best when he called for a "truce" on social issues.  Don't scare voters away from the GOP for an agenda that voters have repeatedly demonstrated they do not want. 


  1. Republicans win elections by combining economic conservatives and social conservatives. Sure it turns off some voters, but overall it's definitely a net gain. Republicans can't win national elections being just fiscally conservative...Goldwater proved that. I don't agree with making same sex marriage an issue but not all social issues are equal in nature.

  2. I think there is a line that can be drawn in that there is a part of social conservatism that is embraced by those outside of the social conservative circle. And that's the question of abortion. (LGBT issues are going the way of the dinosaur. slower than many would like, but anti-LGBT views are eroding)

    Maybe I'm giving my fellow humans too much credit, but I don't think anyone is actually pro-abortion.

    But the question is how do we prevent abortions.

    The social conservative response would be to overturn Roe V Wade and outlaw abortion or limit it.

    Outside of that circle, people are much more supportive of birth control. A bunch of polls (http://www.pollingreport.com/abortion.htm) generally support birth control is supported and abortion should be allowed in at least some circumstances.

    I'd much rather make sure the poor folks on Medicaid have access to birth control than pay for an abortion or dole out food stamps for another mouth to feed.

  3. I'll put in print what I mentioned to you today: Ron Paul happens to be the only Republican who can beat Obama. If I am wrong, and Romney, Gingrich, or Santorum somehow beat Obama, I'll take you to a Cleveland sporting event of your choice (no idle meandering. I just went to the outdoor Ohio State-School From Up North hockey game at Progressive Field two weeks ago.) if you take me up on the same, me favoring Ron Paul defeating Obama.

    Daniels had it exactly right on the truce, and this is why neither of the three 'mainstream' guys can win: They can't get the independents. Paul can, because he is socially tolerant enough, and as much as you don't like his foreign policy, it sells with independents.

  4. Mike,

    I told you: I don't gamble. Don't care for casinos. Don't care for Vegas. Don't do sports betting. None of that. I have no problem whatsoever with gambling in general, either as a policy or a moral matter, but I don't care to do it myself.

    But, no, Ron Paul cannot beat Obama. Much of the "support" he us getting right now comes from mischief-making Democrats (Republicans are guilty of the same thing in Dem primaries) who want the GOP stuck with the worst candidate possible, for which Paul qualifies. They will abandon him in the general. And many Republicans (a plurality at least) like me find Paul so repugnant (anti-American foreign policy, racism, anti-semitism, 9/11 trutherism, various other conspiracy theories) that we will not even consider voting for him in the general. He has no solid base of support.

  5. One thing with the painting that you have not taken into account for your example is that you say it must be a marriage, but you have looked at everything except the bed, it is only single. If it was indeed a marriage, then it would be double or bigger; because if the man is indeed abusing her he would also "rape" her like it is said in the extra title for this painting. He would keep her close at night to please himself whenever he likes.