Social Conservatives and the GOP
One of the most common beliefs in American politics is the idea that the Republican Party sneers at the religious right, and that it is uninterested in advancing the social conservative agenda. This idea can be found on both the right and left—leftists sneer at social conservatives for being taken in so easily by a party that doesn’t care for them, while rightists angrily denounce the GOP and threaten to vote elsewhere next time (like there is anywhere else for them to go).
This meme is one of the most widely believed political theories—but is mostly false. The Republican party needs the Christian Right, and advances its agenda at least as much as it does that of any other part of the conservative movement.
Thirty-five years after Roe v. Wade, abortion is still legal across America, and Roe v. Wade has not been overturned. Republican presidents have not always appointed pro-life, constructionist justices—in fact, it has appointed almost as many pro-Roe justices as anti-Roe justices. It has often waffled in advancing the social conservative program. The Republican Party has not been a consistent friend of the pro-life movement.
But the pro-life movement has made some progress, and a great deal of that is due to the efforts of Republicans. When Roe v. Wade was decided, the Court ruled in a 7-2 decision. Were the case handled by the present-day Supreme Court, it would probably be a 5-4 pro-Roe decision, which is progress. The Republicans have put through a partial-birth abortion ban, strengthened parental notification laws, rescinded the Mexico City policy (which would provide foreign aid to pay for abortions), kept gay marriage from becoming legal in many states, and Bush, to his great credit, vetoed a bill providing federal funds for embryonic stem cell research. The Republican Party could undoubtedly do more for the pro-life cause, but they have certainly not wholly betrayed it either.
In fact, compared to the way it has treated other parts of the conservative movement, it has treated social conservatives pretty well. Small government conservatives are another major part of the GOP, and the Republican Party has completely ignored the wishes of this constituency.
Republicans always campaign on small government, minimal regulation, low taxes, and less wasteful spending. All they ever actually do is lower taxes. President Bush, along with many congressional leaders and GOP nominee John McCain, has expressed support for a “cap and trade” carbon emissions program, which would put limits on the amount of carbon dioxide companies could produce. That would entail a massive expansion of government.
Of course, the federal government has already done some serious expanding under the Bush administration. He has increased the federal debt by about four trillion since becoming president. The budget for this year is the highest in American history. The second highest? Last year’s budget. The GOP has sometimes ignored the wishes of social conservatives—it always completely disregarded libertarian conservatives.
Fortunately, it’s not just the right that ignores the wishes of some of its most important supporters. This sort of thing can be seen on the left as well. Liberals have been pushing for universal health insurance for decades. It seems fair and just, the rest of the world has it (and has had it for years), and the media is in favor of it. And all liberals got from the Democrat Party on this important issue was a quickly dropped proposal by Hillary Clinton to nationalize health care. Remember the SCHIP bill? The Democrats initially put up a fight, then immediately backed down after Bush threatened a veto. The Democrat Party has not pushed for national health care any harder than the GOP has fought against abortion.
Or take Iraq. It is key tenet of modern liberal thought to immediately pull all American troops from Iraq. Neither Democrat candidate will do so. Both candidates support keeping troops there long enough to stabilize the country—in essence, exactly what Bush plans to do.
Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are particularly concerned with actually doing anything to effect the change in policy that they promise before each election. They refuse to act partly because an unsolved problem means votes from those who care about that issue (for example, some social conservatives might defect to the Democrat if the abortion issue didn’t bind them to the Republican party), but also for a more simple reason: politicians don’t like change.
Change is bad, from a political standpoint, because it involves responsibility. If universal health care ever did become a reality, the Democrats would get blamed for all problems stemming from it. If abortion was ever made illegal, the Republicans would get blamed for every botched illegal abortion. Both parties claim to want to change America—but neither want to take responsibility for whatever the negative effects of these changes are.
Yes, social conservatives sometimes are ignored their party—but so are libertarians, anti-war liberals, universal health care supporters, and practically every other group of voters out there. The reason that Republicans don’t support the pro-life movement more ardently is not because they don’t care—it is because they are politicians.