Social conservatism is not doing very well right now. That is quite an understatement – social conservatism has been in full retreat for years, with gay marriage sweeping across the nation. In the upcoming presidential primaries 2016, the social conservative vote once again looks to be splintered across several candidates – Huckabee, Carson, Cruz, Santorum, etcetera. The list goes on. And let’s face it, we’ve seen this movie before, we know how it ends: social conservatives fight amongst ourselves, and end up with a nominee who at most pays lip service to our causes.
I am going to suggest three criteria that should be used to narrow down the field. These are not the traditional requirements, like governing or legislative experience. While those things are nice add-ons, I would argue that it is just as if not more important that a social conservative candidate fulfill the criteria that I am going to list below:
1) Set measurable goals. This is vital for any political movement really, but social conservatives in general forget it. We never ask our candidates for any goals that can actually be measured or achieved within the timeframe that the candidate would be in office (a maximum of 8 years for a President).
Now, what exactly these goals should be can be discussed, but we should all be able to agree that they should be measurable. “Bringing the nation back to God” is a nice soundbyte, but what does it even mean in practical terms? Ask your average GOP candidate and he could not tell you if his life depended on it.
Here are some examples of measurable goals that a socially conservative President might have:
- Bring the number of abortions down to an all-time low since it was legalized.
- No more states will legalize gay marriage under his/her presidency and no-one who supports gay marriage will be appointed to the Supreme Court.
- The birth rate will be higher at the end of the candidate’s presidency than it was in the beginning, and the increase will come from children born in wedlock.
- Reduce the number of divorces by 10 % (or another number).
You may think these goals are modest, and that’s intentional: America didn’t go liberal overnight, and it won’t go conservative overnight either. The political reality is that you have to set smaller, measurable goals, and your ability to reach those smaller goals will tell you whether you are on the right track and whether your elected representatives are doing their job or not. If a candidate says he wants to bring our nation back to its Christian roots, we should immediately ask him how he intends to achieve that, and how he will know that his goal is reached. There are, after all, countless of measures of how Christian and how conservative a country is.
2) Set a vision for the future. This may seem contradictory to the first point as I was just talking about the need to work with measurable goals and accept that changes take time.
What I mean by this is that social conservatives need a vision for the future, not a dream of the past. Because right now, that’s pretty much all we got: Social conservatives are remarkably good at promoting nostalgia for the past – before feminism & the sexual revolution took hold in society. Far too often, this becomes historical revisionism: We forget that that era had its fair share of problems too, to say the least.
Today, the institution of marriage is threatened by social liberals who (ultimately) want to create a society where everyone can marry everything, rendering the whole institution meaningless. However, 100-200 years ago, the institution of marriage was being defiled by marital rape, wife-beating, forced marriage, wife selling and loveless “business deal” marriages in general. Not to mention rampant alcoholism which devastated families – we may laugh at prohibition today, but it was introduced to tackle a very real social problem that was destroying marriages at the time.
My point is: There is no social conservative utopia in the past that we should strive to return to. I don’t think most social conservative truly wants to return to the 19th century (or any other era in the past), and we need to make that clear to the voters. We want to create a society that is unlike any society that has existed before. Yes, there are things about the past that we like, but we are not in any way seeking to build a replica of any society in a past era.
We can always argue about the details of what this vision should include, but broadly speaking I think we can all agree that we want a society where children have a mother and a father, are born in wedlock and are protected from being subjects in socially liberal experiments. We want marriage to be viewed as sacred, not as something that is entered into lightly and not something that is dissolved lightly (though circumstances exist when it is the best option). And, we want a society where the lives of the unborn are protected.
Any presidential candidate worthy of our support should articulate a vision for the future. Nostalgia won’t do.
3) Stay sane. This point is no doubt going to be the most controversial, but it really shouldn’t be. Here’s the thing: I’m tired of all the hyperbole, and even more tired of all the conspiracy theories that are so common among conservative activists.
No, Obama was not born in Kenya. No, not Indonesia either. No, he’s not the Anti-Christ. He’s a very liberal Christian, but that doesn’t make him a Muslim. Nor is he a Marxist for all that matters – trust me, I’ve had lengthy discussions with real Marxists (they’re quite common in Sweden), and they make Obama look like a conservative. Obama is a social democrat born in Hawaii. He also doesn’t hate America – he simply has a vision of how America should be that we conservatives disagree with. Remember what CS Lewis said about the worst tyrants being the tyrants who don’t understand that they are tyrants? That’s pretty much how I view Obama (though “tyrant” is too strong a word). He’s naïve, he’s misguided, he’s ill-informed, he’s arrogant – but he’s not evil. And the same goes for Hillary. I want the next social conservative leader to understand this, and I want us as a movement to stop attacking individuals and really focus on the issues instead.
We need to demand of our leaders that they get their facts straight: Yes, pregnancies can result from rape. No, modest clothing does not protect against rape and immodest clothing does not cause it. Yes, the racial segregation in the south (and elsewhere) really was horrible – no ifs or buts, and the fact that the churches for the most part went along with it is truly one of the greatest embarrassments in the history of American Christianity. And no, gay people are not conspiring to destroy the nation – I’m as much an opponent of gay marriage as anyone else, but the vitriol that I see some fellow conservatives and Christians use against gay people is absolutely disgraceful. As much as we disagree with practicing homosexuality, we still have to respect the homosexuals as individuals. There has to be a balance between opposing the radical LGBT-movement, while still respecting individuals who are LGBT.
There are more examples, but hopefully you get the idea: We can’t afford another leader who doesn’t know his stuff. Myths and misconceptions, even when they support our cause, are not helpful in the long run. And on a similar note; can we please stop with the anti-intellectualism? It’s not a bad thing to have an advanced degree, and it’s not a bad thing to have gone to an Ivy League school (no, I’m not an Ivy League graduate). Being knowledgeable is one of the best qualities a candidate can have in my opinion, since knowledge – not slogans, not punchlines, not witty retorts – is what he or she will actually need as President to make good decisions.
This list could be a lot longer, but I’m going to stop here. Feel free to leave a comment and tell me your thoughts about this, whether you agree or disagree. Thank you for reading.