There has been a lot of back-and-forth in Republican and conservative circles after the 2012 election. I consider this a good thing and hope it goes on for a while yet because there’s a lot to talk about.
First, the bad news: this is not an easy fix. The problem was not Mitt Romney. Nor is it something that just an ideological shift can change: all sorts of Republicans got trounced this year, and it wasn’t the fault of one particular group (especially social conservatives). It wasn’t just losing winnable races through stupid comments (Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock); even good candidates in good districts lost.
Our resident Penguatroll has his own thoughts on this. I disagreed with one of his main points: that Republicans should adopt gay marriage (or at least take it off the board as a federal issue). John Hinderaker has some long and weighty thoughts on how Republicans and conservatives should move on social issues: downplay abortion except to highlight leftist policies out of the mainstream (such as partial birth abortion), and leave gay marriage to state legislatures. Hinderaker’s conclusion is the same as Tony’s (and Paul Mirengoff’s response is quite similar to mine), but honestly, I think we have another generation before there’s mainstream acceptance outside of a few states. In the meantime, that would give us a chance to see if Stanley Kurtz’s fears (and mine) are reality. Is gay marriage an end in itself, or a waystation toward polyamory or even pederasty? There’s a definite moral delineator that exists at present with regard to marriage: one man, one woman. Changing that to just “two people” might make it easier for the next group to change it to “three or four or more people.”
So I don’t think that conservatives should go down that route. The other route that they should not go down is to become the me-too illegal immigrant party. You’d think that Republican politicians would have learned their lesson after a number of beatings they took throughout the Bush years (particularly in 2006), but apparently they haven’t. Here is a funny story version of the topic.
Many Republicans and conservatives have thought for years that Hispanics are “natural conservatives” or “social conservatives” at heart, and just vote for Democrats because Republicans need to show they care. And naturally, the way that they care is by giving permanent residency to millions of illegal immigrants. Mark Krikorian argues that this isn’t such a good idea.
The solution isn’t focusing (like a laser) on this or that demographic; instead, there are two broad-based sources of failure: the inability of conservatives to reach out to large swaths of the population, and the State’s overwhelming of society.
The first issue is something that Pete Spiliakos has been dead-on about. There is an entire generation of people who know almost nothing about conservative ideas except for the caricatures they see on the West Wing or what they get from their teachers. With the proliferation of the Internet, there are certainly a lot of opportunities for conservatives to make their voices heard, but unfortunately, the news fragmentation has made it that much more difficult for conservatives to get the message out to those who don’t already know some part of the message. Yes, Fox News is very popular, but it’s popular among conservatives; in other words, it’s an avenue for people who already have some knowledge of right-leaning ideas or who share in the general philosophy to discuss amongst themselves. Honestly, I’d say that William F. Buckley’s Firing Line probably reached out to more non-conservatives than all of Fox News combined does today. Part of that is that there was a lot less choice in media at that time, but the bigger part is that Buckley was on a left-friendly network (PBS). He was able to reach people who might not have heard a serious conservative argument in their lives.
This is something that more conservatives are starting to get. Outreach is important. Liberals spent decades freezing conservatives out of institutions: newspapers, television, academia, churches (though that didn’t go so well for the Left), charities (the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, for example), civic societies (like the ACLU), and most other parts of everyday life. This is what gave rise to John O’Sullivan’s First Law: any organization not explicitly right-of-center will eventually become left-of-center. And the corollary is that any left-of-center organization must remain left-of-center or else. Conservatives spent the last couple of decades trying to cope with that by forming their own conservative institutions: conservative academic groups, conservative television, a conservative Internet. The upside is that at least there are conservative institutions; the downside is that we’re preaching to the choir.
Conservatives need to get back into these organizations and institutions. Unfortunately, that’s not an easy task; the Left has politicized them and they hold the power to exclude. When more people get their news from the Daily Show than actual news, you need to start getting the message out a different way. That doesn’t mean capitulating to the Left on issues or offering “free” stuff; why vote for Democrat-Lite if you can get the real thing? Instead, it means that you change the game.
What would be nice is if somebody who really gets it (were that Andrew Breitbart could still be here today!) would set up a series of foundations to organize “guerrilla conservative” movements in areas which have not been conservative-friendly. Yeah, there are things like FIRE and the IHS, but I’m talking about subsidizing conservative artists and finding ways of getting their works (Youtube videos, television shows, songs, movies) out there. Some of it will be treacle—after all, a lot of explicitly left-wing art is—but some should be good, and more importantly, it’s a way of explaining to people not interested in politics that what they’ve heard about the Right is simplistic and often outright wrong. Get the money that otherwise would be wasted on political consultants and spend it on actual education: 5-minute tutorials, 2-minute TV advertisements, 60-minute lectures, 3-day seminars for students. Lay out the conservative message as it is: complex, multi-faceted, and incomplete. Explain it in terms that somebody who has never heard a conservative idea in his life could understand. The hundreds of millions of dollars conservatives and Republicans spent in advertisement during this campaign were, in large part, a major waste. You can’t explain Washington’s structural problems in a 30-second ad, and you can’t expect somebody who gets all of his news from Jon Stewart to understand the ongoing problems with our welfare programs, or why 99 months of unemployment insurance means that more people will be unemployed for 99 months. This is the kind of stuff that conservatives need to do between elections, instead of spending so much on college football (though I do respect Steve Sailer’s point that we would all be better off if people of all political stripes spent their money on college football rather than politics; we’re in a prisoner’s dilemma here is all).
So, aside from that, I see one other structural problem hindering conservatives and Republicans: the State overwhelming society. The Life of Julia shows just how dependent so many people are on the State, and people on the Left rejoice in this.
In the meantime, we can see the importance of the marriage gap (which Steve Sailer was onto eight years ago). It’s this rather than the gender gap which is problematic for Republicans. Married people tend to be less dependent upon the State: they have lower welfare rates, lower unemployment rates, higher likelihood of living in their own homes, etc. Part of this is that being a parent is expensive, and being a single parent even more so. So what does this have to do with the State? The short answer is that the State has given us incentives to break down social structures. For a long time, there were incentives not to be married: AFDC (old-style welfare) promoted out-of-wedlock childbirth and more children; naturally, some important people in the Obama administration are trying to get this back. They also promote food stamp usage and other forms of dependency on the State. The older institutions—charities, families, communities—break down in part because that help came with strings attached: you had to work, help others, and remain above-board enough to keep receiving aid. But when it comes from Uncle Sam, there are many fewer strings: it’s free money and (nonexistent) Obamaphones; all you have to do is vote for the right people once every few years.
On top of that, the State has made it more difficult to help by doing things like banning food donations to homeless shelters except in certain specific cases. In the olden days, restaurants and grocery stores would donate leftover food to homeless shelters; now, they can’t do that. Combine that with the way that they’ve aggressively pushed for the dissolution of the extended family and how their strongly anti-business policies are still causing job loss, and you get the modern problem of a populace dependent upon the welfare state.
This has gotten quite long, and so I’ll save for tomorrow my thoughts on a few specific policies and issues that Republicans can push for in the meantime.
The good news, according to Jay Cost, is that we’ll have another chance.
5 thoughts on “Where To Go After 2012?”
A few thoughts.
In a very broad sense, you and I agree. I sincerely hope you’re not proposing Fox News as a model platform for the conservative message. I’m not at all convinced that if everybody watched more Fox News, they’d be more conservative, or at least meaningfully conservative (i.e., conservative in nature, not just conservative on one issue, one election, etc.). Rather the opposite.
State legislatures deciding gay marriage is probably the best of bad alternatives. I still think focusing on purely social issues at all is a waste of time — the GOP lost the high ground a long time ago — but I know you don’t agree and many other conservatives don’t.
Your identification of the two ways to change conservatism in the long run — via conservative education and reducing dependence on the state — is absolutely dead on. I don’t think liberals intentionally froze conservatives out of media platforms — I think that’s more a side effect, not an intent. Conservatives didn’t exactly do their best to get into the fields you describe, and it’s much easier to challenge somebody early on than attack an already established base. They’re frozen out now via bureaucratic tradition and ossification, certainly. Your potential programs sound excellent in theory.
I’m definitely not proposing Fox News as a model platform. I consider it a net benefit (considering that conservatives are pretty well locked out of most other networks except as “token conservative”), but I think people on the Right really need to get into the mainline institutions that still matter (schools, universities, charities), and put their message where generally apolitical people are. For a quick and somewhat-absurd example, imagine if Pepsi only advertised on PepsiFanboys.com. As a devout Pepsi fan (which I’m not, incidentally), I like having PepsiFanboys.com around, but that’s the type of thing you build avidity with, not market share. Conservatives in general have avidity—in a number of states, you have to go out of your way nowadays to be a conservative, considering all of the pressures against you—but what they’re missing is market share.
I’d argue that like John Hinderaker points out, conservatives _won_ enough of the social issues that the ones we have now are second-placers. Law and order are a conservative victory: Times Square has been cleaned up. Abortion is trending mostly toward a conservative victory. The problem is that these issues have become less salient, so focusing on them doesn’t help much. I think that there are valuable social issues that conservatives can focus on (such as the scaledown of security theater in this country; health care that actually works; and encouraging marriage, especially among parents), but I do agree that there’s no need to beat a dead horse.
Honestly, I do think that people on the Left forced people on the Right out over time. They tend to have the “token” around, but long gone are the days when Henry Hazlitt and Milton Friedman could debate in the New York Times about policy…and not just because they’ve both passed away… Similarly, a lot of the right-of-center political talent hit a glass ceiling. Brit Hume, despite being probably the best political TV show host around, jumped from ABC to Fox News (at that time a much smaller network). I honestly think it would have been better for ABC had they kept Hume and put him where Sam Donaldson was. I do understand your point that, for a while, conservatives didn’t seem to want in on the game (and then they wanted to go play their own game on their own networks), but there are good examples of this throughout the history of all three of the major networks. There’s a similar story in the newspaper world, where I agree more with your point: conservatives tended to go the op-ed route rather than major in journalism and get on the dog-watcher beat. But there’s an interesting question here: in which direction does the arrow of causation point?