A Lesson Already Learned on Social Issues

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Being involved in insurgent politics in the same area for a while provides a good lesson on how the culture is supposed to work.  The people who are actively involved come and go as they become interested and then frustrated or called by other parts of life or drawn to another region.  Consequently, the new people often have to relearn the lessons that others in their movement have already learned, because lessons stick best only when learned through experience.

And so, a tweet from newly engaged resident Charles Callanan:

If you are running on social issues you can’t understand what the problem is.

This sentiment is understandable, but it’s not correct.  As a baseline adjustment, one has to acknowledge that political calculations can and should be fine-tuned for the particular area and the particular race.  Obviously, running against an opponent who is very similar except that, say, he’s pro-choice in a conservative area, being pro-life would be something to emphasize.

Two points are more fundamental, however, because the line can’t be drawn around issue categories so easily.

First, narrowing his or her focus might have the effect of making a candidate less unappealing than otherwise, if his or her broader views are not popular, but it won’t make the candidate more appealing except to people who only care about that narrow focus.  And most people don’t vote on a single issue.  “I’m not going to impose my beliefs on you” can also be heard as “I’m not going to let you impose your beliefs on others,” which doesn’t appeal to voters who aren’t libertarians.  (Of course, most people won’t think that’s their view. They’ll translate imposing their beliefs as common sense or social justice or something else less objectively descriptive.)

Second, in times characterized by culture war because of a resurgent progressive ideology, it isn’t feasible not to dip into ideology at all.  This doesn’t mean actively championing every cause of “your side,” but it does mean having an answer when somebody asks what you intend to do about some perceived problem.

When progressives are running on defending the working class and helping the poor, conservatives can’t merely insist that they’ll create more opportunity for anybody who seeks it.  Many people see an inability to seek as the core problem.  “I’ll let you live and die by your own resources” doesn’t work for people with no resources or people who’ve been persuaded through the culture that we have a responsibility to help those people.

In short, to a greater or lesser degree, conservatives need a complete system of belief. If the provision that we would make for disadvantaged people is less dependent on government, that’s fantastic, but the provision has to be there.  And at the end of the day, such provisions come down to social issues.  Families.  Social norms that guide behavior.  Mechanisms to recognize biological realities.  Space for non-governmental entities that provide a moral framework (which is to say, religious liberty).

These points are especially relevant considering that Callanan has written compellingly on this site about the “unholy alliance” between labor unions and progressives.  If anything, the “alliance” language imagines too much of a distinction.  The unions and the progressives believe they have the same mission.  They are one movement.

To put it succinctly, conservatives can’t focus merely on the labor unions and fiscal issues and ignore an entire battalion of progressives.  At the same time, we can’t split the two fronts unless we can appeal to socially conservative union members, and we can’t do that if we never mention social issues.

These are lessons that have been (or should have been) learned already.  We can’t shy from uncomfortable topics for the reason that our opponents have made them uncomfortable.  That just forces us into a smaller and smaller box.  We need to be confident in our beliefs and show how our beliefs constitute a complete whole that is better than the hodge-podge emotionalism of progressives papered over with the packaging of Big Government.