In the wake of the recent election season, many (including me) have stated that conservatism was defeated in this election. A popular response to this statement revolves around the notion that conservatism was not defeated or rejected in this election, rather the candidate (in this case Mitt Romney) was defeated and rejected. While conservatives truly believe Mitt Romney to be a strict fiscal conservative, very few would view him as a true social conservative. Therefore, many have pointed to social conservatism (or lack there of) as the culprit for the Republican defeat. Following that point, we conservatives must ask the question; what then do we do with social conservatism in a local and national campaign - should it stay or should it go?
Before I launch into my answer to this question, let me offer up this disclaimer. For those that know me well, my following response will very likely surprise (maybe even shock) you. In fact, it may even make you angry with me. I ask that you do one of two things if you feel you know me well, either stop reading now or enter into reading the remainder of this post with an open mind. Rest assured that I am a true conservative in all senses of the word - social conservative included.
Let's first acknowledge the primary topics that define social conservatism in our country. Abortion, gay marriage, religious freedoms, and tax funding of such topics dominate all rhetoric regarding social conservatism. Therefore, any question regarding what to do with social conservatism must address these topics.
So, should it stay or should it go? Well, my suggestion is neither. If it stays, conservatives run the risk of repeating campaign actions (mistakes if you will) that caused our defeat. You've heard the statement before, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. If it goes, conservatives run the risk of allowing the morals of this country to fall into a tailspin. History has proven that moral decline quickly results in the ultimate demise of the greatest of nations and empires. I would submit to you that social conservatism within political campaigns should drastically change, not go and not stay the same.
Social conservatives are looking for a presidential candidate that will make very clear and decisive statements that render abortion and gay marriage illegal. The problem with this desire is that it isn't feasible. I don't mean that finding a candidate with the desire is not feasible, I mean that it isn't feasible for the President to singlehandedly make this happen. Such legislation could be drafted by the President, but then it would have to go through both houses of the government in order to be passed. If it made it through both houses of government, undoubtedly an appeal would be filed forcing a Supreme Court review. It just isn't feasible for a piece of legislation of such magnitude making through this rigor (a necessary rigor I must add) in our society today.
I believe we conservatives must fundamentally change the way we go about addressing these social issues. It is clear from our campaign, candidates, and talking points that we are seeking a top-down approach to addressing topics like abortion, gay marriage, and religious freedoms. It is very necessary that some aspects of governance follow a top-down approach, our military for example. It is very necessary that governance of our military and national security be handled in a top-down fashion. Meaning, the general public doesn't have the knowledge, education, or skills to specify how national security should be regulated, thus it is best the government control this from top-down; after all the Constitution charges them directly to do so. On the flip side, social issues should be addressed in a bottom-up fashion. Meaning, these issues should be mandated by the majority within society rather than dictated by government from on high. Social conservatives are very vocal that government should not legislate contraceptives through medical coverage, yet we tend to be equally vocal that government should legislate the rejection of gay marriage. This is hypocritical and sends an ambiguous political message.
Instead of seeking this one perfect candidate that will tell us what we want to hear, we conservatives must take a more long term approach and recognize that such a shift in these socially charged topics will require a long fought battle. Instead of seeking this one perfect candidate that will tell us that he will legislate our faith based conservatism upon all of society from the top down, we conservatives must seek candidates (many, many candidates for the long fought battle) that will focus on enabling and incentivizing the electorate to sway social issues from the bottom up. Instead of placing social issues in the hands of the government, we conservatives must take back the responsibility for social conservatism - teaching social conservatism in our homes, in our churches, in our businesses, in our social groups, etc. Conservatives often say that we are "going to take our country back"; well, we'd better recognize that in doing so we must take back the responsibility that we never should have attempted to give over to the government. We cannot continue to sit by quietly, we must be active to educate the electorate on the merits of conservatism - social and otherwise.