Following an embarrassing election night for Republicans, many pundits have pointed to, what they believe, was the source of such a sour defeat: the GOP's (at least tacit) commitment to social conservatism.
However, in a recent essay for The American Conservative, George Seay suggests the opposite:
The GOP must become more socially conservative, with an accent on “social.” Republican defeat last year was largely due to the party’s disproportionate focus on fiscal policy while ignoring the concerns that absorb the day-to-day lives of women, minorities, and other sectors of the electorate with little affinity for the GOP. The right long ago abandoned “compassionate conservative” issues out of disgust with the overall concept and contempt for the White House Office of Faith Based Initiatives that arose from it. But this has proven to be a huge political error—and more importantly, a policy error.
Unsurprisingly, Seay's recommendation for righting the wrongs of the Republican Party differ dramatically from the aforementioned pundits, who suggest that the GOP would be best off to abandon social conservatism in order to focus exclusively on fiscal libertarianism. Here's Seay's counter-prescription:
Today compassionate conservatism and a revitalized Faith-Based Office in a future Republican administration deserve (perhaps demand) renewed conservative attention. Compassion for the “poor in spirit” resonates greatly with many constituencies that view the Republican Party with suspicion or have outright abandoned it. A singular focus on fiscal issues does not inspire or motivate these constituencies: “checkbook policies” in isolation give the impression that Republicans are simply the party of the rich and privileged, indifferent to the plight of the less fortunate.
I have mixed feelings about Seay's position. On the one hand, I agree whole-heartedly that social conservatism, if properly articulated, is an attractive message (not to mention that it's the "right" message) that appeals to one of the day's most sought-after demographics—Hispanics. Additionally, the state should have a role in uplifting the impoverished.
However, I disagree with the author's mild-mannered call for a conservatism that accommodates both the social and fiscal variety of conservative (understood in the American context), namely because I do not believe that proponents of traditional values can realistically co-exist under the same party tent with fiscal libertines, at least not in a way that authentically promotes the common good. As evidence of this claim, take a look at the track record of the "conservative coalition" over the past 30 years. The movement's "successes" have largely come in the form of market de-regulations, full integration into the "global economy," and massive tax breaks and sweet-heart deals for the rich. Meanwhile, "the coalition" has done little to preserve the integrity of traditional values in society, failing time and time again to in any way stem the tide of social progressivism. It's clear which brand of conservative has benefited from this marriage, often at the expense of the other.
Seay's wrong to suggest that the GOP should revert to its game-plan from decades past. The GOP of that era is ineffectual in our time, and the strain is starting to show inside a strange alliance that is threatening to, and probably will, burst in short order. But perhaps a divorce between traditional conservatives and free-market purists, however messy it might be for a short-time, is what will best serve the development of a political union in America that is committed to pursuing the common good in its totality.