Social Conservatism

| Thu Nov. 6, 2008 3:40 PM EST

SOCIAL CONSERVATISM....David Frum on the future of the Republican Party:

Since 1988, Democrats have become more conservative on economics — and Republicans more conservative on social issues. College-educated Americans have come to believe that their money is safe with Democrats — but that their values are under threat from Republicans. There are more and more college-educated voters.

So the question for the GOP is: Will it pursue them? This will involve painful change, on issues ranging from the environment to abortion. It will involve even more painful changes of style and tone: toward a future that is less overtly religious, less negligent with policy, and less polarising on social issues.

Greg Mankiw on why McCain lost the youth vote:

Recent conversations I have had with some Harvard undergrads have led me to a conjecture: It was largely noneconomic issues. These particular students told me they preferred the lower tax, more limited government, freer trade views of McCain, but they were voting for Obama on the basis of foreign policy and especially social issues like abortion. The choice of a social conservative like Palin as veep really turned them off McCain.

Ross Douthat is right to warn that Mankiw's students are hardly a representative sample, but I'll bet he's basically correct anyway. Four years ago the big post-election meme was a warning that Democrats needed to get more socially conservative, but that didn't happen and they won anyway. Social liberalism is actually (surprise!) pretty popular.

On the other hand, there's certainly a place in America for an economically conservative party. Republicans have gone overboard on this during the past decade, but they might be able to get by with only a modest course correction on this score. The financial meltdown won't last forever, after all. On social issues, though, they're doomed if they continue to hitch their future to the hard edged conservatism of their evangelical base. They've mostly won the battle on guns, but on issues like abortion, stem cells, gay rights, immigration, and the environment (which most people view as a lifestyle issue, not an economic issue) I don't see how they survive if they don't moderate their positions fairly dramatically. The GOP is in danger of permanently losing an entire cohort of the electorate if they continue to be perceived as a party in thrall to xenophobes, bluenoses, and tent revival preachers. They created James Dobson; now they need to tame him.

Get Mother Jones by Email - Free. Like what you're reading? Get the best of MoJo three times a week.